Case study

Bookseller — Noor Hemani

Noor studied English Literature at the University of York before studying for a Masters in Middle Eastern Studies with Arabic. Find out how she got into bookselling

How did you get your job?

I was studying for my Masters when I first went into Lighthouse and I absolutely fell in love with the place. I chatted to the owner, Mairi, about South Asian feminism and sat leafing through books for about an hour. When I went home I emailed in a CV and cover letter. I had a trial shift to see how I liked the job - and I got it. Since then my role has evolved to coordinating and organising events as well.

What's a typical day like as a bookseller?

I'm on my feet a lot. It's mostly shelving and assisting customers, then receiving new stock and maintaining the bookshop's good looks. I also update our social media - especially when we have events coming up.

In the evenings if we have events I rearrange the shop with colleagues and put out chairs, print out attendee lists, get the book displays ready and connect the PA system.

The other part of my job is coordinating events. This means a lot of emailing, researching, being aware of what is being published, and being in contact with publishers and writers. Occasionally, it also means introducing or interviewing writers. At Lighthouse we have three big events a year - Feminist Book Fortnight, Book Fringe, and the Radical Book Fair, and to top it all off this year we're also having a one-day May Day Book Fair. Each event has its own particular flavour and atmosphere, so I find out which writers are available, who should be on the panel or chair, and when the events should be held.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love my team - even when we're all exhausted after a crazy multiple-day book fair, they make me happy. The other thing I love is organising events. There's just so much to it, from researching the book and writer, to finding spaces we need and then reaching out to audiences.

Lighthouse is a radical and intersectional feminist bookshop, so a lot of our events deal with issues to do with feminism, politics, economics, and the LGBTQ community. It means that my work is always interesting, challenging and thought-provoking.

What are the challenges?

Anyone who has worked in retail or in hospitality knows how hard customer-facing roles can be, so there will always be days when that the job presents a challenge.

Another hurdle has been getting up the confidence to approach writers and publicists, go into meetings as a representative of the bookshop, and trust my judgement when organising events - but it's so exciting that it's worth all the worry.

In what way is your degree relevant?

As bookseller and an event organiser there's a lot of power in my hands. My literature degree taught me a lot about how, as a society, we value books and different voices. Booksellers and event organisers are a part of this process because we have the chance to choose which books we buy in (especially if you work in a little independent like me) and which writers we invite to speak. I use what my degree taught me to research and analyse what is being written and what is being promoted, and work out how we should respond as a bookshop.

How has your role developed?

About six months after I got the job as a bookseller I started working on events. I have met lots of writers who I really admire and have travelled to London from Edinburgh to meet publicists and discuss future events.

In terms of career ambitions I'm content to stay where I am for a while, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of skills to build.

How do I get into bookselling?

  • Be interested in books and be excited about what's being published. If you have specific interests see what is being published in this area and start there.
  • Go into bookshops and see what they have on the shelves, how they arrange them, how it fits in with the ethos of the bookshop, and see if you would have done it differently.
  • Make friends with your local indie bookshop - they might have openings. If they know you, they'll be more likely to hire you. Also, in my experience being in a smaller bookshop means you get to be involved in more activities, from shelving and maintenance, to advising on what to buy in and organising events.

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