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Don’t Be That Person: 5 Etiquette Tips for the Bookstore

Chelsea Hensley

Staff Writer

After receiving her BA in English from the University of Missouri, Chelsea Hensley realized she had no idea what she was doing with her life. So she decided to call herself a writer and is just rolling with it. She's read Pride and Prejudice, and watched the Keira Knightley adaptation, so many times that she often gets them confused. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys taking selfies, watching Netflix, and everything Beyonce does. Blog: The Chelsea Review Twitter: ChelseaBigBang

While working in a bookstore has its downsides, you (friendly neighborhood book lover) don’t need to be one of them. For the sake of the booksellers who make your happy place so happy, and for yours too, I’ve compiled some helpful tips to avoid being that person at the bookstore. There are the obvious ones: don’t steal the books, don’t lick the books, don’t take unpurchased books into the restroom (please, please don’t), don’t leave half-eaten chicken wings behind books in the romance section, but here’s a little reminder about the others.

1. Don’t leave books everywhere.

I’ve found copies of Agatha Christie in the science section, cookbooks facing out in mystery, Lemony Snicket in the sex and sexuality bay. This is not where these things go, and while it’s not your job to put every book back exactly where you got it, there are better places to leave them than whatever random shelf you happen to be next to. If your bookstore has a customer service desk, drop it off there. You probably don’t need to even say anything. Just put it on the counter and leave. If you’re already buying something, the register also works (one time a guy approached the register with two books in hand and looked me, the cashier, dead in the eye as he put one down on a random table before coming to buy the other one). You can even put whatever you don’t want into the hand of a passing bookseller. We’ll appreciate not having to put away a huge stack of cookbooks left in the poetry section at the end of the day, and we’ll like you.  

2. Don’t do your Amazon shopping.

Yes, Amazon has better prices sometimes. You can’t be faulted for getting a better deal, but don’t tell us that especially after we just went through the trouble of helping you find whatever book you were looking for. At that point, we’ve helped you (for free) find a book you think you’d like and now plan to buy. From someone else. Personally it causes a little pang of shame because I lost a sale (bookstore are businesses, too, and every lost sale feels a bit like I’m single handedly close our store). In that same vein, don’t come into the store to scan around for books you plan on getting on Amazon anyway. Just don’t.

3. Don’t occupy the aisles.

I know that book looks great, and of course you have to read the first chapter to make sure it really is, but tables and chairs are a thing. Please go find one. Booksellers may need to shelve where you’re standing, and other customers may be looking to browse there. I had two women set up camp in an aisle (with chairs they moved from somewhere else, no less) to look through some books, making it impossible for anyone to walk past them. In some lower traffic areas you may be able to get away with this, but if you see a bookseller shelving or another customer looking around, move somewhere else.

4. Don’t come in to do research/read.

That’s what libraries are for. Taking a ton of books off the shelves, that you have no intention of buying but do intend to monopolize for a few hours, is rude. It’s more than acceptable to read through a book a bit before deciding to buy it (or not), but if you’re going to read the whole thing you’re not only getting all its content for free but you’ve made it unavailable for other people who may actually buy it (this is even more annoying when we have something in limited stock).

5. If you damage something, tell someone.

You can even lie and tell us that you just “found it” that way. If you spilled coffee on a bunch of Jane Austen (it’s been known to happen), don’t put them back on the shelf or try to hide them. While “you break it, you buy it” is nice in theory, booksellers know that’s unlikely for most people. We’d still like to know when a book’s been damaged before someone returns it because page 143 has been ripped out, and that customer would have preferred it, too. This goes for pretty much anything, including the store itself. If you break a shelf (tip: don’t climb the shelves), sending it and all the books it’s holding onto the floor, just tell us someone else did it so we don’t stumble upon it right before we close.

While it’s unlikely any of these things will actually get you kicked out of a bookstore (unless you’re a very egregious repeat offender) keep them in mind the next time you pay a visit. Chances are no one’s going to scold you about any of this either (this behavior is far too common to give a talking-to to everyone who does it anyway), but you will get talked about, and none of the booksellers will ever be happy to see you.