At an idea exchange on “Emergent Concerns and Solutions Frontline Booksellers Face” during ABA's Winter Institute, Left Bank Books owner Kris Kleindienst and Left Bank bookseller Chris Helm invited a group to talk about interpersonal conflict, mental health, and personal and professional boundaries in stores. Questions and ideas related to mental health, whether among customers or staff, drove the discussion.
Most booksellers observed people in mental health crisis coming into their stores or lingering outside; all speakers expressed a reluctance to call the police and described strategies for defusing tension--annual de-escalation trainings, a code word that quietly rallies staffers into the sales space, a bell that discreetly signals a challenging situation. At Greenlight Bookstore in Flatbush, booksellers put together “care package bags” including items like socks and snacks for unhoused people. Several attendees wisely advised asking local suppliers for Fentanyl test strips, Narcan nasal spray, and Naxolone training. “These times feel more escalated,” Kleindienst reflected. “There’s no safety net anymore for people in distress in this country.”
Staffers, too, are dealing with heightened anxieties, and Kleindienst acknowledged that “the deck is stacked differently for staff who are BIPOC and gender nonconforming.” In the case of a troubled employee, “does the person need to have a job off the desk that day?” she asked, advising compassion. Some booksellers said they hold emotional check-ins at staff meetings and establish neighborhood coalitions; a text or phone tree establishes a sense of security. One attendee, who struggled with a parent’s illness among other stressors, reached out to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) and recommended it strongly. When one bookseller relied on a internal pep talk (“I’m doing my best”), Helm seconded this kindness: “Everyone should just give themselves the grace they give to other people.”
As part of its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility programming, ABA is paying rent to the Duwamish Tribe, the first people of present-day Seattle, via a charitable contribution to Real Rent Duwamish. In a land acknowledgment on February 21, ABA accounting coordinator Ana Gonzalez asserted the ABA’s interest in supporting Indigenous members and encouraged attendees to sign a petition for federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe while visiting the Pacific Northwest.
A commitment to DEIA was likewise central to a “New Voices in Genre” lunchtime panel, moderated by Calvin Crosby, owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Panelists included Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenya, whose forthcoming novel Chain Gang All-Stars is a speculative-fiction account of gladiatorial combat in a carceral system; community activist and literary agent Taj McCoy, touting her new rom-com Zora Books Her Happily Ever After; trans author Andrew Joseph White, still putting the finishing touches on a YA horror fantasy, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth; and Chloe Gong, known for her YA fiction but now announcing the first book in a trilogy for adult readers, an Antony and Cleopatra fantasy called Immortal Longings.
A panel on the topic of "Curating Delight" in bookstores offered tips from a quartet of booksellers on how they engage customers, both by stimulating the senses, and intellectually through smart displays and events. Revati Kilaparti of Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Co., said her store's greatest asset was its building, which is depicted as the store's logo and immediately identifiable. She also has turned a one-star Yelp review of the store, criticizing it for being too woke, into a kind of mission statement and source of pride. At Lion's Tooth in Milwaukee, owner Cris Siqueira has started collecting art by locals and putting items on display. Siqueira, who is from Brazil, also maintains a flourishing selection of plants that he keeps visible from the street in all seasons.
Samuel Krowchenko from Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich., emphasized the aural atmosphere of the store, from the individually curated playlists employees play to promote favorite books to the store's typewriter, which customers are encouraged to use to improvise poetry or literary notes. For Cassie Clemans of Roundabout Books of Bend, Ore., it's all about making the store a cozy space, from a signature red bench outside the store to three different areas, including a reading nook and play room, that can be reserved by local groups. "It's all about fostering a sense of community," she said.
The Problem with Galleys
The Winter Institute galley room started the conference stocked with hundreds of fresh galleys, and the stacks dwindled as crowds of booksellers descended on the room. Visitors filled flame-orange tote bags to the brim and took them to the shipping area, where they acquired empty cardboard boxes and lined up to ship their finds home.
Boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling, plus the resulting packaging, garbage, packing tape, and waste, prompted one bookseller to ask if there might be another way to manage all those tempting ARCs. Anne Waters of Hub City Bookstore in Spartanburg, S.C., and executive director of the Hub City Writers Project, concurred. "I love like to see the ABA put the issue of sustainability on the agenda," Waters said. "We spend so much time blaming Exxon and energy companies for being wasteful, but our industry has its own waste--from publishers who don't use recycled paper, to the shipping back and forth of books across the country when we order and then pull returns, to the printing of galleys and ARCs that get shipped and never get read. It seems like there must be a better way. It would be a good thing for all of us to put on the agenda."