Meet the Professional: book wholesaler, Jeff Burnham
My hometown of Brantford Ontario is rich in Six Nations culture and history. I love to go on long bike rides and one of my favourite routes takes me behind the Mohawk Chapel and past the Woodland Cultural Centre. Right beside the Woodland Cultural Centre on Mohawk Street and tucked into an industrial mall is Goodminds.com. I had passed it many times and took note of it, meaning to drop in.
Last June, I did.
Jeff Burnham is the president and he operates Goodminds.com with his wife Linda and their staff. He took me on a tour.
The warehouse is huge. Jeff showed me through the section where Aboriginal materials are organized – shelves upon shelves of curriculum texts, language instruction books, fiction and non-fiction for the school market, but also for academic and general reading. This is the largest and broadest selection of Aboriginal books in North America.
Goodminds.com second specialty is the school library market. Marlene Turkington, a former teacher-librarian from London Ontario, is their curriculum consultant and that part of the warehouse is massive as well.
Jeff took the time to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
Can you tell me about GoodMinds.com?
GoodMinds.com is an Aboriginal, family owned book wholesaler, based on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, at Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The business now stocks more than 6,000 titles including school library books and a strong Aboriginal collection.
Although GoodMinds.com technically opened its “doors” in April 2000 to distribute Aboriginal educational resources, the roots of the business extend to a combination of events in 1987 and 1995. Today, GoodMinds.com is operated by Linda and Jeff Burnham and 10 staff to date, including Sheila Staats, Marlene Turkington, Rosemary Lunau, Josiahs Cook, Sandy Nagy and others.
What is your role in GoodMinds.com?
As President, I focus on long term planning. Up until recently, we focused on Aboriginal books, but we identified a need for non-Native high quality children and youth books for the school library market, so we’ve expanded to include that as well. With that change, we’ve been making it easier for schools to purchase from us. We implemented automated shopping carts at book fairs, in our office and our website.
We have also been working with publishers directly with some projects – assisting in the production of books where we have the expertise and we see a need.
Implementation of the new SALT program is something I am passionate about.
What is SALT?
SALT stands for Supporting Aboriginal Libraries Today. It is a fund started in 2013 by GoodMinds.com, initially to raise money for the Six Nations Public Library, for their $15 million dollar new building and archives. We almost immediately realized that a huge need for a library existed in hundreds of Aboriginal communities across Canada. More than 90% of Aboriginal communities do not have any public library at all.
GoodMinds.com is donating 10%, of Canadian public library sales to the SALT fund and will do the same for all other sales upon request. For complete details please see the SALT information on the web site at www.goodminds.com.
Wow. I had no idea that most First Nations communities do not have public libraries.
SALT is a literacy issue and an education need.
Currently no funding exists in First Nations communities to start a public library. What scarce dollars there are has to compete with obvious needs such as housing, water and sanitation, roads, and education. Given that competition, it is easy to understand why most First Nations communities do not have a public library.
SALT is ultimately a campaign to get the Federal Government to recognize the need for public libraries in Aboriginal communities, and to provide funding for public libraries, so that literacy can improve in Aboriginal communities. At GoodMinds.com we see this as an important social justice concern. With everyone’s help we can make a difference!
Can you tell me about your book selection process at Goodminds.com?
Books are selected by our two professional selectors. Sheila Staats selects all Aboriginal Books from Grades K-12, and also for our College, University and Adult collections.
Marlene Turkington selects all other books for the library collection, which also includes Early Education, Graphic Novels from Grades K-8 and YA books. Marlene is a former head librarian for a large school board in Ontario.
Both have had years of experience and are knowledgeable about choosing books that support curriculum needs.
Can you describe your typical day?
My day ranges from administrative accounting functions and consultations with staff in the office, to very interesting meetings with authors and customers at book fairs, conferences and other events. There really is not a “typical” day. It can range from packing 100 bins of books for a major display, to setting up at a show, to selling, then packing up again and returning to the office to put the books back on the shelf, only to repeat the process the next day.
What kind of writing are you passionate about?
I recently enjoyed reading The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.
Is there something you wish people would ask you, but they never do?
I would love to be invited to speak about the need for public libraries in Aboriginal communities.
Peer into your crystal ball and tell me what you see in the future for children’s publishing.
GoodMinds.com sells books that for the most part are written and published by others. We are dependent on writers who put their heart and soul into the books they write.
As for the future, I hope there will continue to be growth in children’s multicultural books and in particular Aboriginal books. I hope that the general public will read more multicultural titles. That would be the best way that I know for everyone to become more informed about our global village.
Let me close by using Aboriginal books as an example. A book about residential schools is written more for the non-Aboriginal reader than for the Aboriginal reader. Most Native people already know about Residential Schools, but non-Native readers can learn about the issue by reading such a book. They may not already know that the real intention of Residential Schools was to get rid of the “Indian Problem”. We know now that the Residential School policies didn’t quite accomplish their goal. In some cases they did more damage by creating a whole new set of problems that we are still living with today. By reading a book on that topic, a non-Native reader can gain empathy.
Marsha Skrypuch won the Silver Birch Fiction Award last year for Making Bombs for Hitler. Her narrative non-fiction, Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue From War won the BC Red Cedar Award for non-fiction and was a Red Maple Honour book. This year, One Step At A Time: A Vietnamese Orphan Makes Her Way is a Silver Birch non-fiction nominee, and Making Bombs for Hitler has been shortlisted for the Kobzar Literary Award and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.