Snapshots of an Oxfam Bookshop

Today I was doing a full day in the bookshop – mostly you do mornings or afternoons – but today it was a full day, and I had plans.

Upstairs (the behind-the-scenes bit,) I intended to sort out the history shelves, sort out my boxes of specialist books – but more of that later – cull and re-stock the old and interesting, all sorts of things – and then in the afternoon I was downstairs in the shop.

Downstairs, you can do all sorts of stuff whilst the book-buying public has better things to do than be in your shop.

You can put gift aid stickers on books (with gift aid the government gives us an extra 25%) and price them so that they can go upstairs and some fellow book-elf can put them on the upstairs shelves ready and waiting to be called into the bookshop proper.

You can price some books and put them straight into the shop without them ever having to stay, waiting, upstairs.

You can look at the mess that is the literature shelves and get them standing upright, in order and smiling at the world.

And, and this is my real campaign at the moment, you can do something interesting with the front-facing books.

For those of you who don’t know what that means (and neither did I,) it is those books that are propped up and facing you.

Sometimes, I chose those that are red and so the shop has books with (largely) red covers facing front; sometimes I chose faces so that every category has a face looking out at you – from biography to animals to literature to children’s’ books. (It is a lot harder with old and interesting which rarely have any interesting cover at all, and as for humour you are on a looser.)

And then when the ‘public’ come in, you can find them something they are looking for, or just listen to their stories of why they are delighted to find that particular book.

But the book-donating public of Petersfield changes all your plans because you have to deal with what they bring in.

A nice older person rang this morning and said she wanted to donate a few boxes of books – about four boxes she said.

So I spent the morning clearing the other donations to make sure that we had room to take these boxes and that I would manage to sort them so that tomorrow – when there are no book sorters in the shop – it would be clear.

In the meantime, I had persuaded my (very) nice new friend who helped me so much with the bookstall for the village festivities, to think about being an Oxfam bookshop volunteer and managed to get him in for a look around.

“It’s not rocket science,” I said, as I whizzed him around the vaguely organized chaos. My fingers were so crossed he would say yes and he would understand that it was an interesting place to work and not, please god, not get appalled by the chaos we work in.

He didn’t seem appalled and I hope he will be as interested as I am.

So, back to the day.

We have an endless supply (as in donations of books on various aspects of the countryside) from bird books to flowers to every aspect of the natural world.

A woman came in asking for a simple guide to wildflowers and I confidently said, ‘Yes, of course.’ Leading her to the relevant section, I knew we would have lots of books on wildflowers, but we didn’t.

Startled, I rang upstairs and asked my fellow volunteer for wildflower books waiting upstairs to be given their moment on the shelves downstairs.

‘Of course,’ she said, ‘We will have lots.’

But we didn’t.

I asked her to give me her phone number and we would keep an eye out but she said not to worry she would pop in – and look elsewhere.

And then, when I was sorting out the children’s non-fiction, there was this lovely book on wildflowers.

Blow me, as they say, an hour later another woman asked if we had any books on identifying flowers.

That has never happened before. No one ever asks for wildflower books when we are knee deep in them.

So, I was pleased to be able to march her over and show her this book.

But she said,’ No I want something not so simple.’

I have her number.

So, do you remember the person who rang saying she had four boxes?

She had her fiend/neighbour/relative bring them in and she had a lot more than four boxes.

I said to the neighbour/friend/relative,’ I though there were four boxes.’ ‘Only if they were four body big boxes,’ he said.

I am sorry to say that most of those books needed putting in re-cycling sacks.

They were brown, they were Guinness Book of Records 1996, you may think I was being heartless, but I know what we can sell and what we can’t.

Ten minutes later someone else donated, and wanted their bags back, so seven large bags of books had to be put into other boxes. Three other people brought in books, and so on and so on.

This is now 4.30 and we shut at 5pm – and by now I have, among the other things I have done today, filled 30 re-cycling sacks.

I am sure that today I sacked for re-cycling a book about which someone   would say,’ Hey don’t throw that away, it is great.’

And, if you have got this far, I will tell you about the boxes next time.


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