In a Birthday Books program, donors give books or funds to the library on behalf of a student to commemorate their birthday or a special occasion (holidays, graduation, or special achievements are common occasions). Birthday books programs are a great way to get support for your collection development, encourage donations of materials or funds you need, and get families and students engaged with the library. In my library, I use this program as an alternative to hosting a book fair because it brings in about the same amount of funds we’d make while encouraging student and family participation, but distributes the labor of the course of the year and minimizes some of the commercial concerns with popular book fair vendors.
I can’t claim to be the creator of this type of program — they’ve been a library staple program for attracting donations for some time. But, I do think the process I use works, and I would have loved to read some step-by-step instructions before I started this program last year.
Needed supplies and resources (samples included in the instructions below)
A welcome letter
A targeted monthly email
A record of student birthdays (may be able to be downloaded from your OPAC)
Book wish list
Birthday Books bookplates (can be ordered from vendors like Demco or can be customized and printed on labels)
Book processing supplies
A book distribution letter
Thank you notes
Steps to take to build your program
Seek initial support from important stakeholders. In my case, that meant our administration, development office, and parents’ association (PA).
Recruit 1-2 volunteers to help with processing donations and program promotion (optional, but very helpful!)
Create a wish list to allow families to purchase books or that you will use to buy books. I use Amazon since a lot of people are comfortable with it and I ask donors to purchase directly from the list. I like to be sure there are books at a variety of price ranges and interests on the list. I’ve learned over time that it’s helpful to always keep a few well-known titles on the list (sequels and related books from popular series or trilogies, for example). If possible, set up your wish list to mail books directly to your school (Some programs set a certain amount of cash donation instead. See also note below).
Gather student and family data to make an email distribution list (email addresses for family contacts and birthdays for all students). It’s likely that someone on your staff or administration has quick access to a sheet of that information.
Send out an initial email promoting the program to all families. Here’s the text for the letter we use, though we’ve added some more attractive design elements in our final version. If your school or PA sends out regular communication to all families, make sure it’s announced in there as well. Communication is a great task for volunteers to help with.
Send a special invitation email to families of children who are born in the next month (ex. Invite the families of November birthdays in October). Again, utilize volunteers to do this if you have them.
Process books according to your library’s usual process, being sure to add a special book plate recognizing the student donor.
Record donations in a central location.
Distribute books to students of donors. There are different ways of doing this. Last year, I called all students down to the library during homeroom and took their pictures with their books. It was great because the photos were so awesome for promoting the library. But I kept missing students who got to school late or who just chose not to come in to receive their book. This year, I’ve started giving books to the student’s homeroom teacher, already checked out to each student and with a note inside explaining the program. This system is working better for my program.
Send thank-you notes to donors.
Note: Some programs either require a specific donation amount or allow either $$ donation or a book donation. I’ve gone with an all book donation program because the families and students initially involved in the startup of the program suggested this method so that students could pick out their own books.