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Library Spells Success with Sip & Spell Event

by on July 21, 2017

On a Saturday night in February, hundreds of Corvallis, Oregon residents filled a historic downtown theater for a beloved yearly event, the library’s annual Sip & Spell spelling bee. The Corvallis–Benton County Public Library in Oregon hosted its first Sip & Spell in 2015, drawing a crowd of 300 people, including 75 contestants.[i] Now in its third year, the event saw 80 spellers compete in front of about 500 audience members.[ii] Because of the size of the event, the library has found outside venues, including a local restaurant and a historic theater, to host the program and vendors to sell food and alcohol to the audience.[iii]

To limit participants and raise some money for the library’s Friends group, spellers pay a $5 fee to enter the bee. Audience members get in free, but can donate money to sponsor spellers who cannot afford the fee.[iv] Spellers can also purchase cheats at the time of registration, ranging from a $3 ‘Ask a Friend,’ where a friend in the audience can spell the word for them from their own knowledge, to a $15 ‘Mulligan,’ where a speller can stay in the competition after misspelling a word.[v] A “Big Cheat Deal” package gives contestants several cheats at a discount, and was so popular in the second year of the event that nearly everyone bought it, said Bonnie Brzozowski, a reference librarian at the library and one of the spelling bee coordinators.[vi]

These fees brought in enough money to allow the event to break even in its first year, after the Friends donated the proceeds back to the library’s programming budget. In its second year, with a change in venue, the event ended up costing the library $1000.[vii]  This year, the event cost between $500-750, Brzozowski said.[viii]  Although the event doesn’t raise as much money as it costs, the library will likely continue doing it in the coming years as it attracts a hard-to-reach demographic.”People react to the event as something to keep going because it brings people to a library event that we never see at a library event, the 20-  to 30-somethings,” Brzozowski said.[ix]

With the bee’s large number of contestants and the benefits of the cheats, a big challenge has been timing. In the second year, Brzozowski said the event lasted nearly four hours before a champion was crowned. This year, an “end-of-bee” round was introduced, in which 20 words are given and all remaining contestants at the end of the round are declared winners. This allowed staff to limit the event to two hours.[x]

Another important consideration is the bee’s word list. Official Scripps spelling bee lists are difficult to come by, so the library’s spelling bee committee makes its own list of about 500 words per year to challenge contestants.[xi] Committee members ask for suggestions of difficult words from friends and coworkers, look up lists of frequently misspelled words, and use their own leisure reading time to collect words. “Any word I find that’s a great spelling word, I write it down and keep a list all year long,” Brzozowski said.[xii]


References

[i] “Sip & Spell: An Adult Spelling Bee | Programs That Pop.” Library Journal.  Accessed June 22, 2017. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2017/05/opinion/programs-that-pop/sip-spell-an-adult-spelling-bee-programs-that-pop

[ii] Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian at Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, in an e-mail interview with the author, June 22, 2017

[iii] Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian at Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, in a phone interview with the author, June 20, 2017

[iv] “Sip & Spell: An Adult Spelling Bee | Programs That Pop.” Library Journal.  Accessed June 22, 2017. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2017/05/opinion/programs-that-pop/sip-spell-an-adult-spelling-bee-programs-that-pop

[v] “Sip & Spell Official Rules.” Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. Accessed June 22, 2017. https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/pdf/SipandSpellOfficialRules2017.pdf

[vi] Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian at Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, in a phone interview with the author, June 20, 2017

[vii] “Sip & Spell: An Adult Spelling Bee | Programs That Pop.” Library Journal.  Accessed June 22, 2017. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2017/05/opinion/programs-that-pop/sip-spell-an-adult-spelling-bee-programs-that-pop

[viii] Bonnie Brzozowski, Reference Librarian at Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, in a phone interview with the author, June 20, 2017

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.


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