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Ethical Acquisitions?

5 Dec

Photo by Steve Rhodes

What is the difference between a public library purchasing their books through a local independent bookstore as opposed to shopping online at Amazon or buying new releases at Costco or Wal-Mart?

In general, I am a huge proponent of buying locally. Yes, most of my clothes were made in developing countries and I do buy bananas and avocados (obviously not grown locally) but I strive to uphold a certain ideal which means that given a choice I will buy “local” even if it means paying a higher cost.

This ethical obligation that I feel towards buying locally and from independent sources might come from my years of working at a small independent bookstore in Quebec City. At the time, we truly viewed Amazon as our evil competition because we felt powerless to rival their fantastic discounts that are only possible when items are purchased in large bulk quantities. Most often distributors will set the cost price of a book (aka the wholesale price) depending on the quantity that the retailer is purchasing. Therefore if my bookstore ordered 15 copies of a new bestseller, we were paying more for each copy than a large chain store who might order 500 copies and then distribute the copies amongst the different store locations. Since our initial cost of the book was higher, we already made less money on each sale making it more difficult to match online or large-store discounts. However, we provided an excellent service; our entire staff was passionate about books, customer service, and recommending the right book for the right person. We developed special relationships with our regular clients calling them by name and knowing which new books would interest certain clients.  When people would say how great Amazon was I would reply “but who do you know who works at Amazon?”. I tried to communicate to people that when purchasing something on Amazon you don’t know exactly where your money is going whereas when you buy from a local store you know that you are helping to pay the wages of the staff who greet you on the front lines.

Since I’ve been a public library director, I’ve been doing my library acquisitions of French books at Le Bouquin small independent bookstore here in Tracadie-Sheila. I know the owner personally and she is always friendly and available to respond to my questions, my requests for rushed billing, or my surprise visits to the bookstore. Unfortunately, my public library’s budget for collection development relies almost entirely on fundraising. When volunteers and staff work hard for every single dollar raised for the collection, it is normal that they expect that the money be spent in the most effective way possible.  Therefore, recently I have been questioned as to why we shouldn’t buy books from time to time at the Atlantic Superstore. Now for those of you outside the Maritimes, the Atlantic Superstores are a chain of big box grocery stores owned by Loblaws, Canada’s largest food distributor (source Wikipedia). In addition to groceries, they also offer a pharmacy, home supplies, a clothing section, and of course books, CDs and DVDs. The majority of books they sell all have a sticker boasting a 25% discount off the retail price.

Now, I love books and I am passionate about anything that gets people reading. I feel then that I must tread carefully with what I say next. Although no one that I know goes into the Superstore specifically to buy books, due to clever in-store marketing and great discounts a lot of people do end up purchasing a book as a type of impulse buy. Am I really going to complain that the store strategically places Caillou books amongst the kids’ clothing so that parents are more likely to buy books for their kids while they are shopping for clothes? No…like I said if people are buying books then I’m happy.

Now obviously the Superstore does not offer the same type of service as a bookstore. Although they always tend to have the bestselling fiction and non-fiction in stock, I cannot place orders through them, and I cannot request that they inform me when the latest title of a popular author will be released.

Also, by doing library acquisitions at the local independent bookstore, I believe strongly that I am having a more positive effect on the local economy. The people who raised money for the library’s collection are from Tracadie-Sheila and therefore I want that money to stay at the local level instead of going off to enrich the already affluent owners of the Loblaws chain.

I am very curious as to what others think about this. Is my self-righteous attitude hindering my library’s collection? If it meant being able to purchase more books with the same amount of budget would you shop at the big box store?

Running for literacy

25 Oct

Finally an event that combines my two passions: literacy and running!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating with a fellow librarian and McGill SIS alumni in the Legs for Literacy 10km run. Legs for Literacy is a weekend of road racing in Moncton, New Brunswick raises money and awareness for local school literacy programs. The distances include a 5km, a 10km, a half-marathon, and a full marathon. This year 1,730 participants were registered for the event and more than $40,000 was raised for literacy programs!

Participating in this event got me thinking that a road race would be an excellent idea for libraries looking for creative fundraising projects. Runners love participating in races and are willing to pay on average $40-$100 depending on the distance and the reputation of the race. I have spent tons of money over the years registering myself in races that did not benefit any particular cause. It is however much more motivating when you know your registration money is going to a worthy cause.

There would be of course the basic costs of organizing a road race to cover. However considering the possibilities for sponsorships and the tendency for race organizers to rely on volunteers, this type of event has great potential to raise money for the library (collections, programs, renovations, etc).

A running event would also be a great way for a library to reach out to the community and people who might not otherwise donate to the library. In addition to the regular race distances, Legs for Literacy also offered a shorter race which is a great idea for libraries searching to create partnerships with schools as well as family health and wellness initiatives. The race also brought business to the downtown core as runners from outside of Moncton stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants.

This is not a new or groundbreaking idea. There are libraries that have already organized such races. In fact, this year marked Magnolia Library’s 34th annual road race. I am planning to contact librarians from Magnolia to find out more about their event, since I am also curious as to why we do not see more events like this. Considering how passionate I am about running and libraries, I am definitely going to start brainstorming of the possibilities as a fundraiser for my public library for next spring/summer. I’ll keep you posted!

Two librarians running for literacy

Legs for Literacy Logo

Shameless plug to win free books

22 Oct

Every day at my library tons of situations arise that I believe merit interesting discourse in the biblioblogosphere.  Unfortunately tonight is not the night that I’ll be writing about all of those situations. Tonight I’m writing to shamelessly plug a picture of mine that I’ve entered in a contest to win books from Harper Collins. The premise of the contest is to get “busted” reading one of Harper Collins’ latest hot titles. In my picture I’m reading Alice Kuiper’s YA book The Worst Thing She Ever Did while riding my bike and I gave it the caption “I just can’t put down Alice Kuiper’s book”. It’s corny but the person whose pictures get the most “likes” on the Wordfest 2010 Facebook page wins the free books from Harper Collins. Considering that my library’s collection budget is reliant on fund-raising, I am hoping that I can win these books to add them to my library’s collection. Please visit the Wordfest 2010 Facebook page and vote for my picture; I’m pretty sure that you need to be signed into your Facebook account.

Thanks and happy reading!

My first defeat

25 Jul

Today I experienced my first defeat as a Library Director. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I was not defeated by the municipality, the library board, my employees, or a patron. It was Mother Nature who did me in!

For the past month, I have been working hard to organize a library promotional/fundraising event to coincide with the popular Tracadie 2-mile swim. This annual event draws a huge number of participants and my idea was to display material from the library that would interest this target group of potential users (books on sports training, nutrition, biographies of athletes, health issues, etc). In order to promote our library network’s “Adopt-a-book” fundraising program, I also put together a comprehensive Wish List of specific titles to purchase for the collection for which people could donate money in return for an Ex Libris with their name in the adopted book. My summer student workers made a beautifully designed sign with the motto “Make a Splash your Library” and one of the board members had volunteered to come help out. I was so excited about my first attempt of fundraising and promoting the library at a community event to people who might not necessarily already be library members.

Despite all this preparation, Mother Nature had different plans. The swimmers were supposed to start at 1pm this afternoon and I was going to set up at the community centre where participants and spectators would meet afterwards for a meal and the prize ceremony. However, this morning the heavy rains and wind created water conditions that would have been unsafe for the swimmers and so the event was cancelled.

I obviously applaud the event organizers who came to this decision based on the security of the participants. Although I was still very disappointed when I realized that my work to create highly targeted promotional material would go unused. I might have reacted a bit dramatically when I found out it had been cancelled but I should have remembered that organizing library events and activities is always a risk. What if you put a lot of work into an event and no one shows up? What if you invest time and money into hosting a guest speaker who turns out to be boring? I don’t regret the time I put into organizing the library’s presence at this event. If it had worked out, I’m confident that we would have raised a lot of money and awareness for the library. I will try to think up a way to recycle this idea, even if it does mean waiting until next year’s edition of the Tracadie 2-mile swim.

What about you? Any horror stories of event planning that went awry? How did you attempt to save the day?

Asturias Academy’s library project needs your $$$

15 Jun

As many of you know, in April, I participated in the Librarians Without Borders’ McGill Student Chapter’s trip to Guatemala. Our group worked very hard to develop a manual of recommendations for a new library currently being built at Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Xela (Guatemala’s second largest city). We also offered a training session to the school’s director Jorge Chojolan and to the teachers who will be taking on the roles of the librarian and the literacy program coordinator. The leaders behind this project are ambitious that this library will not only serve the K-12 students at the Academy but that it will also serve as a community library to the people of Xela allowing them with the opportunity to improve their education.  Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 16th 2010), the website GlobalGiving will be matching all money donated towards the Asturias Library project. People, this is an extremely worthy cause! After visiting the school myself and having met the hardworking and inspiring people who are dedicated to improving education in Guatemala, I am whole-heartedly convinced that this library will make a difference in the lives of the students and the community of Xela. I encourage everyone to visit the GlobalGiving Website as well as the website of Asturias Academy and donate generously. Please contact me with any questions you may have about the work of the Librarians Without Borders group when we went down in April.