I haven’t been to Barnes and Noble in years. However, after receiving a gift card, I thought I would check them out again. I expected it to be slow, sickly, and dying out slowly. However, when I walked in, the place felt . . . alive.
Often in one corner, students were studying at the coffee shop. In the kids area, they were prepping the store for a Harry Potter party, complete with wands and books of spells. As I walked around an aisle, I noticed a flier for a local book-signing and book discussion. At the front, of the store, they had a nice display for the Nook, allowing readers to bridge the gap between a brick-and-mortar store and e-reading.
I’m still not sure it’s enough to revive the chain. However, in the death of the bookstore industry, I’ve noticed that many local bookstores have found a way to survive. I’m thinking we could learn a few things if schools are going to become (or remain?) relevant:
- A Technology Bridge: There are a few local bookstores that used social media to their advantage. They’ve created a sense of “space” both online and offline that feels warm and inviting compared to the cold world of Amazon. I’m wondering what it would look like for schools to use chats, hangouts and Facebook to connect with the broader world.
- Going Holistic: The coolest bookstores I visit are places where they do more than simply sell books. They also have live music, places to explore art and small areas for people to experience solitude. One of my favorite bookstores has a indoor/outdoor garden where one can read. I’d love to see schools take on this holistic element.
- A Sense of Community: I get it. School is compulsory. However, I would love to see schools learn from the bookstores that create communities and value relationships. Some of my favorite local bookstores that I’ve seen are also coffee shops where people know one another and share a set of values. It’s not listed on a mission statement. It’s organic.
- A Powerful Experience: The biggest thing we can offer at school are experiences that cannot exist online. We can offer gardens. We can let kids observe real science. We can create spaces where they can read and discuss things in small groups. We can bring people in from the community to engage with students in specific subjects.
- A Local Identity: The bookstores that have survived are the ones that embrace the local flavor and help make sense out of the current void of a local politic. What if schools were truly anchored in neighborhoods and reflected the identity of the surrounding communities?
This might be too idealistic, but if schools are going to become relevant again, I’m thinking we might want to pay attention to what the local bookstores are doing.
I would love thoughts on what else schools can do to become relevant again. Please leave a comment.