Building on the success of our Celebrating Youth in Our Community series, we’ve decided to initiate a series highlighting innovation and creativity within our region’s small business sector. This is the first of our series where we celebrate an innovative partnership between Russell Books and local schools.
Meeting at the sunny entrance of Russell Books, I joined the store’s manager, Andrea Minter, and very passionate group of teachers and parents to discuss their vision for inspired book fairs in Victoria schools – fairs that move beyond the corporate Scholastic model to integrate student’s interests with a small local business and sense of community. Sarah McLeod (a constituent of OBGH), the teacher-librarian at St. Margaret’s School currently doing her Master’s on the transformation of libraries to learning commons, Jennifer van Hardenberg, the communications coordinator for St. Margaret’s School, two of their Parents’ Auxiliary members, Victoria Davis and Stephanie Neilson (a constituent of OBGH), and I sat amongst great literary company in the vintage books section while they told me about the budding partnership between Russell Books and local schools.
Russell Books was started by Andrea’s grandfather, Reg Russell. He was a banker, she explained, with a book collection that outgrew his home. Andrea’s grandmother suggested he take all his books and open a small store and, in 1961, Mr. Russell did just that, starting with a 300 square foot book shop in Montreal. The store packed up and moved to Victoria in 1991 where it was run by Andrea’s parents. It has continued to expanded from its humble beginnings and now consists of 16,000 square feet of new and used books, all managed by Andrea and her husband.
Fed up with plastic book fairs that seemed designed to push stuff on their kids instead of celebrating the joy of reading, Sarah and Andrea joined forces to host their first-ever non-scholastic book fair at St. Margaret’s elementary school, building off similar fairs Andrea had hosted at Sir James Douglas where her children were students. On all levels, they said, it was a huge success. “We wanted to start slow,” Andrea said, “to make sure we were doing it right.”
“There is waste [associated with Scholastic fairs] and the books are also quite expensive,” added Sarah describing the metal boxes that would follow the shiny pamphlets to her library, chock-full of individually wrapped erasers and posters. “Russell Books provides a variety of prices [$2-20], a sense of community and warmth. It’s just a different feeling.”
70% of the books at Russell Books are used and readers can swap them back for store credit at the store once they are done, an element that provides students with a valuable lesson in sustainability and sharing.
The team working to grow and expand Russell book fairs to more schools is keen to keep kids involved. Over the past few years, the weeks leading up to their fairs are spent exchanging countless emails and phone calls about special books students are hoping will be at the fair.
“It’s all about forming connections and relationships – connecting the virtual and physical worlds found in stories, connecting schools with their community, connecting kids with books,” said Sarah.
Students have been engaged and excited about the fairs, and so have the staff at Russell Books. Before we wrapped up our meeting I asked Andrea what their capacity for expansion would be if other schools came forward interested in collaborating for their own fair, “absolutely,” she said, “we have an amazing staff here and everyone is keen to work at the book fair.” Not to mention they have over a million titles to choose from. The next fair at St. Margaret’s will be at the end of this month, coinciding with grandparent’s day.
It’s exciting to envision the potential whereby local booksellers partner with local schools to host book fairs that cater to the specific interests of our school communities. Thank you Russell Books for being an innovator in this regard.
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March 16, 2018