Blog 142: What it’s really like working in a bookshop…

August 3, 2022

I’ve been working in a large bookshop for six years. There are approximately 70,000 books over two floors, most are second-hand and some are new. We also have some antiquarian and collectable books too.

A lot of people like the idea of owning or working in a bookshop. It sounds like a perfect job in an idyllic setting, somewhere where you can read books to pass the time, drink cups of tea, and serve a steady (but not too hectic) stream of pleasant customers. You can wander around your shop and restock the odd book here and there. All the shelves are neat and perfectly organised. You can open and close whenever you want, and at the end of the day you count your reasonable takings and go home. This is what some people imagine the job to be, but the reality is far different.

It’s true that being your own boss has its perks, and working in a bookshop is enjoyable if you really care about selling books, but it comes with a lot of hard work and long hours. Forget the idea of reading behind the desk with your feet up, you won’t have time for that. Not all your customers will be pleasant, and lunchtime will happen whenever you can grab some time to eat. A lot of people ask “What is it like working in a bookshop?”, and I would point you to Shaun Bythell’s book ‘Diary Of A Bookseller’ as it is pretty accurate. I can tell you as an employee in a bookshop, my typical working day looks like this…

10am – 10:30am:  Open the till, Cleaning, Hoovering, Restock duplicates from previous day, Open shop. (Check coffee machine.)

10:30am – 17:00pm:  Answer the phone, Serve customers, Collect online orders, Post online orders, Check emails, Deal with book buys, Look up books, Catalogue books for online shop, Clean books, Repair dust jackets, Restock & tidy shelves, Cleaning.

17:00pm – 17:30pm: Close shop, Cash up for the day, Cleaning, Empty bins on bin day, Tidy shelves & shop.

It is amazing how messy a shop can get as customers pick up books and put them back down in random places, sometimes in completely different subject areas. It is part of the job and means a lot of time is spent tidying up and reorganising shelves. If you have a coffee machine in your shop available for your customers, you can expect to find empty coffee cups amongst the shelves too. People will try and sell their books to you and sometimes you won’t be able to take any of them, and sometimes people can be impatient if you don’t respond to their emails quickly. You will spend a lot of time moving books and boxes of books around, which can be tiring if you’re not used to it. There won’t be much time to sit down (unless you’re checking books), as there’s always something that needs to be done or that can be done in a bookshop.

Despite the hard work, I enjoy working in a bookshop. I like being able to find books that customers have spent months or sometimes years searching for. I like being able to recommend authors. I love seeing young children coming into the shop and picking books for themselves. I like seeing the bookshop thrive and grow. The job never gets boring as there are so many old and new books to discover, and many more being published every day. I don’t know everything about books or book selling, but it is fun to learn.