01/22/16

What It’s REALLY Like to Work at a Bookstore

working at a bookstore

As you may or may not know, I work at my local Barnes and Noble in Austin!

It’s been my dream job since I was a little kid to work in a bookstore, so getting this job was incredibly exciting for me.

However, I had a lot of preconceived notions of what it would be like to work at a bookstore. Today, I’m going to share some of them with you all, and the TRUTH of what it’s like.

Please note, this is my experience, and my opinions do not in any way mirror that of my employers. As well, bookstore working environments may vary from store to store!


First off, this was not my first job. I’d worked at my local YMCA (and I didn’t enjoy it because of my coworkers) so I was excited about having a more conventional job. However, I had no idea what a conventional job was like. I’d never worked retail before, and I had no idea if I’d be any good at it. Upon starting at Barnes and Noble, I learned a couple of big lessons.

Lessons I Learned

1. The majority of your coworkers will be older than you if you are a teenager. I am the youngest person employed at my store. 

This was by far the biggest shocker for me. I went from working with people all under the age of 25 to working with either college students (or recent college grads) or people over the age of forty-five. I was used to talking to teenagers about teenager-y things and had to adjust really fast. Now, I kind of love it! I’ve never felt like my coworkers looked down on me, either. They have all been incredibly kind about bringing me into their conversations, and a couple of them have taken to acting like my mother sometimes.

It’s a bit adorable, actually.

Basically I LOVE MY COWORKERS.

2. I recommend being comfortable talking about Star Wars and/or Harry Potter. Like 75% of the people I work with have seen both of these, and a good portion of my coworkers are MASSIVE Star Wars nerds. 

Before I started work I’d never seen Star Wars before. On my first day, I shadowed a massive Star Wars nerd.

I watched Star Wars the following week. Suddenly, I got all the references, could connect to three-quarters of my coworkers, and could fangirl with all of them. To this day, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s way better to ask a question BEFORE you do something, rather than do it wrong and have you boss explain it to you when you’re incredibly embarrassed.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s way better to ask a question BEFORE you do something, rather than do it wrong and have you boss explain it to you when you’re incredibly embarrassed. 

I’m a MASSIVE believer in this and am even known for it among my coworkers. I continually asked questions during my first couple weeks to make sure I was doing things right. In a bookstore like B&N it’s incredibly important because we have to do things in a certain way because of our overhead company (returns, packing boxes, shipping books, etc.) Also, you get to know people by asking people. And you know how to do everything.

4. Get comfortable with having unusual eating hours. I’ve had a lunch break at 2:30 multiple times. It sucks, but it happens.

This was the biggest adjustment for me! I used to be a strictly noon lunch eater, but now I eat at all hours. And let me tell you – having a cafe in your place of work is a lifesaver.

5. BUY COMFORTABLE SHOES BUY COMFORTABLE SHOES BUY COMFORTABLE SHOES

Doc Martens are my #1 BFF.

6. Don’t be mean to patrons. Just don’t. They will annoy you, but don’t do it.

People ask me all the time if customers annoy me, or if they make me angry at the world.

Occasionally, they do. Especially if they leave MASSIVE stacks of books in the Newsstand *shakes fist* or leave their children unattended at the Lego table. But for the most part, I love helping customers. I love finding their book and seeing their faces light up, or recommending a book to someone. I love going on the hunt for something and finding it (books go missing in bookstores!!!!! constantly!!!!!). I love putting a book in someone’s hand.

I JUST LOVE IT.

7. You don’t get to read while you’re working.

🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

8. The highlight of your job at Barnes & Noble will be the discount and the ability to rent a book out.

I don’t know if the renting thing is just at my store, but I LOVE IT. I can rent any hardcover from the store for free and just bring it back when I’m done.

Also 30% any book and 50% in the cafe = the reason I’m consistently broke.

Tips To Make Booksellers Love You

1. Bring books you don’t want to them.

We spend much of our day cleaning up after people. Finding your eleven book stack right before close makes us want to strangle you. <3

2. Know the book title and author before you come into the store. Please.

As much as we love that you want the book, asking for the “book that was on NPR this morning” is not helpful. Also super obscure topics = I want to stab my eyes out. I know at B&N, our systems don’t search subjects very well, so we have to find a book to find a sub-section most of the time.

3. If you can’t find something on the shelves THAT DOES NOT MEAN WE DO NOT HAVE IT. 

I promise you. We have SO MANY books on display at B&N that are only on display and not in the stacks. Also, anything that has come out recently (or in the past three weeks) is in the “new” part of whatever section you’re in. Or, just ask us. We know if we have stock of something and where it is. We will find it.

4. Just because the website says “in stock” that doesn’t mean we have it.

The Barnes & Noble website includes any books on hold for people in a store’s stock. Also, just because it’s on our website doesn’t mean a store has something. Give us a call and we’ll let you know AND put it on hold if we have it.

5. Barnes & Noble retail stores do not sell textbooks. I repeat, we don’t sell textbooks.

College students, we love you, but please, for the love of god, don’t ask us for your textbook. Sincerely, B&N employees who get asked if we have _____ textbook 50 times a day at the beginning of classes.

6. Be nice. 

It’s very simple and makes our days so much brighter. Please don’t yell at us. We can only do so much. <3

7. When you give a gift, get a gift receipt. 

I swear, your niece may not want that game you’re buying her. Get the gift receipt.


I hope I wasn’t too preachy, but I really wanted to share these things with you all! I adore my job and all of my coworkers, and couldn’t imagine a better place to work. If you have the opportunity to work at a bookstore and think you’d be well-suited, DO IT. I love it.

Also, feel free to ask me any questions you have in comments or on Twitter! I’d love to answer.

 

  • alexandra @ twirlingpages

    first off, CONGRATS ON WORKING AT B&N! i dunno when you got the job, but yay this is so exciting and sounds like so much more fun than the YMCA. being a bookseller sounds like SO MCUH FUN and especially for a big one like B&N. i loved reading this post because it’s so interesting and i’ve always wanted to know what it’s like. thanks for sharing and i’m glad you like your job!

  • Jen

    ahahah I love this!! I’m definitely going to apply for a position for this summer, and we’ll see if these are true! I actually noticed a lot of similarities to volunteering at the library for the first 3 years in high school! PEOPLE LEAVING BOOKS EVERYWHERE UGH.

  • i love this post willa! i’ve always been so curious about your job and if anything this has just convinced me how much i want to work at a bookstore! the renting out a book and discount both sound FANTASTIC but also just being around books all day and helping other people. my dream is to work at indigo (canada’s b&n equivalent) and this just makes me 1000x more interested in actually getting a job there one day, maybe in uni? anyway, this post was so interesting to read!!! <3

    • Yay! So glad you liked it. And that would be so cool for you to work at Indigo! I want to come up and visit you while you’re working so GET GOIN’. xoxo

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  • A job at Barnes & Noble sounds like a dream. Renting books and the 30% discount is an even dreamier dream! I wish I would have thought to apply there while I was in college or something.

  • I work at B&N too! While I wouldn’t say my store is full of Star Wars or Harry Potter nerds (we have a few die-hard fans but majority of the store isn’t), I agree with EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE LIST. Especially the textbook thing right now. So many people want textbooks.

    & BTW, I’m not sure if you’re using this perk, but you can affiliate your edelweiss account with Barnes and Noble.

    • WHAT?!!?!!? HOW DO I DO THIS?!

      • To do this you go into Edelweiss -> Admin (top right) -> Validated Affiliations (bottom left of sidebar) -> Manage Affiliations. You’ll need your employee number to associate your account with B&N.

        I didn’t find out about this until I randomly went to the affiliation page about a year working at B&N. I was like “HOW DID I MISS THIS?!?”

  • Workers Write

    Hi Willa, this is a great post. I used to work at a B&N in NYC. You nailed it! I’m wondering if you’d give me
    permission to repost this on WorkersWrite, a website I edit that showcases
    the stories workers tell about their working lives. Of course, we would
    credit you, and link back to your site. Please let me know if that
    would be okay. Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    Rose Imperato

    Editor, WorkersWrite

    workerswrite@gmail.com

    https://workerstories.org/