October 30 Deadline to Nominate to the ABA Board: Blue Willow’s Valerie Koehler Shares Her Experience

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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.

To help booksellers understand what it’s like to serve on the ABA Board of Directors, former board member Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas, offered up some insights.

Here, Koehler discusses her experiences while serving on the board from 2012 to 2018.

Bookselling This Week: How did you get into the book business?

Valerie Koehler: I bought a neighborhood bookshop that had been on hard times for a while. I have loved bringing it back to life and making it a vibrant part of the community for 24 years — as of this month!

BTW: What led you to want to serve on the board?

VK: When I bought the shop, one of the first things I did was join the ABA and my regional association. My father, a grocer for many years and the president of his local grocers association, always told me that it was important to join and even more important to participate. So it started with committees and then the board of our regional association, then the ABA Advisory Board, then the ABC children’s bookseller group board, then the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression board. Just when I thought I had played all the roles, I was asked to join the ABA board and the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association board simultaneously.

BTW: What was your role in bookselling at the time you joined the ABA board (owner, bookseller, or something else)?

VK: I am the owner of the shop as well as the manager, buyer, and frontline bookseller. It is a very hands-on job. I think that helped with my tenure, as I could see things from a small shop perspective and as someone who is busy with all different kinds of tasks.

BTW: What were the major issues the board was tackling at that point?

VK: When I was on the board, we grappled with the lawsuits between Amazon, Apple, and the Big Five publishers. We worked with publishers regarding making terms better for indies. We faced the fact that we needed more diversity in the business — it seems like it would have been a natural progression, but there was a lot of discussion about how to do it.

BTW: Were there any favorite projects you worked on while on the board?

VK: I always enjoyed when we were the sounding board for the ABA staff, like when they asked for feedback about potential initiatives. That doesn’t exactly adhere to the Carver governance model, but we liked when we could be booksellers. Aside from that, there is a fair amount of responsibility: financial presentations, spreadsheets, audits, and more.

BTW: How did you balance your time commitments to the board and to your store? 

VK: That’s a tough one: The staff worked so hard to keep the shop running while I was away. They did like to joke that I wasn’t around to come up with new ideas (read: new work!). It really took everyone’s help to be able to step away and become a true board member advocating for all the indies. That is the key — to remember that you are there for all the shops, not just yours. And you had to imagine what they were all going through at any given juncture. I loved the friendships, I loved visiting all the different regions and stores. I never would have been able to do that on my own.