Sunday, 11 May 2014

What it's really like working in a bookshop

Three years ago, before I was a nanny, I worked part-time in a university bookshop. Now, you would think that since I love people and I love books, that working in a bookshop would be my dream job [and before I started working there, so did I!] but actually working in a bookshop wasn't that much fun. Now, I know some people believe that work shouldn't be 'fun', but that's not a view I subscribe to at all - we spend so much time working that I think it should be something we like doing [if at all possible - though I know how hard it can be to get any job sometimes]. So consider this post a warning to anyone dreaming of working in a bookshop and bear in mind that if you do end up doing this job you will have to do the following:

1. Lift lots and lots of heavy boxes/books

Those shelves aren't going to stack themselves! Just because you work in a bookish environment,  it doesn't mean that you won't be expected to do lots and lots of manual labour. Beware, law books are usually the heaviest [and usually the ones that have to be lifted on and off the shelves the most often as they are constantly being revised.]

2. Stock Check

This was the worst aspect of the job by a long way. The shop I worked in sold lots of stationery, and believe me when I tell you, there's nothing more boring than counting how many biros you have in stock. As well as counting pens, doing a stock check also meant locating Every. Single. Book in the shop and checking them off a list. Usually there would be a couple of books that would be impossible to find as they would be hiding underneath some rubbish in the back room, and hours would be lost searching for them.

 Counting pens is oh so stimulating...though they are pretty.

3. Serve difficult customers

Now, actually bookshop customers tend to be a polite bunch, but in amongst the lovely people, there's always one tryng to get a 'special' discount, getting ratty with you because the book is cheaper on Amazon and asking for a refund on a dog-eared, clearly well thumbed book. There's also always the person rattling the shop shutters during your lunchbreak or the person who is annoyed that their order hasn't arrived yet. And then there's the kid who deliberately mixes up the pen display whilst he has a row with his mother...

4. Promote Sales

I don't really like doing a hard sell on customers. I think that bookshops should be low pressure places where people come to relax, and that doing a sales spiel will actually result in less sales. However, my boss didn't share the same view as me [and I think you'll find that a lot of bookshop managers are the same] and every so often he would get me to say annoying things like 'do you want a pack of highlighters with that reference book?' which would usually result in a customer looking at me with a blank stare.

5. Have an existiential crisis

Some bookshops are busier than others [and some girls are bigger than others...! Sorry, couldn't resist The Smiths reference] but my bookshop was very quiet, and most days we didn't have that many customers [and I think this is sadly a growing trend in bookshops] and so there was plenty of time for me to question what I was doing with my life and what my purpose was exactly, and why I existed. In order to give me something to do whilst having my existiential crisis, my boss would get me to rearrange the shelves [more heavy lifting!], sweep the floor and dust needlessly. I think there's a lot of potential for boredom working in a shop without many people in it and that was certainly true in my case. Fortunately the job didn't put me off reading. Books actually turned out to be the best refuge from the bookshop...every lunch hour I would escape into a book...just so I didn't have to think about working with them anymore.

Anyone else have a bad experience working in a bookshop? Let me know in the comments! 

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