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Interview with a bookseller

Interview with a bookseller
Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to work in a bookshop?
6 October 2020

For Love Your Bookshop Day on 3 October, we collected bookshop-related questions from the #NLADigitalCommunity via Instagram. Using your questions, we then spoke with National Library Bookshop manager Lynda about the art of bookselling and all there is to know about the National Library Bookshop.

You can visit us instore... or shop online!

What makes the National Library Bookshop different from other bookshops? 

We specialise in Australian books and gifts, and we aim to support the collections and programs of the National Library of Australia with a representation of related books and merchandise. 

Working here is a thrill, as many of the authors whose books we stock also use the library to research their work. We get to meet some fantastic writers and get an insight into their creative process – sometimes even making suggestions that help them on their way! 

What does your average day look like? 

As part of a cultural institution, as well as helping customers and visitors to the National Library, we work with teams across the library to enrich the in-person and online visitor experience.  

There is also never a day without something of a surprise in store! With our stock changing every minute, as customers make purchases and new books arrive, there is always something to tidy and something new to find a home for.

Not only do we have books, we also have a beautiful range of art, homewares and merchandise.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? 

Finding the right book for the right customer and seeing how happy they are is always a treat. Hearing children reading each other a funny picture book and exploding into giggles is wonderful. Being told that this is the best bookshop they've ever visited is downright amazing. More often than not, our customers are delightful and make our days very happy. 

How did you become a bookseller? 

I got my first job as a bookseller by pure luck. I was working in an ice-cream shop and my boss was a bit gruff with me one Friday night, so I was having a little cry outside the bathroom. One of the staff from the bookshop across the way found me and asked if I’d liked to work there. It has worked out very well for me!

There are always new books to find a home for.

What is the most unusual book that you have sold? 

Most of the books we stock are not unusual to us – we bring them in because we think a number of people will think they are interesting – but we do order books for customers on request and that’s where the more unusual stuff comes in. 

From cookbooks with ingredients sourced from the human body to a request that a book remains untouched by female hands prior to purchase, the particulars shouldn’t really be published here.

What makes you want to pick up a book and read it? 

Usually I’ve heard a bit about a book before it arrives, because publishers’ representatives visit each month to tell us about their upcoming releases. I like books that I think I’ll learn something from, books that will give me an experience I wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Once you've finished visiting our exhibitions, pop into the National Library Bookshop for related books and merchandise - just like our Birds of Paradise: Ellis Rowan in New Guinea range.

Do you get to read all the books in the bookshop? 

This is a dream many people share about bookshop life. We do occasionally have a staff story time at the counter when a new Aaron Blabey or Alison Lester arrives, for a bit of fun, but otherwise reading happens on our own time at lunch and at home. If you had a sense of how many new books are coming out each month, you’d quickly understand that reading everything is impossible – even when we are only talking about Australian books from major publishers. 

Who’s your favourite author?  

That’s a tough question! It depends what flavour I’m looking for. I’m a big fan of Joan London, Kate Grenville, Helen Garner, Craig Silvey, Ceridwen Dovey and Kim Scott for a start.  

What books could you read over and over again?  

I haven’t had the chance to re-read much since becoming a bookseller 20 years ago; there’s always something new I need to read. I'm selectively keeping my favourites ready to re-read if my life ever changes and makes room for that pleasure.  When I was young, I read The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, until my copy was falling apart.

Keep your eyes peeled for signed books...

If you could work at any bookshop in the world, which one would it be? 

Shakespeare and Company is high on the list. To spend a year in Paris surrounded by literary culture and pastry – what’s not to love? I’d also very much enjoy spending a day with Shaun Bythell and his team at his second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland – antiquarian bookshops and their patrons are a whole other world indeed. 

The National Library also publishes books, right? 

Yes, the National Library does have a wonderful publishing team. 

They publish books whose stories bring the collections of the National Library to a broader audience.  NLA Publishing books are distributed nationally and are in all good bookshops. We have a showcase of them all here at the National Library Bookshop and you can see the full range of available NLA Publishing books via the online shop

Your one-stop-shop for all NLA Publishing books.

Who would be your dream author to have for a Bookshop event? 

Helen Garner. Partly because she is such a pleasure to read, and all-round fantastic human, and partly because we both enjoy the ukulele and I’d love to have a little singalong with her. 

 

The National Library Bookshop is always open online or you can visit us instore daily from 9am to 5pm.

 

Photography by Stephanie Morris.