This post is part of a series highlighting the North Carolina Public Library Directors Association 2015 Programming Award recipients. We hope to not only recognize these innovative programs and their achievements, but also to facilitate sharing of programming ideas across the state. Do you have a program at your library that you’d like to share with other library staff? Let us know about it and be featured on the Library Development blog! Email Amanda Johnson for more information.
On a Saturday afternoon in early 2014, a small group of local self-published authors rented a meeting room at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin to get together and sell their books. That independent event became the kernel of an idea. Library staff began to contemplate a full-fledged book fair devoted to local authors who were looking for exposure and who might have some difficulty drawing an audience of their own at a traditional (and individual) book signing event. After several months of planning, the Macon County Public Library hosted the inaugural Read Local Book Fair on Saturday, November 8, 2014, featuring 27 authors from Macon County or the surrounding area. The Fair was conceived as a way to support local authors by introducing the reading public to some of the authors living in their midst, while simultaneously promoting the “shop local” efforts of independently owned businesses in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.
The Book Fair was held in the main traffic areas of the library, not confined to a meeting room. Tables were set up end-to-end throughout the building, with two authors seated at each. When the doors opened to the public, library-goers went from table to table, meeting and chatting with authors, hearing readings, and purchasing books either directly from authors or from the local independent bookstore, which set up an on-site bookselling station in the Library. The readings were done in 15-minute increments throughout the duration of the Fair and took place around the Library’s fireplace, in the center of the building, in order to create an attractive and intimate, yet informal, setting for authors and readers to interact. The event was a popular success that drew several hundred additional patrons into the building, compared to the average door count on a November Saturday. Evaluations by attending writers were extremely positive overall, with authors identifying the ability to network with each other as a major benefit.
The Book Fair combined a community partnership with the local bookstore and a commitment to serve the public, including authors. The Read Local Book Fair offered an economic boost to the bookstore, enabled our patrons to meet many local authors, and created a unique networking opportunity for those authors. Demonstrating the creativity of members of our own community was a focal point of the event. In addition, the exclusive emphasis on local writers generally without a significant national following ensured that no one was overshadowed by a “larger-name” author.
A partnership with the local independent bookstore was critical to the success of the Book Fair. In addition to selling books, Books Unlimited also assisted library staff in formulating an invitation list that represented local authors who had published books within the previous 3 years. The store’s owner reported that selling $1,800 worth of books at the Fair “saved my November, which is such a slow month for us normally.” The Library also partnered with the Friends of the Macon County Public Library, which sold memberships during the Fair and provided refreshments. Additional co-sponsors were the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Read2Me: Reading Matters in Macon, which sold memberships to provide books to families of young children in the county. All co-sponsors were featured in the publicity leading up to the Fair, giving them additional visibility in the community.
The Read Local Book Fair served as a successful proof-of-concept that has now been repeated at the Macon County Public Library (in 2015) and replicated at the neighboring Jackson County Public Library (another member of Fontana Regional Library). Moreover, the project is inherently transferable to other communities, whether large or small. While Fontana Regional Library’s particular challenge is to bring readers and writers together in a rural area, the project could be replicated by an urban library, with many of the same results. In a more densely populated area, authors and readers may have more venues and opportunities to meet each other, but there will always be local authors who struggle both to reach an audience and to connect with their peers, and readers with an interest in what fellow community members are writing. If strengthening communities depends upon strengthening the connections between groups within those communities, then a Read Local Book Fair can be a useful tool for public libraries trying to assist in that process.
A special thanks to Karen Wallace and the staff at the Fontana Regional Library for sharing this program!