Two years ago, two colleagues and I began taking a close look at the standardized reading test scores of Middle School students. Information compiled from a survey about students' reading habits showed that successful students had lots and lots of books in their homes, received books as gifts, lived in homes where books were highly valued, and spent free time reading for pleasure. Less successful students didn't have the same access to books in their homes, and didn't receive books as presents.
With this disparity in mind, I put together a plan to open up a used bookstore, The Tattered Pages, in a room attached to the Media Center. The books would be donated by students and community members and would be "sold" to students using play currency, or coupons, rather than real money. Lots of coupons, in standard dollar increments ($1.00. $5.00, etc) and looking like real money, were printed. Through newsletters, articles in the Northfield newspaper, speaking in churches, etc, I started advertising for book donations. For every book that a student donated s/he would receive a coupon worth half the value it would sell for. Paperbacks typically sold for $5.00 or $10.00 apiece, so students would receive $2.50-$5.00 for their donation (again, using coupons rather than real money). Because Northfield is a highly educated city and people buy books freely, donations started coming in fast and furiously. Carleton College donated bookshelves and community members helped get the store set up.
The Tattered Pages opened on January 15, 2007. It is open during the school day, and before and after school and is managed solely by students, who earn coupons each time they work in the store. A new work schedule is made for student workers every Monday, and it quickly fills up. Student workers stay busy pricing books, shelving them alphabetically, grouping them by age (adult, young adult, children, nonfiction), cleaning, and decorating the walls. Staff members, including custodians, cooks, bus drivers, etc, get involved by handing out coupons to students who demonstrate academic or social success. By the end of the first school year the bookstore had received grants from two local organizations to "beef up" thin subject areas and I received a WINGS award at a banquet at St. Olaf college for the store's success.
A local sign maker was commissioned to make a sign announcing The Tattered Pages, and a popcorn machine was purchased, with the intention of selling popcorn from The Tattered Pages for .50 every Friday. Popcorn proceeds are used to purchase more books for the bookstore.
This past fall, with the bookstore little more than one year old, a new campaign was launched to get 500 books donated by October 1. The Tattered Pages reached its goal by mid-September, and by October 1 it had received nearly 2000 more new and gently used books. The local bookstore, River City Books, sent over boxes of new books it received as preview copies from publishers, and a new plan was launched to promote the idea that students could "buy" gifts for friends' birthdays, Christmas, etc. No student should have to spend real money on gifts when The Tattered Pages had so many great gifts (now over 4,000 books!) for them to purchase free of charge.
In December The Tattered Pages hosted its second annual "Holiday Gift Buying Extravaganza". The store was open throughout the evening of the 14th for families to do their holiday shopping. The High School Honor Society provided free gift-wrapping, and popcorn, holiday cookies, and hot apple cider were sold, using coupons instead of real money. There were twinkling lights, holiday movies and music playing in the Media Center, and all coupons were worth double their normal value.
Our hope was that everyone, especially low income and new immigrant families, could use this opportunity to pile up on books for their homes, without spending a dime.
In the past year and a half we've also had a Mother's Day sale, with live music and fresh pastries, and we are now working on creating a section of Spanish books for our new English learners.
More grants will need to be written, and lots of popcorn will need to be sold, but it is a fun journey, and we have lots of time. Stop in and visit us!
- Amy Sieve, Media Specialist