Sunday, March 8, 2009

Toronto school board spending spree kicks off

Quill & Quire: 2009 March 6

It wasn’t exactly a free-for-all, but the first day of an unprecedented two-day spending spree for Toronto’s elementary school librarians has kept participating vendors happily busy.

The selling fair, which is taking place at Toronto’s Exhibition Place, was organized by the Toronto District School Board, the country’s largest school board, in order to spend its $1.8-million allotment of the $15-million earmarked by the Ontario Liberals for buying new library books. That entire sum must be spent by the end of the day on Friday, or librarians will lose the funding.

Thirty-four vendors had set out their wares in long rows of collapsible tables stretching across the show floor on Thursday. “It’s just like being free in a candy store,” said Queen Victoria Public School librarian Melissa O’Brien, who was wandering the aisles with $5,900 to spend. Outside the venue, one librarian struggled to load her trunk with a half dozen heavy boxes, and then returned to the exhibition hall for more.

The only real complaints were the long lines at the checkouts of individual vendors. By midday, a bottleneck of nearly 30 customers had amassed at the display of library wholesaler S&B Books; president Arthur Gale noted that demand so far had been “massive.” Even some of the smaller vendors attending the fair for the first time were experiencing higher-than-expected demand. “There were times this morning when we just couldn’t keep up,” said Second Story Press publisher Margie Wolfe, who was helping out at the display for Toronto retailer and wholesaler Another Story Bookshop.

Paula Murphy, a librarian at Henry Hudson Senior Public School in Scarborough, had been worried that, given the short notice, vendors wouldn’t have the kind of stock she was looking for. “I knew I had certain gaps in my library that needed filling,” said Murphy, who was shopping for books in science, history, geography, art, and music. Overall, though, Murphy was “very impressed” by the selection.

Another Scarborough librarian, Ray Hopkin of Bliss Carman Senior Public School, noted that discounts at the show seemed steeper than at similar events in past years. In order to attend the fair, vendors approved by the ministry had to commit to a minimum discount of 20%, though most of the big wholesalers were offering cuts of 30% or more. Oxford University Press School Division, for example, was offering a 40% discount, and 45% off complete school sets.

The fair was a new experience for several vendors catering to the school library sector for the first time, including Indigo and indie bookseller Mabel’s Fables, which were positioned side-by-side and had equally prominent displays.

The TDSB resource sale continues all day Friday.