This week, Former Librarian #16 is now a bookshop manager in the charity sector. Although she needed to acquire skills in retail experience, she finds that the library skills gained are invaluable: "It is not just a question of sticking any old book on a shelf and hoping someone will buy it."
Current role: Bookshop Manager, Charity sector
Former role: Deputy Librarian, private library
What led you to move on from libraries?
Previously I had spent 30 years in libraries firstly in the private sector and then in a learned
society and a private charitable library in London. I gave this up mainly as a result of needing
to support my teenaged son, who has learning difficulties, by keeping him in school through
his final GCSE year. I gave up full-time library work - I was commuting for 2 hours each way
a day - and instead did some paid gardening work and was a participant in a university
funded medical research project on depression and mindfulness (I was in the control group
that had not suffered from depression). I accidentally stumbled across an advert for my
current job when I was in a local charity shop.
What do you do in your current role?
I manage a charity bookshop. I am the only paid member of staff, but manage 50 volunteers
who all contribute to the success of the shop. My volunteers range from 15 – 85 years of age
and include former university professors, nurses, teachers, an artist, a librarian, an
accountant and several students. Our aim is to make as much money as possible in support
of the charity’s work to alleviate poverty. Most of the material we sell – books and music - is
donated to us, with a small amount of ‘new product’ e.g. greetings cards.
What library skills do you use in your current role?
There is a huge emphasis on customer service, creating a friendly, welcoming and helpful
environment. I use a lot of the skills I learned in reader/information services – getting to know
my customers, understanding their needs, learning about the stock – which changes daily,
but you can see patterns in what comes in. Grouping books by subject, categorising them for
generating data on what sells. We have regular donors and customers that we get to know.
It has also been interesting to see how many people use a charity bookshop to buy material,
read it and donate it back again – a number of customers have said they regard the shop
like a library. We also take requests and keep a look out for material.
We also sell online around the world, so need to select and list material, which uses
cataloguing skills. The knowledge gained from working in the library world helps in being
able to spot interesting or unusual books, 1st editions, signed copies, interesting/niche
publishers. It helps you spot an academic publisher where someone will pay £25 for a book,
rather than the £2.50 for a popular novel. We recently sold a 1st edition Arthur C Clarke to a
customer in Australia for £160.
Do you think that your library skills helped you to get this position?
Yes. As part of the interview I was given a pile of books donated to another shop and
selected at random to comment on. I was surprised to be offered the job as I had no retail
experience, but was told I would learn that but they wanted the knowledge I already that they
couldn’t teach me. One of the books I had commented on was subsequently priced at £70
because I recognised the illustrator as being important.
What other skills have you had to acquire since leaving the library profession in order to
enable you to carry out your work?
Knowledge of the retail sector, its processes, language, how to display material to maximum
effect. It has also been interesting learning how to interpret management information derived
from stock and sales systems that show you which areas of your stock generate the best
Do you maintain any professional memberships or are there new ones which are more
I’ve just resigned from CILIP.
Do you have any future plans/aspirations?
I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now, I’ve learned new skills and on a personal level I get a
huge amount of satisfaction out of making a tiny contribution to making life better for others.
It’s been interesting to move from an environment where so many meetings were about lack
of funding, cutbacks and lots of negativity to one where you start with nothing and you and
your volunteers with the support of the local community have to build from there and make it
happen. At the end of each financial year we get told what our shop’s net contribution to the
charity has been and what this equates to e.g. how many wells, medical centres, school
equipment. Some days it’s just not like going to work.
Anything else that you’d like to tell us?
My job has made me realise how transferable library skills are and also how much is
involved in running a charity bookshop. It is not just a question of sticking any old book on a
shelf and hoping someone will buy it.