The quest for the perfect bookseller.

If you’ve been receiving Books & Whatnot since its inception, you probably saw my request more than a year ago to add me to your email newsletter subscription list. (If not, please consider this the request.) I love reading about the happenings in your bookstores, and I like showcasing what you do particularly well.

I recently received an email from The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The subject line of the message read: The quest for the perfect bookseller!

Those who have never worked as booksellers dreamily look at the profession as the perfect job. But I’ll bet that many of you booksellers looked at that subject line and thought, “This should be good.”

The body of the message from The Book Keeper went on to describe what the job involved and the different reasons most interested readers would not be qualified. But they did it in way that struck me as charming. They were realistic, honest, humorous, and a bit cynical about job expectations. Some of my favorite “this is probably not the job for you” statements include:

  • We do not hire seasonal workers, and are keen on long term additions (long term meaning you’ll be with us for at least a year, but hopefully more!) If you’re looking to work for just a few months, this is not the place you’re looking for.
  • This is a retail store where you spend 95% of the time working with the public, so you’d better love working with and for people!
  • The bookstore is open 7 days a week and two evenings until 9:00 p.m. You must be available to work full day shifts (not suitable for students), evenings and weekends. Our store is busy all year round but the holiday season is kind of nuts. So you could possibly have only one or two shifts a week during the quieter times and then five shifts during the crazy time. We need you to go with the flow.
  • Good computer skills. We’re not asking you to know programming languages, but feeling comfortable working fast and effectively with computers is a must, as a ton of the research and day to day operations are done online and with computers.
  • If the last book you read was Twilight, and in 2007, perhaps this isn’t the position for you. We don’t expect you to have read all the classics and know who Jasper Fforde is, but having a general love for books and reading from a paper book is a must. The extended book knowledge will come with time, so being a sponge for facts also helps greatly.
  • This goes without saying, but working at a retail store is a lot more challenging than most give it credit for. We consider a good retail demeanor to be a skill learned over time, so any previous experience in this sector tips the scale greatly in your favour.
  • Contrary to what many imagine working in a bookstore is like, it is NOT sitting around and reading books all day. This is a physical store with physical duties, so you must be comfortable with being on your feet most of the day, lifting boxes of books, stooping and kneeling to shelve products, etc. Nothing too strenuous, but if you have a bad hip and can’t stand for more than a few hours at a time, the bookstore will be a tough environment.

The end of the email gave specific instructions for applicants, which serve as a great test for following directions. “Please see Susan in-person with a résumé and cover letter during the following times…Tuesday, May 12th 9:30 – 3:00, Wednesday, May 13th 9:30 – 3:00 and Thursday, May 14th 5:00 – 8:00.” But the last line was my favorite. “Here’s a little secret: if you apply to anyone other than Susan, your chances at landing a job are slim.”

I hope The Book Keeper succeeds in their quest. And I’d like to meet the person who gets the job.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she’s a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type.

@BethGolay