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Book Fair Tip #2: Abolish Preview Day!

It seems every librarian I know bases their book fair schedule on having one “preview time” (usually the first full day of the fair) and one whole-class “purchasing time” (the rest of the week). Preview day is not for purchasing, but it is crazy nonetheless because you are attempting to get every class in your building into the fair for a few minutes to look around. In one day. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Instead of doing a 10-minute preview time and, later in the week, another 10-minute purchasing time, why not combine that into one 20-minute preview/purchase time?


Swollen, rashy leg after Preview Day

True story–I was 8-months pregnant during my first book fair. Prior to preview day, I was active and healthy. I walked daily without any pain or problems.

Preview Monday=WILD. I ran around, stood on chairs, ate lunch on the run. My legs got more and more sore as the day went on. When I left for the day, I limped to my car. The very next morning, I woke up with badly swollen legs and a painful skin rash on one of them. Turns out, I had an infection in my right leg. That Tuesday, one month before my due date, my doctor put me on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I spent the remainder of book fair working only half-days in a wheelchair. Couldn’t abandon my fair!

Since then, I have vowed to put an end to Book Fair preview days everywhere.

Seriously, what store opens for previews? How long would Wal-Mart stay in business if they said “You can come in and look, but no purchasing!” Really?

Don’t let sales walk out the door!

According to Publisher’s Weekly, roughly 30% of bookstore purchases were made on impulse. If this number holds true for book fairs, then nearly one-third of your business is walking out the door when you disallow purchasing during preview time. Sure, many of those students will still purchase on a different day, but what about those who do not? What about those who are absent on the day their class comes back, or those who spend all their pocket money before their class returns for their designated “purchase day”? What about those who change their minds, leave their money at home, buy the book elsewhere instead, or just plain forget?

Advantages to one (longer) preview/purchase time:

  • Time to look. Everyone gets a nice, long look at the fair. No rushing; no pushing. BREATHE.
  • Less frustration over stock levels. How many times have you had students get upset because the book they wanted on Monday is not here today? They couldn’t buy it Monday because it was “previews only,” and now it is out of stock. Grrr.
  • Sales do not walk out the door. Students who don’t have money today can still come later in the week on their own, with their parents, or with a parent volunteer. Whether they purchase during their preview/purchase time or later on, you have lost no sales.
  • Scheduling is easier for you and the teacher. You are only scheduling a class once, rather than twice, and you can use the entire week (rather than just Monday). Longer if you use Tip #1.
  • Fewer interruptions during class. From a librarian’s perspective, students preview the book fair for 10 minutes. From a teacher’s perspective, separate preview and purchasing times add up to lots of lost class time. They have to wrap up the lesson (or interrupt it), line up, get everyone quiet, walk down the hall, preview for 10 minutes, line up again, get quiet, walk back down the hall. For the teacher, a 10-minute preview equals at least 20 minutes of lost class time. Even more fun, splitting preview and purchasing time means they get to do it all again later in the week. Insanity!
  • The power of YES. Have you ever noticed how the word YES just seems to smile? I hate saying no, especially when I don’t have to. It’s just so much more fun to say, “YES! You can buy today!”

Possible teacher objections to 20-minute preview/purchase (and how to overcome them!):  

“Not everyone wants to purchase, and I’m worried 20 minutes could be too long.”

“I have a solution for that!”

Got a restless group? Pop in the book fair video or read a story aloud while students purchase. There are always going to be those students who don’t care about looking at the fair. For these students, twenty minutes to not look and not preview can turn into twenty minutes of party-time. If you have a class of wild things, pop in the book fair video, read aloud a book from your fair, or do a book fair scavenger hunt for a small (book fair-related?) prize.

“I must have my 10-minute preview time, and I don’t care what you say.”

“So when would you like to come?” *smiles sweetly*

Guess what? If most of your classes are scheduled for one preview/purchase time, it’s easier to squeeze in a handful 10-minute previews. Remember, we have the power of YES!

As you put together your next book fair schedule, I urge you to give the 20-minute preview/purchasing time a try. It began as an experiment for me, and I have never looked back. I worried that teachers might not “buy into” the new scheduling concept, but most of them loved it. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to Monday Preview Insanity next time!

Next tip: Set clear guidelines for teachers wanting to send individual students to the book fair. 

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