Former ABA President Ann Christophersen on Serving on the ABA Board of Directors

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Booksellers are invited to nominate a qualified candidate (or themselves) now to stand for election to the American Booksellers Association Board of Directors in 2021. Nominating takes just a few minutes, and nominations are due by October 30. Learn more about the Board of Directors election process here.

Former ABA Board President and six-year board member Ann Christophersen of Women & Children First in Chicago told Bookselling This Week about her experience with serving on the ABA Board of Directors. Here’s what she had to say:

Join the ABA board! (If you can at all manage to.) 

I had co-owned my bookstore, Women & Children First in Chicago, for 16 years when an ABA board member nominated me to serve on the board. She had served three consecutive two-year terms — the limit in 1996 — had liked it, thought she had made useful contributions, and was confident I would, too.

She was right! I greatly enjoyed every year of my six-year term, two of which were as vice president and two as president. The reasons are pretty straightforward. It was wonderful to work with booksellers from across the country who had a great variety of stores and shared almost all of the same principles and concerns. Working with the very professional and personable staff of the ABA was an enormous pleasure. It was extremely gratifying to try to solve the important issues facing independent bookstores.

When I came on, the board was in transition. There were approximately 20 board members, discussions often seemed endless, and it was draining to get things done. In spite of that, I still found it exciting to be talking with colleagues about strategic planning and looking to the future as well as dealing with the immediate issues of relationships with publishers and distributors, how to strengthen BookExpo educational sessions, how to work more effectively with regional associations, etc. 

The second year I was on the board, we were refashioned into a much smaller board of nine members, allowing us to cover more content in more depth and reach conclusions more effectively.

One of the biggest issues of my tenure was confronting the problem of how to compete with national chain bookstores, which were selling books online, making great use of their websites for marketing and leveraging marketing dollars, and selling their “brand.” 

We needed to create from scratch a powerful website that all independent bookstores could use while also enabling each store to populate the site with their own unique material like staff picks, upcoming events, and bestsellers. We also needed to be able to sell books and ebooks online, provide a national gift certificate program, and develop a national reputation for the values and characteristics of “independent bookstores,” which is to say, create and market a “brand.” 

Through the hard work and skills of a very talented staff, the commitment of the board, and input from member booksellers across the country, BookSense was launched, morphing some years later into IndieBound. Then there was Amazon, and all the challenges it presented for us to begin working on. 

I was somewhat concerned about whether it would be difficult to balance my obligations at the store with ABA board work. It was not. Because the staff does the actual work of carrying out the board’s priorities, the board’s main job is to develop, respond to, and prioritize ideas. There was prep to do for board meetings, conversations with other booksellers, and miscellaneous other small actions to take, but none of it was onerous. In fact, it was engaging, inspiring, and creative work.

Serving on the ABA board was an altogether wonderful opportunity and experience. I would urge any bookseller who is at all attracted by the things I’ve described to give it a go.