Thursday, October 27

Confessions of a Reformed Bookseller

Now that I have been a bookseller for one month I think it's appropriate for me to include myself in this tradition.

The article below showed me that book retail is different from other types of retail. I thought Davis-Kidd was odd in the way it handles customer service but now I see that it is bookselling in general that is different that music retail or the other retail environs I've worked.

NOW! If there are any people with library/archive contacts (especially in Nashville) I need a library job!
Confessions of a Reformed Bookseller: What Working in a Bookstore Taught Me About Being a Librarian
by Jennifer Arnold

They say that everyone loves a parade, but it's probably more likely that everyone loves a great bookstore. After all, it is hard to resist, with its overstuffed armchairs, the smell of fresh-roasted coffee, and, of course, the rows and rows of books - just waiting to be read! It's pretty safe to say that librarians tend to enjoy bookstores due to all these same factors, but we should look to bookstores for other reasons as well: they have a lot to teach us as librarians. Before I started library school, I spent two years working in a large retail bookstore (one of the superstore variety). Much of what I learned as a bookseller I still carry with me as a librarian. Here is just some of what I brought with me.

Customer Service: Lessons from the Sales Floor

In bookstore employee training, tips and techniques for outstanding customer service were emphasized much more than they were in library school. Perhaps that's as it should be, but libraries still have a lot to learn from the customer service standards of retail bookstores, which typically hold their employees to stringent standards. Here's what I learned:

Put the book in the customer's hand.

Bookstores teach their employees never merely to point the customer in the right direction, but rather to walk the customer to the appropriate section of the store, find the book on the shelf, and put in his or her hands. In my library, I rarely hand a student a call number and send them off to find the book on the shelf. Instead, I put the book in the student's hands. I've found that they are much more likely to use the book or check it out if I hand it to them.

Customer service is everyone's responsibility, all of the time.

At the bookstore, all phone calls had to be answered by the third ring. If you were not with a customer at the moment the phone rang, then it was your responsibility to answer the phone, whether you were the general manager or the newest bookseller. The employees who worked in receiving (and basically never interacted with customers on the sales floor) were also responsible for responding to phone calls. In other words, assisting patrons should be everyone's priority, all of the time.

Customer service standards should be in writing.

Bookstores hold their employees to high standards, and each employee is given a copy of those standards in writing. Here, bookstores have a lesson to teach libraries. If you expect great customer service from your library staff, provide them with clear expectations in writing, not just as part of a job description or employee development plan. Expectations for customer service standards should be outlined in a separate, public document, so that everyone has a common understanding.

Displays, Displays, and More Displays: Marketing like a Retailer

If there's one thing bookstores know, it's how to market their products. No matter where you turn in a bookstore, most customers will find themselves faced with a display of some sort - at the front of the store, through the main aisles, at the end of each row. Why so many displays? One simple reason: they sell books. Of course, most libraries do display their latest arrivals or create themed displays for events. Bookstores, however, take every possible opportunity to make customers aware of their merchandise.

For example, every three or four rows, customers are likely to see a title "faced-out," meaning that the cover of the book is facing outward, rather than the spine. Little touches like this can really encourage people to pick up a book. Academic libraries might also consider the ways in which book jackets appeal to customers. In many academic libraries, book jackets are removed, leaving a plain blue or brown book with just the title and call number on the spine. While it does involve some expense, leaving the cover on the book - with the summary of the contents, reviewer's quotes, etc. - just might inspire a patron to check out that title, in a way that a plain blue cover never will.

The Comfy Chair Factor: Creating a Welcoming Environment

People tend to linger in bookstores, spending time perusing multiple titles in a comfortable chair or reading a magazine over a snack from the cafe. Bookstores have been successful at creating an atmosphere that encourages customers to spend time in the store, and not just run in and out for a single item. Many libraries have already begun learning from retail bookstores' successful creation of a welcoming environment by including cafes in new or redesigned buildings and in creating comfortable seating arrangements that encourage patrons to linger, just as they do in bookstores. This is a trend that libraries should continue to follow - the more comfortable patrons become, they more likely they are to ask questions and use resources. Some comfy armchairs, a couch or two, and a more flexible food and drink policy could go a long way in creating a more welcoming environment.

Confessions of a Reformed Bookseller: Advice from the Stacks

In many ways, I'm as much a reformed bookseller as I am a librarian. It's hard to take the bookseller out of me, and, I'll confess, I've been known to straighten the merchandise when I visit a bookstore as a customer. I have to say, though, that I wouldn't WANT to take the bookseller out of me - retail is a great training ground for developing just the skills necessary for working as a public service librarian. My advice to former retailers: remember what you learned. I'm a firm believer that if you've handled a weekend during the holiday season in any retail establishment, then you can handle just about anything. The customer service, marketing, and sense of bookstore/library as a place that were ingrained in me as a bookseller have served me well as a librarian.
Jennifer Arnold is the Senior Librarian for Serials and Electronic Resources at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. She admits to occasionally straightening the shelves in her local bookstore, even though she's no longer a bookseller.
Reprinted w/o permission from:
Info Career Trends - vol. 6, no. 6
November 1, 2005
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