Dear Customer: Please Stop

“I don’t know what the title is, but the cover is blue.”

Customers can be…odd. That’s the polite way to put it. For every fantastic or wholly normal customer a bookseller meets, there’s always that one person who has to mess up the day for everyone. Some infractions are minor whereas others can get downright frustrating.

We are not a library

There are actually two elements to this particular statement. One refers to the people who legitimately don’t realize they are in a bookstore. Somehow the word “Booksellers” on the giant sign outside doesn’t register. They’ll ask to apply for a card to check out books, or flat out ask if the books are for sale.

The second element refers to those who are fully aware we are, in fact, not a library, but insist upon using the store as one. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down to read a bit of a book to see if it’s something you’ll want to buy. That’s understandable. But when a person comes in on a near regular basis and reads books front to back, while you aren’t physically stealing the book, you are essentially stealing that author’s work. The author took a long time to write that (often a year or more) but you don’t want to pay for it? That’s just rude. Cut it any way you like, it’s really rude. If you don’t want to buy the book that’s fine. Just go to an actual library where the author has already been paid for their work.

Stop assuming we have control over things we clearly don’t

When we say we can’t do something — like change the price on a book for you — it means we can’t. The company the bookseller works for and the publishers of the items you’re purchasing are in charge of that. Not us. If a book is out of print, then we cannot get it for you. That literally means the book is no longer being made. We don’t have a magical printing press in the back ready to whip up any book a customer asks for. And just because Costco or Amazon has a book cheaper, if a store doesn’t price match, then it doesn’t price match. Places like those make their profit on other things besides just books, which is why they’re able to discount them so much. Which leads up to the next item…

Stop telling us you found it cheaper somewhere else

Customer: “Well, I’ll just buy it at XYZ Store then.”

What the employee is thinking: Great. Then get out of my store.

Telling someone you’re going to go help the competition only makes you look rude. Especially if the employee has already taken the time to go find the book and in a lot of cases, put it directly into your hands. Also — what do you expect to achieve by announcing this? Take note of the previous issue — they can’t magically change the price for you. Employees are well aware that everyone wants to save money. But if that’s the case, do your research at home first before getting mad that the book isn’t the same price as somewhere else.

Don’t take books into the restroom with you

Or magazines! Or comics! Or newspapers! If you’ve already purchased them, great. You can do whatever the heck you want with them. But if you have yet to actually buy them, the books are not yours. Leave them in a space that has been designated by the store, or simply ask an employee to hold them for you. Just don’t take them in there. Gross.

Don’t use us as a research facility

This is almost a blend of the library aspect and the buying elsewhere aspect. People use up booksellers’ time and knowledge to research all sorts of books for them — only to never make a single purchase at that location and instead buy them all elsewhere. A person can’t remember that Ursula K. Le Guin series, so they pick at a bookseller’s brain until the answer is discovered for them. Only to whip out their phone, maybe say thank you, and proceed to buy them online.

Sometimes they’ll even write down the information with one of our pens — and then take the pen with them. Nice.

Know what your sister/brother/father/cousin/former roommate wants before coming to the store

Coming up to ask for help, only to be forced to call your daughter because you don’t remember the book she wanted, and then standing there on the phone calling or texting while other customers wait patiently for help is, again, rude. But what’s even worse than that is when a customer insists on handing me their cell phone to talk to whomever is on the other end. I don’t know what virus is hanging out on your mouthpiece. Get the information beforehand, and just to be sure, write it down. Feel free to take it a step further and ask your sister/brother/father/cousin/former roommate to double check their information because half the time, they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about either.

Don’t turn around or deface books you don’t agree with

This is most prevalent with political books, but it can happen with any type. People will constantly turn books around so the back faces out, or they’ll place a completely different book in front to block it entirely. It doesn’t matter what era we’re in or who it is. We’ve found books with pen marks scribbled all over a politician’s face on the cover.

Just stop. It’s annoying, childish, and in the last case, damaging store property. We don’t care what your beliefs are — we’re just going to turn the books around again, so you’ve done nothing more than waste our time. And if we can’t find a book a customer has “hidden” in some fashion (usually we do), then the only accomplishment achieved is that the store loses a sale while another customer buys it somewhere else. So you’ve just hurt the store you shop at. Not the author or whoever the book is about. Not at all.

Stop making messes — “funny” or otherwise

People assume that a bookseller’s job is to clean up after them. Not exactly. While part of the job entails making sure a store is neat and books are where they are supposed to be does not mean it’s okay for you to take every single manga book off the shelf and leave it in a massive tower somewhere for the employee to put away. A bookseller is there to help people find books and show them new titles. Their job is to help customers — not to clean up after them.

There’s another problem with leaving books behind or in places they’re not supposed to be — other customers. Think of it like this. You’re looking for a book and ask the employee for help. The bookseller goes hunting for said title in all the places it could possibly be. In its section. On a promotion. In the back on the return shelves. In the back on a to-be-shelved cart. In sort of, but not really, related sections (i.e. The Martian is a science fiction book — the bookseller might go looking in the science section). But to no avail. So you leave without your book. Because the book you want is in a pile another customer has, but isn’t buying. Or because a customer simply dumped in elsewhere — like in the music section.

There are also “funny” messes like the whole turn-the-books-around-in-mystery section. There’s an image out there of this with a caption under it that reads, “Well played, bookstore.” I’m willing to bet the bookstore didn’t do it, but rather, whoever took the picture. Because it’s funny. On one hand, because it is the mystery section, I’ll grant that it is kind of funny. But once again, now someone — likely the bookseller — has to go in and fix this entire mess. It’s a waste of their time and keeps them from properly help folks looking for books. So in the end, not funny. Just really annoying.

When you pop into a bookstore, why not let it just be a simple affair? Be kind, know what you’re looking for (if you tell a bookseller you have an ISBN, they’ll love you forever), and do try not to make a mess.


  • J.L. Gribble February 2, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Another reason both why Nicole is my hero and why I only lasted 6 weeks as a bookseller.

    • Nicole Taft February 2, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you, fellow citizen! *whooshes off, complete with cape flourish*

  • Lane Robins February 2, 2017 at 11:54 am

    My “favorite” besides the ones you’ve listed here was when we found clusters of mixed books on a random shelf, put them away, the had customers come back annoyed that we’d moved the books they’d set aside. They always looked horrified though if we suggested they let us hold their books for them instead.

    • Nicole Taft February 2, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      “Why did you put my books away??”
      Uh, did you buy them yet? NOPE, YA DIDN’T, SO THEY’RE NOT YOURS, BABYCAKES!
      *cue evil cackling and running off with books*

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier February 4, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    “Don’t take books into the restroom with you”

    I’ve seen this happen in one of the libraries I work out of too. I know that they’re probably going there once patrons take them home, but I don’t need to see it!


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