What it’s Really Like Working at a Used Bookstore

What it’s Really Like Working at a Used Bookstore


My name is danica. I’m a contributing
editor at book riot and today I wanted to talk about what it’s really like to
work in a used bookstore. Before I started to pursue teaching, I worked in
bookstores for about eleven years. I worked at a new bookstore for four years
and a used bookstore for seven years. I know for book lovers working in a
bookstore I can be a kind of dream job, so I want to talk about what it really
feels like to work in a book store, especially long term and to work in a
used book store in particular. So the first thing I would mention is that
working in a book store is a surprisingly physical job. So first of
all you’re just on your feet all day. You of course are not actually sitting
around reading and you can get a shocking amount of steps in in a day
just walking around, showing customers around, doing shelving. So that alone can
be taxing. But if you add onto that the heavy lifting that often comes with the
job. So in the used book store I works at, we had three floors and no elevator. It
changed a lot while it was there but at some point we were pricing books in the
basement and then hauling them out to the top floor.
And that would mean that every week we would haul 40-pound tubs of books up two
flights of stairs. And generally there’d be about 40 or 50 tubs that need to come
up. If you have not carried a 40-pound tub of books up stairs, let me tell you
it is not an easy task. So those were the particularly taxing days. But every day
you had to be carrying around tubs and boxes of books. In the location I was at,
we had books all the way up to the ceiling. So you’d be getting out these
10-foot ladders and carrying stacks of books up and down those ladders. It was
surprising how tiring it is just going up and down ladders especially, if you’re
carrying weight up and down those ladders. Another thing about the
bookstore being on three floors is that we were generally going up and down
stairs a lot in the day. And even just shelving can be a surprisingly
physically demanding task. So even if you don’t have to bring out the big ladder,
we’d have these little step ladders, and then you’d spend all day squatting to
shelf on the bottom shelves and then climbing up the little ladder to get to
the top shelves and going down again again. So you’re basically just doing
squats all day and again with weights. You’re usually just carrying a stack of
books up and down. So when you think about working in a
bookstore, you generally don’t think of it being a physical job but that’s
definitely a component to it. And it’s a good thing to be aware of that because
it’s really easy to injure yourself if you’re not prepared for that. So I wish
that I had known when I was younger that doing that kind of activity all the time
meant that I should be maintaining my core strength and I should be doing some
exercises so that I didn’t injure myself while I was doing it. Because
unfortunately I did develop some back injuries that require a lot of
maintenance now because I didn’t know how to lift things correctly or I didn’t
know that you’re not supposed to twist when you’re carrying something. Good
thing to know. Another aspect of working in a used bookstore, and I’m kind of
going with the negative first and then the positive. So one thing about working
in a youth bookstore is it is dirty. When you’re shelving all day, your hands just
get grey from all of the dust on the books that you’re shelving. If you’re
doing book buying, that can be a particularly a dirty task. People bring
in boxes full of bugs and cobwebs and who knows what else. I did all the
pricing of kids books at one point and kids books were their own territory for
grossness. So you find just mystery smears on books and gum stuck between
the pages and all kinds of unknown gunk on the cover of these books. Also you
will spend so much time removing stickers. Winner stickers are the worst
cuz they’re cut up into all these little pieces, they take forever to get off and
oftentimes they’ll get really slimy when you’re trying to get them off. Sometimes
you just can’t get rid of that sticker residue. There’s a few things that can be
good or bad depending on your taste. So one thing about working in the
bookstore that I found was that you were kind of constantly on a quiz show. So
because I ran the children’s department, I’d often have co-workers ask me as they
walked by, “do you know the author of this book? Do you know if we have any copies of
this one? Do you know where we’d keep books on the subject?” I needed to have
those answers off the top of my head and it was kind of a point of pride for me.
I liked that most of the time co-workers thought that I would have the answer
faster than they could google it. But the other side of it is the customer side.
So you have customers asking for recommendations, saying, “if I liked this
book, what should I read next?” So you’re constantly being tested on your book
knowledge. And a lot of the time it’s way outside of your reading taste. So you
to be able to recommend a book from the crystals section even if you know
nothing about crystals. And then the most difficult part is when you’ve got
customers who know only the most tenuous hints about a book, like the cover was
blue or you had it on a table at Christmas. Or they talked about it on the
radio yesterday. I found you really have to approach these questions as a fun
challenge or puzzle and I got pretty good at being able to find the answers
on google most of the time. And it is so gratifying when you can actually get
that book. Along the same lines, you will learn about the weirdest things.
Sometimes people come in who really want to give you a lecture on a completely
random subject like the juice cleanse that they’re on and why you absolutely
have to try it or why this conspiracy theory book is a hundred percent true or
also just a really intense book recommendation. Like, “oh my god, this is
the best book that’s ever been written. You have to read it.” And another thing
about working in a used book store is you get books in on the weirdest topics.
Sometimes they are so obscure. So something like a catalog of all the
kinds of shopping carts in a specific state or academic subjects that are so
obscure that I can’t even tell from the title or the description what genre it
is. Is the psychology? Is it business? But it can be really fun to flip through
these books and find out things about topics that are totally outside of what
you would usually seek out. So above all, books selling is still retail. So most
of the book selling experience is working with customers. And sometimes
that means somebody throws a book at your head because they didn’t want to buy
it or someone yells at you because you won’t accept a return from a book they
bought six months ago. And occasionally you end up in interactions that feel
unsafe and you have to call for backup. But there’s also really wonderful
customer interactions. Working the kids section, I loved being able to find a
book that a disinterested preteen is actually showing some interest in or
having kids who are just so excited for this picture book that they’re gonna
read. Sometimes you get to just geek out about a book series with a stranger and
sometimes you recommend a book to someone and they come back later and
tell you how much they loved it and ask for a bunch more recommendations.
Sometimes you meet authors who are just browsing the shelves. And if
you’re lucky, you work in a dog-friendly bookstore and you get to meet so many
cute dogs. and of course there’s the books. You will buy so many books. Again,
if you’re lucky you’re gonna have a really great staff discount and it’s
gonna be very hard to turn anything down that you want to read. The biggest thing
that I loved about working in a used bookstore specifically was all of the
books you get to discover through it. So because I priced kids books, I got to
flip through so many picture books

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  1. Interesting! I would not like the heavy lifting and stairs part, but I think helping customers find books and finding gems for myself would be awesome.

  2. I work at a grocery so the being on your feet all day and interesting customers is something I'm familiar. I do also have some experience with heavy lifting too as I have to sometime lift water and gas tanks. I would worry about helping people find books and if i had to work the cash register.

  3. used bookseller since 2015. a buy smelled like meth and I got sick from it. a coworker got punched in the face by a customer over a $1 return, but now i'm her bridesmaid. I also I have gotten free fanime tickets, food, gifts, and fantastic conversations with customers so ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿฝโ€โ™€๏ธ

  4. There's one other question people should answer about this job: "Do you have a problem not earning enough money to live on?"

    I was a manager & just barely earned enough.

    The incident I remember most was the guy who walked in and started loudly lecturing us about his co-worker who was influenced by demons because she was a LEZ-BEE-AN.

    Another time a regular customer tried to return a stack of books she had purchased seven years earlier. They had apparently spent a long time in the trunk of her car & were quite battered.

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