May the Librarians Be With You: Top Tips for a Perfect School Visit

 Happy World Book Day er Week! Here's something I posted on my Facebook Page on 25 February 2017.

With World Book Day at hand, schools are gearing up for author visits and I’d love to share some Best Practice demonstrated by the scintillating librarians who had me visiting their schools this week. With many thanks to my kind hosts at the Queen Elizabeth School for Girls in North London and Linton Village College in Cambridgeshire.

So here are four tips I can offer based on these two shining school visits:

My books beautifully displayed in a way only a librarian knows how

1. Build a Buzz

I can always tell that it’s going to be a GREAT visit when pupils are whispering ‘It’s Candy Gourlay!’ as I stride through the halls. It’s a sign that the teachers and librarians have put some effort into adding some sparkle to my reputation. It’s not that I want to be treated like a celebrity (although wow, that would be cool), it just means that my audience is primed to fully engage with my presentation.

At both schools, the librarians put up library displays about me and my books. They showed the children some of my videos and urged them to look up my website. Librarian Ruth Keys even displayed this hilarious photo of me with her two famous library cats (they have had their photos taken with a gazillion authors) .

Ruth Keys' library cats are celebrities with children's authors

2. Take the Time

L is for Librarian. And L is for Lucy (left) and for Louise Aldridge of Queen Elizabeth Girls School in High Barnet. A pupil who won a Jack Petchey Achievement Award decided to spend the money on inviting me to visit the school. I had a fun Q&A with the book club then presented to the whole of Year 7, after which we had a book signing.

Timing is crucial during an author visit and librarians have to make sure everyone knows that there is going to be a presentation, especially the teachers on whose hour the school visit might fall.

It is a good idea to programme time to breathe around the presentation so that the author can interact informally with the children. At Queen Elizabeth’s I had an hour of chatting with the book group who had all read my books. And I was really grateful to both schools for the time they programmed for me to sign books and chat with the children (we discussed what was the last great book they’d read and - because I was writing down their names - why their parents named them that way).

Linton Village College won a school visit from me in the Authors for Refugees Auction bravely organised by children's author Fiona Dunbar who wrote the Lulu Baker series. Their visit was funded by the Linton Book Festival and Linton Village College Friends. From left to right: Anna McMahon of the Linton Book Festival, LVC librarians Ruth Keys and Liz Crump, and Anne Milijic of Linton Village College Friends.

3. Streamline Book Sales

One of the things I dread at school visits is selling books AND signing at the same time. It’s a very painful experience and I’m terrible at counting change. Book sales really, really matter to authors at a time when public libraries and bookshops are closing down and only the mighty Amazon sell their books at a massive, toe-curling discount. Book sales during school visits mean our books stay in print and bookshops supplying the books stay open.

This week, the librarians thought of everything. Here’s what they did:
  • They sent the children home with a letter telling their parents that they would have an opportunity to buy books and have them signed by an author
  • They ordered the books from local book stores who very kindly gave them a discount
  • They sent another reminder to the children to bring money on the day.
  • They took advance payments and thought of what to do in case children turned up on the day saying, ‘I forgot my money, miss.’ (One librarian got the children to ring their parents for permission on the spot!)
  • They sent another reminder (!)
  • They planned the lay-out of book sales with sales happening away from where I was safely sat at a table with a bottle of water and a pen.
  • They made sure my talk happened before break time so that the children were not rushing elsewhere
4. Be techno-ready and remove all distraction

Oh the horror of a Powerpoint presentation that goes wrong!

But no such horrors happened at this week’s school visits because screen, computer, connectors were all ready for me when I arrived.

At Queen Elizabeth’s there was a massive mirror on the wall facing the audience and the librarians covered it with a black cloth so that the audience would not be distracted by their own reflections!

With thanks to the librarians, teachers and pupils of Queen Elizabeth’s School for Girls and Linton Village College. I would love to write more top tips for school visits, so any suggestions are welcome!

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