Tip #3: Find good volunteers, train them, and keep them
Sometimes volunteers are hard to deal with, but they are a necessary evil during book fair. Especially if you work in a large school, you will really need help dealing with all of the customers throughout the day. If you have a full-time assistant, as I was lucky enough to have, that person will certainly be able to provide you with lots of support during the book fair, but you will still need some parents to help as well.
Start by advertising for volunteers well in advance. You can send home a flier asking for volunteers, post signs around the school directing parents to come sign up in the library, advertise for help on your school’s website, or even ask teachers to make a note of your needs in their classroom newsletters. It is also a good idea to talk to a representative from the parent/teacher organization to let them know about your desire for volunteers. If your school has other volunteer programs, like senior citizen volunteers or high school clubs that are looking for ways to help in the community, tap into those resources as well.
Some might disagree with me, but I would suggest that you institute a policy that volunteers cannot bring younger siblings with them when they come to work at the fair. I know that this seems inconvenient, but it is very hard for a mother to pay attention to helping third graders count their money and select books when her three-year-old is running around the library and pulling books from display cases. Being the mother of a three-year-old myself, I know how tricky this would be! Save yourself a major headache and ask volunteers to leave the little ones with a babysitter.
Whatever way you choose to get your volunteers, make sure that you prepare a detailed schedule so that you will know who is coming to help and when. A one or two hour time slot is usually doable for most volunteers. If you make a blank schedule ahead of time and advertise the specific time slots for which you will need help, all you will need to do is fill in the names when people sign up.
I typically had one volunteer per time slot so that there were three people working the fair at all times (my assistant, the volunteer, and myself). for preview days, all three people can help students to fill in their wish lists. On buying days, you can have two people working the cash register (one to add up prices and help the students and one to deal with the money and write the receipts) and one person working the floor to help students with making their selections. Make sure to provide every volunteer with a calculator to speed up the process! I usually liked to be the person working the floor because I knew the students and could help them find appropriate books for their tastes and reading levels. I felt comfortable leaving my assistant in charge of the register because I had trained her to use it. If you don’t have an assistant, however, I might suggest that you work the cash register yourself. Most school districts have strict rules about how receipts are to be written and money is to be collected, so you will want to oversee that part of the operation yourself. Whatever jobs you choose to give your volunteers, make sure that you take a few moments when they first arrive to fill them in on what you would like them to do. If you are swamped with business, you can even have the departing volunteer “train” his/her replacement.
Don’t forget that you will need volunteers before the fair begins as well. Ask for people to help with set-up (Remember those “last copy” slips that I mentioned in Part One? Someone has to put them in the books; let it be the volunteers!) and decorations. There are lots of creative parents around who would love to make decorations for your fair and help you display them. If you advertise for volunteers far enough ahead of time, you can tell the decorators what theme you are using and give them some suggestions, and then let them work on decorations at home. This is a great task for those parents who have younger children at home and aren’t able to work during the actual fair. On the day of set-up, all you will have to do is display the beautiful decorations that the parents have made!
Volunteers are a must for clean-up day as well. Besides making the work of packing up the books go much faster, you can use your volunteers in other ways at the end of the fair. If you have been taking reorders, you probably have lots of books to deliver on the last day of the fair. Ask a volunteer to consult your order list and to pull all of your “last copies” from the shelves so that they can be delivered to students. Now that the fair is over, you can give the “last copies” to the students at the tops of the waiting lists for those books. Parents can mark the books with sticky notes containing the student’s name and teacher’s name so that the books will be delivered to the correct students. They can also go through any orders that have arrived and mark those books as well. Finally, arm parents with a rolling cart and send them around the school to deliver the ordered books to students.
If possible, you can offer your volunteers an incentive for working the fair. If you feel that your profits are high enough, you could give each volunteer a free book of their choice (make sure you indicate a maximum price for the gift book, i.e. no more than $5.99). If you need all of the sales you can get and can’t afford to give books away, bring snacks or coffee for volunteers, “donate” a library book in their name (insert a bookplate reading “This book is dedicated to ________ for helping at the 2012 book fair”), or offer them a VIP shopping time (first dibs on the fair before it opens to the public). Remember, making your volunteers feel special will make them want to help you in the future.
Once you have put in all of this work to find and train good volunteers, don’t be afraid to ask them for help next year. Before sending home a flier to the whole community, you can write a personal note to some of your best volunteers when your next book fair comes around and ask them to help again (Dear ___, You were so helpful during last year’s book fair that I would love to have your help again. Here are the dates and times when we need volunteers…Please let me know if you are interested in helping again.)
And if all else fails, just remember these words of advice that my mentor Barbara O’Byrne told me: “During book fair week, always make sure to change your shoes halfway through the day!”
Good luck Tibrarians! Please post comments with any other tips and hints that you can think of to help us all keep our sanity during book fair!