Who should work in bookstores? Are the jobs intended for college kids, book lovers, or anyone who has the time and desire to have them? Our discussion yesterday about the future of different types of bookstores reminded me that some booksellers have very stringent standards regarding who can staff their shop. The Strand Bookstore in New York is one such place.
The Strand was established back in 1927 when a section of Fourth Avenue was called “Book Row”. At that time, Book Row consisted of 48 different bookstores that nearly filled 6 city blocks. The Strand quickly became a well loved institution in the area, and today it houses over 2.5 million new, used, and rare books for sale that cover 18 miles of shelf space. Unlike many bookstores, The Strand is committed to having employees who “are not only knowledgeable about books but…[are] also passionate about them.”
Part of ensuring that staff know and love books involves them passing a quiz. The New York Times recently tracked down one of The Strand’s old literary matching quizzes from 1970’s job applications. I have no doubt that the quiz looks a bit different these days, but I still encourage you to test your mettle at The Strand Application Quiz. Do you know who wrote The Golden Notebook or the author of The Wings of a Dove? Now you can find out for certain.
In some ways, The Strand’s method for choosing its staff is a lot simpler than the way other bookstores go about hiring employees. When a friend of mine finished her MFA in creative writing, she tried desperately to get a job at a bookstore – one of her dreams was to open a bookshop of her own one day – but none of the shops wanted to hire her. They couldn’t conceive of the fact that someone with her degree might want to work at a bookstore for the long term, which is a pity; she would have loved to help people find the perfect book.
Still, I suspect that it is easier (and cheaper) to hire people who aren’t necessarily passionate about books to staff bookstores. Even though it isn’t feasible for every store to act like The Strand, I appreciate The Strand’s commitment to hiring excellent folks. (Even if I’m not sure that I would earn 100% on its quiz.) If any of you have worked at bookstores or met exemplary bookstore staff, I’d love to hear about it! (E. Michael Helms , Ree Kimberley, and others shared some great comments on this subject, and I suspect others have some wonderful insight as well.)