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Bookstore Etiquette

Being Courteous at a Bookstore

By Ann Zeise


I have been working part-time at our local Borders Books, Videos & Music store, and have encountered many interesting and friendly people, and some very messy ones. It often entails some detective work to find the exact title a customer wants. Here are some suggestions of how you can help so that a clean copy of the product you want can be found next time you go to the bookstore. Teach your children these Bookstore Etiquette tips as well.


  • When browsing books, slightly pull the book out next to the book you are perusing. If you decide you don’t want the book, you can easily see where the book goes and can return it to its proper place.
  • Typically, books are arranged first by general topic (Sports), then by a broad topic (Golf), by author’s last name and then by title. This is not the Dewey Decimal System, which is why all the books about Tiger Woods aren’t right next to each other. Do your best to get a book back next to another book by the same author.
  • If you have walked clear across the store and then decided not to purchase a book, do not shelve the golf book under “Fiction/Literature.” The next customer who may desperately need that book won’t be able to find it, and it may be weeks before a bookseller notices that it is in the wrong place.
  • Ideally, bring unwanted books to Customer Service or the Information Desk. If that is too hard for you, leave the book on top of the books on the shelf where you found it or neatly on the floor next to the shelf where you found it. Bring the book to the cash register and ask for it to be reshelved when you check out. We’ll reshelve it for you.
  • Why do customers take books from a stack of one title and leave them on a different stack?
  • Whatever you do, do not leave books of an adult nature in the children’s section!
  • Teach your children to respect the books in the store. They need to understand that these are products for sale, and if they tear a book, you should offer to buy it.
  • Pick up after your children and insist that they help you. Bookstores are an excellent place to play “The Matching Game” — matching books to others with the same cover, that is!
  • Do not let your children climb the bookshelves or otherwise consider the store a playground. Books are heavy and have pointed corners so they can be quite painful when they hit.
  • Drinks and food should be consumed in the café. At least do not put drinks down on top of books. The store can’t sell sticky or wet books.
  • Do not berate the clerks for not having the book you want. We aren’t the buyers.
  • If the computer says the book is in stock, and it isn’t where it is supposed to be, then the book has been recently purchased or someone has not put it back in its place. Ask a bookseller to look in backstock if you have searched the whole bookshelf and still can’t find it.
  • The booksellers will search very hard to locate a title for you, but we really can’t find that “little yellow book that’s about a girl and a horse.” Copyrighted books do not have their contents online for searching. Books are never cataloged by cover color.
  • Search for book reviews on the web before you come to a store. It is impossible for a bookseller to tell you what the best book is about homeschooling, for example. Bring in a list of several titles and authors that would be acceptable for you.
  • Sometimes books go out of print. That is just a fact. Deal with it.
  • Watch for the checkout line to die down. When the line was long, I avoided telling customers about a 15% off coupon, so as to get everyone out as fast as possible. Those who came when the line was short were given coupons and got 15% off their purchases.
  • If you have a complicated return, such as gift returns with no store price stickers and no receipt, please try to come to the store during a quiet time when the lines are short.
  • If you are on a tight budget, estimate the cost of your purchases before you get to the cash register. After the clerk hits “total” the only way to back out of the order is to start all over again. Ask if you want a running total, and set aside extra books you may decide not to purchase.
  • No, don’t ask if you may buy a book, CD or video, and if you don’t like it after reading, listening or viewing the whole thing, may you bring it back. No. Live dangerously, or go to the library or rental store to borrow materials.
  • One bookstore will want their books aligned with the shelf edge, another will want them pushed back. Just leave the books the way you found them.

I hope you and your children will enjoy many happy hours at your local bookstore.

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