Our Reading Lives

Behind the Scenes: Working at Barnes & Noble in Illinois

I was a bookseller pre-COVID-19, so what I am about to share may not be as accurate as it was last January. However, the job itself could not have changed too much, so I will share what it’s like being a bookseller at Barnes & Noble in Illinois. I’ll discuss what kind of co-workers I interacted with, the customers, and the duties of a bookseller, to help potential booksellers decide if working at Barnes & Noble is the right choice.


When I started working at Barnes & Noble in June of 2019, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all my co-workers enjoyed reading and had more than a passing interest in sharing recommendations. Our shared love of books built camaraderie between my coworkers and a sense of fun that I hadn’t experienced at my previous jobs. Our personalities and ages varied, some being closer to my age and others being in their mid-50s and older.

The differences between us were not a barrier to friendship, but allowed us an opportunity to share our perspectives and opinions about books and other topics of interest to us. I was closer to some of my coworkers than others, but I experienced little to no animosity between my coworkers and myself. I became friends with a guy with the same sense of humor as me, and he had a nickname for every manager. I did not participate in his jokes; I merely enjoyed the show. Overall, my coworkers were one of the best parts of working at Barnes & Noble.


I got along with all the managers, though I liked some more than others. One thing about them that I didn’t like was their morning gossip in the café, where everyone could hear. They were not shy about talking about employees in the store during their chats, and it made me uncomfortable to hear my friends getting roasted openly by management. Of course, each store is different, and not all Barnes & Noble managers are like that. It must be said that they were all customer-focused and performed their jobs well.


Customers at my location were fairly mixed. Older customers came in regularly, usually in the morning. The younger crowd mainly made an appearance on the weekends and in the evenings, and usually were not the same people. Some customers were more pleasant than others, as is true of most retail customers.

Suffice it to say, many different types of people come to Barnes & Noble, including unpleasant people, but also fun book lovers who are open to recommendations and sweet old ladies. It depends on the day.

Bookseller Duties

Booksellers are responsible for several tasks. In the morning I shelved books, cringing as I jammed books into bookshelves too small for the number of books. We sold fewer books than we received from publishers, and management sometimes insisted on putting books out when there was no room for them to be properly displayed. And they were shocked when customers were angry that they couldn’t get books off the shelves.

Around 10 a.m., booksellers were stationed at the customer service desk or the front register. My favorite spot was the customer service desk, because I enjoyed helping customers find a book more than I did working with money and putting up with impatient and angry people.

20% Book Discount!

The discount on books was the best (and most dangerous) part of being a bookseller. New books aren’t cheap, and the discount gave me an excuse to buy more of them. Maybe too many, but is there such a thing as too many books? I don’t think so.

If You Love Books, Work at Barnes & Noble!

Working at Barnes & Noble was a step in the right direction when I was trying to find my place in the world fresh out of college. I enjoyed it, and it helped me understand the selling side of the book publishing process. I would recommend the experience to anyone who wants an entry-level book job.