They say independent bookstores thrive to survive nowadays. It’s true only to some extent. “Open Books” in Chicago, IL that I visited recently is an example of how a passionate work of volunteers through engaging programs can create a competing alternative to major bookstores not only because of the price of the books, but because of an extra value it creates for children and their parents. “Open Books” is a non-profit organization, which means almost all of its employees are volunteers. All profits from book sales are used to fund various educational and literacy programs.
It impressed me how many books the store had in every genre and for kids of all ages! The most amazing thing was that all the books were donated! During the time I was in the store, four new boxes of books were brought in.
If you are from Chicago or an area nearby, it might be interesting to learn how you can volunteer and get closer to your potential audience in your community. Others can do long-distance volunteering with the “Open Books” or you can see which programs this bookstore has and find similar in your local venues.
The Store Manager Kevin took time to explain me about four major volunteering opportunities this bookstore provides. They are as following:
- Book Buddies. Being in a bookstore, I talked to volunteer Joan who did this a year ago. She was paired with a second-grader boy, and read books with him for over a year. She said, at first she would bring a box of books at the meeting and would spread them on the table in front of him. The boy would pick which book they would read. After she learned that stories about Spongebob excited him, she would bring similar books to their “buddy readings”. It helped the boy to be passionate about reading and more consistent with the time he spent on it. Joan said that she noticed definite improvement in his reading techniques during a short period of time because she was always there to correct him when needed or explain a hard word. These meetings are usually held twice a week.
2. VWrite is a long-distance volunteering that can be done via emails or phone. It’s concentrated mostly on post-high school coaching on business writing (i.e. job applications, resume writing).
3. ReadThenWrite. This program is done by volunteering in specific classrooms in public schools. It’s a sort of a book club with a unique flavor. Members of the club meet every week to read a book. It’s usually picked up by the kids. Literacy coaches make sure it’s related to a high school life. The second time they meet that week they focus on writing their own pieces which would be similar to the book they are reading with the help of the coaches. Kids also have a chance to publish their work. They choose the pieces they want to see in print, and the bookstore publishes a compilation book with lulu.com. “Open Books” then has an Author Event several times per semester when children present their book and make a public reading on the “stage” of the boostore. Every child-author gets a copy of the book; it’s also sold in the store. Currently 3 schools participate in this program. Next Author Events: launching of the book “It’s All About Awesome Poets” from Fairfield Academy will take place on February 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm in the bookstore; February 20, 2013 4:30-6 pm 7th and 8th grade students of Mitchell school will present an anthology of memoirs “Now You Know Us” inspired by David Klass’ s novel “You Don’t Know Me”.
4. Field Trips. 2-hour writing workshops are held in the classrooms at the bookstore and are also led by volunteering adult writers. At the end of the workshop kids get to perform their work and get a feedback from their peers and a professional coach. There is a small entry cost; however, at the end of every meeting each child gets one coupon for a free book in the store.
Store volunteering opportunities are also available. Each volunteer is given three slots a month to choose from. Responsibilities will include assisting customers, making inventory (systemizing, shelving of the books), ranking the books, and many other. To apply for any volunteering opporunity, just go to the bookstore website and fill out the form. After they contact you, you’ll be invited to attend one of their orientations where you can choose which days and hours you’ll work. Store volunteering is a great way to see what kind of books in your specific genre kids like to read. And imagine what impact you might have on children in your community by simply spending time with them and reading!
I already signed up for the volunteering in the store and can’t wait to start!
I hope you’ll also grab the opportunity and engage yourself in an amazing world of children’s literature in your local bookstore!