How Follett’s Changing the Book Fair

How Follett’s Changing the Book Fair

Every year, students around the nation look forward to the book fair, an event that rolls into town like a traveling carnival, transforming their libraries, gymnasiums, and auditoriums overnight into a wonderland of tables and shelves piled displaying colorful book covers, educational kits, and experiments, and toys and games of all sorts. This panoply of learning and entertainment captures the imagination of students, each item promising new worlds to explore, characters to meet, and challenges to be overcome. It’s no wonder many people hold fond memories of taking home their book fair catalogs and circling each item that catches their interest, bartering with parents and guardians for their most-wanted items in return for good grades, their best behavior, or chores and other services rendered.

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For many years, the name that springs to mind when discussing such book fairs is Scholastic Publishing, a long-established name in the industry — and while their success is marked and well-earned, they are far from the only game in town. Enter Follett Learning, an institution of educational products, services, and technology for over 140 years. They’ve been able to leverage their incredible passion for fostering young readers and working with schools and libraries to bring the book fair to new levels of ease, accessibility, and impact across America. Their mission is no better represented than in the words of Executive Vice President Britten Follett: “Every time a student gets a book in their hands it is an opportunity for them to see the world differently. It’s always fascinating to see what types of books kids gravitate to whether it is at a book fair or at the library.” From Barbie to Captain Underpants, “It’s less about the individual book and more about the idea that whatever excites a kid is going to compel them to want to start reading.”

With their mission in mind, how was Follett able to develop and launch a successful book fair program in the first place? As Britten recalls, “Our customers had asked us to offer book fairs in some capacity for many years. There’s a lot of logistics and complexity associated with essentially delivering a pop-up store to a school.” Delivering a ready-to-go pop-up store to schools and libraries is exactly what they developed, making setup easier than ever before. With their pre-stocked shelves and simple register setup, two volunteers can have a Follett Book Fair set up in under thirty minutes, and managing transactions requires no prior register training. With this agile and ideal system in mind, Follett simply needed one more key ingredient: the books. “As a publisher, Scholastic has many advantages,” says Britten. “One of the things we learned is that other publishers were eager to get their books in front of students.” This was a new way for publishers to reach new readers, and soon those pre-stocked shelves would be full of titles catering to students of all ages and interests.

Follett was digitally savvy from the get-go, ready to react to the 2020 global pandemic with their well-established Book eFairs. Schools have been reaching out to run their own eFairs as students move out of the classrooms and into their homes for learning. With physical access to public and school libraries difficult during the current climate, Follett finds it more important than ever to provide parents with opportunities to fill their home libraries with age-appropriate literature for their children, thus providing them with the ability to continue developing their reading, language, and comprehension skills. To Britten, this struggle is one perfectly suited to Follett’s services: “We know as a result of the pandemic that learning loss is significant [amongst young readers]. We know parents are looking for the next great book for their kids so that’s really where Follett can help.” She continues, “Amazon is not the best browsing experience [to engage with a student]. We have librarians and teachers who are going to the office every day, curating and recommending books for kids at certain age and grade levels and different interest levels to be an awesome fit.”

There has been some concern levied toward the book fair concept, particularly toward Scholastic, that it can highlight inequality amongst students and place undue pressure on struggling parents. Responding to these concerns, Britten was able to highlight some methods undertaken by Follett Learning to make sure all readers can be included in the book fair experience: “We definitely offer bargain titles [to suit all budgets], but more importantly we’ve partnered with non-profit organizations, including non-profit eFairs this spring in Seattle and Milwaukee. With funding from non-profit literacy organizations, students in Minneapolis were able to pick out books for free with backing and shipping provided by Follett to the school districts.” She continues, “This allows students to not only receive donated books handed to them in a bag, but to go through the process of selecting the books which fit their interests. Taking ownership of that choice goes a long way toward making sure the child reads the books they receive.”

Through their development of a new form of book fair emphasizing ease of setup for school districts and libraries, to their integration of online fairs in a time when many students are unable to physically attend school, Follett Book Fairs have pulled ahead of the game to offer that exciting new reading experience to students across America, engaging the students themselves in the joy of exploring new titles and providing the opportunity for parents to engage in their children’s choices. As trends continue toward fewer and fewer students each year reading for fun, Follett is here to help combat that trend. As Britten Follett says, “Our core goal is literacy.”