In every small town or neighborhood I visit, I spend time in the local independent bookstores, browse, talk to the workers, and always buy something. Here are some of my local favorites:
- The Book Table (Oak Park, IL): just overall awesome. They have staff picks, host tons of authors, partner with the Oak Park Library frequently, and give back to the community.
- Women and Children First (Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago): the staff is welcoming, they have great suggestions especially for my kids, and they stock great women power gifts.
- Unabridged Books (Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago): has a gay slant, but is welcoming to all, and our BPL RA fearless leader Kathy used to work there.
- 57th Street Books (Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago: while it has a university press slant, they still know how to have fun...case in point: A Dance With Dragons midnight release party on 7/11!
- The Book Loft (Columbus, Ohio): over 30 rooms of books in the historic German Village. I ate sausage and looked at books for hours.
- Bridgeside Books (Waterbury, Vermont): a small store with a leisure reading bent. Children's, Adult fiction, Adult narrative nonfiction, local authors and local interest, as well as interesting gifts.
- Bearpond Books (Montpelier, Vermont): A large independent bookstore with a little bit of everything. Again, great local author focus.
- City Lights Books (San Francisco): any trip to SF is incomplete for a book lover without a trip to this store. It is a landmark, independent store and publishers that specializes in world literature, the arts and progressive politics.
- The Strand (NYC): 18 miles of books!
- The Tattered Cover (Denver): very active in the indie bookstore community. In fact, last week NPR had the owner on here to talk about how to be successful as an independent bookseller.
How does this pertain to Readers' Advisory though? Good question. I find that the people who work at independent book stores have more in common with readers' advisors than more traditional reference librarians do. In fact, when I teach at least 3 students each semesters (if not more) have book store experience. As I mentioned above, Kathy spent years at independent bookstores before deciding to go to library school.
Independent bookstores care about books. They want to sell you books sure, but they also want to share them, talk about them, and spread the book love. These workers have the RA spirit. While I spend hours in workshops trying to convince traditional librarians how to stop judging readers and just have a conversation with them abut books and reading, independent bookstore workers just do it naturally. While I have to hammer home the idea of letting the patrons' tastes drive the suggestions we provide, no matter what the "level" of the book, independent bookstores thrive on this interaction. They put books in readers' hands; the books the readers' want.
Next to getting lost browsing in the stacks of the library, there is nothing I love more than browsing a good book store and talking to its workers. I may find the next great RA librarian among their ranks.