Let’s face it, sometimes working in a bookstore can be dull. Is it fun to check the alphabetical order of picture books? No, not really. Is it necessary? Totally. I was struck recently by the plethora of mundane yet vital tasks that booksellers must do in order to keep the store running smoothly, because I’ve been training staff.
Last week we had a teenager work with us a few hours every day last week. Shelby’s a voracious reader and has always visited our store while on vacation. Her work ethic was remarkably good, but I noticed there was something she was hesitating to ask. Finally I asked her in between chores, “What is it?” Her reply was so earnest it almost broke my heart. “When do I get to read?”
I think the biggest misconception about owning a bookstore, or working in one, is that we sit around all day reading. I told Shelby that if she ever walked in a bookstore and saw the staff reading, for sure that store would be closed within the year. Reading, while vital to the store’s survival, happens on non-work time. When Shelby heard this her eyes widened and she said, “So you work all day and then read. When do you get stuff done?” Oh, Shelby, I wish I knew.
The seemingly boring tasks are important because they help the store run smoothly. If a bookseller can’t find Where the Wild Things Are because a customer mistakenly put it back under W, we might lose a sale while we try to figure out where it went. So, making sure all the books are in the right order is hugely important.
We have a spinner that houses our Early Readers and Chapter books and yesterday it got straightened out. You would think a fairly easy task: sort the early readers by level then alphabetically by author. Not so much. It seems that no one really understands just how the levels work, so books get put back most often by color. While this makes for a lovely display case, it’s not really effective. My valiant staffer who took on this challenge (for work like this, it’s best to put the OCD staffers on it) discovered that copies of Flat Stanley had traveled to every single section of the spinner.
Is alphabetizing something all my staffers want to do? Not really. But I have one staffer who sees the real value in working on a section she doesn’t know that well. Alphabetizing is a wonderful way of getting to know an entire section, and it’s amazing how often that hard work is rewarded by being able to get exactly the right book for the right person.
We have a rule at the Flying Pig: If the customer stays in the store long enough, we will always find the book, and with the completion of these mundane tasks, the wait time is cut in half. And that can only be a good thing, since we have all to sing the ABC song when we alphabetize, and five minutes of that makes children join in and adults flee the area.