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Booksale and Festival: A Celebration of Books and Reading

Wake County Public Libraries
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Innovation Leader: Ann Burlingame, Deputy Library Director, aburlingame@wakegov.com

Problem Statement

Our annual booksale (20 years ++) had become a much dreaded chore and was costly. Although managed by volunteers, it was managed in a way that did not always match the customer service philosophy of our library system. We had to scramble to find a space to lease, upfit that space, and host the sale all within a few weeks. While it was expected by our funding authorities that we host the sale to both generate revenue and to dispose of our weeded materials and donations, it was always a struggle with last-minute preparations, making staff tense and taxed. We had to enlist the county’s buildings and trades staff to work on making the building safe for our use, pulling them away from their routine responsibilities, fostering some resentment and confusion about priorities. It was expensive to upfit old retail or warehouse space for safety purposes. The restrooms were often ill-equipped for our use and there was no food onsite. It was frustrating for everyone involved and the scope of our sale (400,000 books!) did not make it any easier. Staff did not “own” the sale and only a few participated, creating an atmosphere of tension and exhaustion on the part of a few and benign neglect by the many. Still, it was well received and much anticipated by the community for the great book bargains it offered.

Innovation

The Deputy Director of the library system, Ann Burlingame, introduced a new strategy for the sale wherein staff would be enlisted to take ownership of it and make it “ours.” She envisioned an event that was fun and profitable and one that would become anticipated by staff and the public alike as a system celebration. She formed a staff committee that took ownership of finances, publicity, entertainment, volunteer management and logistics. First, a site usually used for conventions and events was identified. This site required no upfit and much of the overhead costs (cleaning, security, table and chair rental, inspections, safety, maintenance, etc) were incorporated into the lease fee. The restrooms were plentiful and clean and there was a snack bar on site for customers. In addition, once on the calendar in this facility, the library would be offered first right of refusal for future years, ensuring a degree of stability –a positive change. We no longer needed to call upon the county’s building and trades department for rushed, last-minute aid as all was incorporated into the rental rate. The concept of the sale, through this change in direction, focused on the sale as a signature event; the purpose was larger than the selling of books and the earning of revenue. We featured musical entertainment on opening day; family fun with face painting, balloon animals, book characters, children’s games, etc. on Saturday and the traditional “bargain” day on Sunday. We changed the advertisement and promotion of the event to be family friendly with bargains abounding. We utilized 70 staff members, working 4 hour shifts which generated a higher level of staff energy and enthusiasm for the sale. We are already getting emails to inquire about next year’s “festival.”

Progress

Nearly 20,000 people came to the sale in 3 ½ days. We disposed of 520,000 books. We grossed, to date, $211,000. In addition to the 70 engaged staff members, we had 380 volunteers assisting us with the festival. The musical entertainment and the family friendly activities made being at the sale stress-free and fun and being at the sale was a positive experience for everyone. We received great publicity in the local news, in social media outlets, and on television throughout the festival and all feedback from customers about this year’s event has been positive, with inquiries already coming in about the next “festival.”

The change in philosophy and execution made the book sale more reflective of our library’s mission--- “To promote the love of reading and to foster the pursuit of knowledge among the residents of Wake County.”