Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to use a bookshop

You'll be forgiven for thinking this is a no-brainer. How can one not know how to use a bookstore? You go in, see a book you like, and buy it, right? Right?

Ah, um, er... not really. Everything about the books industry has changed, and I don't just mean the introduction of ebooks and the advent of hand-held reading devices, either. The book selling industry has been evolving rapidly for some time, and learning how to use a book store is vital for a number of reasons.

Stoke Newington Bookshop, LondonImage via WikipediaThe first is because you like them - you love bookshops. The whole world is debating whether they will survive and everybody cries when one (or one chain) closes its doors. There are other reasons: bookstores make malls varied, make gift-buying for the person who has everything easier, and gently persuade, with smells, colours and textures. They attract youngsters to reading. They fulfil cultural, social, educational and economic roles. I am sure you can think of a dozen more reasons for having bookstores.

But learning how to use them in the new book-buying climate is essential. It's not as simple as enter, browse, buy. Oh no.

Buying books is personal, subjective, and can be expensive. Browsing, impulse buying, and whimsical purchases are all right for the very wealthy, or those with infinite space to store on either real or virtual shelves. But mistakes can be frustrating and costly. Learn how to purchase wisely. First, learn what kind of a reader you are, and also the reading likes and dislikes of those you know and love. Learn how to list what you have read so far. Also list your favourite authors and those you will not willingly read again. Look for "If you liked this, you will like that" lists on the web and at your library.

Examining your reading habits will make you a better user of bookshops, but that is not the most important thing to know about them. Here it is: it is physically impossible for bookshops to carry all the books available in print. Chances are they will not have what you are after. That author you spotted on a blog, that great book everyone at work was talking about, that title you overhead on the street, that paragraph you read over someone's shoulder on the train, from a book whose title now escapes you ... No - they won't be able to guess at the bookstore. No, it won't necessarily be on a bookshop shelf. has about seven million books on its shelves - can you imagine the size of shop needed to take that many books - even just one of each?
So how are you going to find the books YOU want to read rather than what the store manager has selected for you from the millions available? How will you find that elusive novel people are buying in some other country, but not where you currently live, shop and work?

You can do it by learning how to put a bookshop to better use, and ensure its survival. Do your homework. Make some intelligent searches online, find those valuable hints. Make a list of overheard titles, books found on newspaper reviews, authors whose names elude you. Then march down to your favourite bookshop and MAKE AN ORDER.

That is what bookshops are really for: taking your orders and finding the books you want on their catalogues, which are enormous, but searchable. They access huge databases looking for the titles you seek, when you bang your fist on their counters! Bookshops are merely a portal to your reading material: all you see is the entrance. The contents are too big to keep in one shop or one location, so you need to ask for what you want. Place an order for any book on the Books in Print catalogue. If it's there, they should be able to get it for you.

Learn how to make your search for books a concerted effort between searching online, storing books on your eReader, downloading, keeping a good TBRL*, and ordering paper books. The result will be a rewarding variety of reading modes, materials you have actively chosen, and very fruitful book-buying experiences.

Leave me a comment on your book shop experiences: are you often disappointed in your search for a specific book? Have you examined how you shop? Are you willing to tweak your buying habits to help ensure the survival of bookshops?

*To Be Read List
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  1. Good post - again! - Rosanne.

    You're so right. We need to support bookshops. If we don't they will die and then kids won't learn the joy of browsing and finding unexpected treats that you'd never even have noticed on line.

    The other thing with bookshops is if they close, it leaves physical book sales to superstores - who only carry a few bestsellers and clumps of books that someone has decided fit together. My local superstore has 'women's fiction' and it's all chick lit. I'm too old for chick lit and I could tell them a hundred other titles, but no, all theirs are chick lit, for and about younger women.

    They do have a big section for misery lit and crime and children. I don't read them either. Sigh!

    No wonder I can never find a book to buy there.

  2. I've just finished the latest book ordered from my local bookshop, Rosanne - Glenda Larke's Stormlord's Exile. It's the conclusion to a trilogy I've been hanging out for. This is where ordering really comes into its own, I find. You get the book as soon as it is released.
    Mind you, while I was waiting I had to fill in the time so I ordered some other books by the same author and several others as well, none of which I had seen on the shelves when they were first released. As far as I'm concerned this is a bonus but my husband is not so impressed. It doesn't stop me browsing but it does widen my selection.