Equity & Diversity Download

Want to Start Your Own Free Book Fair? Here’s How You Can Get Started

By Brooke Schultz & Gina Tomko — June 24, 2024 1 min read
Photo of book fair.
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What are every day school events that may unintentionally isolate students and their families who are experiencing poverty?

That’s the question researcher Paul Gorksi asked students and their families in focus groups as he was conducting research for his book on erasing the opportunity gap.

For many families—particularly of elementary-aged children—the answer was book fairs.

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Students at Mount Vernon Library in Raleigh, N.C., pose with free books after their book fair. School librarian Julia Stivers started the free book fair eight years ago, in an effort to make the traditional book fair more equitable. Alternative versions of book fairs have been cropping up as a way to help students' build their own personal library, without the costs associated with traditional book fair models.
Students at Mount Vernon Library in Raleigh, N.C., pose with free books after their book fair. School librarian Julia Stivers started the free book fair eight years ago, in an effort to make the traditional book fair more equitable. Alternative versions of book fairs have been cropping up as a way to help students' build their own personal library, without the costs associated with traditional book fair models.
Courtesy of Julia Stivers

“There’s lots of things that are in this sort of category of things that families can purchase a sense of belonging for their kids and the families who can’t do that, their kids don’t get access to that sense of inclusion,” said Gorski, the founder of Equity Literacy Institute, an organization that provides professional learning and training on equity. “Book fairs, yearbooks, field trips. All these ways that supposedly free public schools come with a lot of costs.”

School-based book fairs are pervasive and popular. Though fairs are often used as a fundraising opportunity for school librarians to purchase books for their collection, Gorski said they can also exacerbate the gaps between families who can afford to buy new titles and toys, and the ones who can’t.

For some librarians, it was hard to keep watching students not be able to grow their own book collections like their peers. That’s why some librarians have created alternative book fairs as a way to address that gap. These fairs, where all students can choose new books for free for their own personal libraries, and no one feels like they’re missing out.

It can be a year-long hustle to collect high-interest, popular, new titles, said Julia Stivers, a librarian at Carolina Friends School in North Carolina, who started what she calls “True Book Fairs” eight years ago. But it’s worth it, she said.

“These aren’t like books that nobody wants, right? Like, that would not be like an equitable book fair. That wouldn’t feel right to me. I wanted to have the same energy as a traditional book fair,” she said. “But it’s totally possible to do, even if you have a huge school.”

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Coverage of strategies for advancing the opportunities for students most in need, including those from low-income families and communities, is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www.waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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