Free Expression Friday: White Rose (Erin Decker)

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Erin Decker is the co-owner of White Rose Book & More, Kissimmee, FL, and is a former librarian.


What was your path to becoming a bookseller?

I was a school librarian for the last seven years. I started in Texas, and when I moved to Florida, I transitioned very easily into the libraries at a middle school. I served as the school’s Media Specialist at a middle school in Osceola County Schools for three years. When the book banning craziness started in Florida and across the US, my business partner and I were both very stressed out about it. We just felt like the kids that we were serving deserved so much more than what we were able to give them. Every new rule, regulation, or law that passed in Florida that hindered our ability to do our jobs led us to wanting to seek out a better way to serve our community by still doing something we loved: sharing stories, sharing books, and makingsure kids have access to those things.

We started devising a plan right after a meeting last January, which was after the regulation went into place where they deemed that classroom libraries were part of the media center, which meant that we were going to have to approve not only the books in our libraries, but in the entire school. Tanya and I were like, “No, this is not the way.” We sat down and we talked about how we could open a bookstore. We incorporated a week later and worked on a business plan for two months. Things took off a lot faster than we expected. We didn't expect to actually have a storefront until this coming summer, but we opened in October of last year. 

What can booksellers do to support librarians who are facing book challenges? 

Building connections with the library and your community is so beneficial, not just to support them, but to support yourself as a bookseller and as a business. We have done so much business with our school librarians as well as the public libraries around us already, because we already had those connections. But there are some things you can do to show that you're there and you're willing to support them through any of the political craziness that's happening right now. Send an email of support. Let them know you're willing to sit on book challenge committees, because sometimes it's hard to find people that are willing to read the book and discuss it. Let them know that you can show up to board meetings, or send employees, if anything is going to be contentious. You don't have to speak at those meetings. You can just sit there and listen and know what's going on in your community. But showing up to support is so important, because so many librarians are just seeing anger and hatred being aimed at them and their profession. That’s a couple of free things that you can do.

Are there any not-free things that people can do?

Donating books, giving a discount, seeing what the needs are in the libraries around you and asking how you can help them. I know something that we would love to do is be able to put a list of books together and ask customers to help pay, maybe do a matching program at some point to get books into classrooms again here in Florida, after so many were taken out in the last year. We give huge discounts to the schools for bulk orders. Obviously that's money coming out of our pocket, but we're okay with it because we're still making a profit. It's just not as big as it could have been. We also give students and teachers a 10% discount in-store with their IDs, and that includes our librarians as well.

Does White Rose have anything planned to support local libraries in addition to these recommendations?

We do have some events planned with the Public Library system, which is really exciting, supporting author visits to our public library. The authors have to be able to make money to come into the libraries, and the library can't sell the books, so we're partnering with them to bring in programming and sell the book so that the authors and publishers are willing to come into the library system. Going forward, we hope we can do more and donate more and be part of that system that supports free literacy as well.