The Publishing Post
Bookseller’s Secrets: Charity Shops
By Ellie Gordon, Shuangyue Zhao and Tehzib Janjua
In a time of increasing financial strain and climate anxiety, the bookshops team wants to champion the home comfort of every high street: the charity bookshop.
We have all been there – you fall into the trap of a 2-for-1 or BOGOF (buy one get one free) deal and end up spending far more on books than you can afford to. Whilst it is a good treat to indulge in to continue the growth of the publishing industry and support new and existing authors, when pay day feels too far away, you can always rely on the charity bookshop to fulfil all your bookish needs at an affordable cost.
“This is a birthday gift for my father. I really thank you for finding this book.”
Shuangyue, who volunteers in an Oxfam bookshop, overheard this from a customer. Like this customer, many come to charity shops to look for specific books such as antiques published in previous centuries. Because they sell books of all categories, genres and styles, visitors of charity bookshops can find unique stories and go on a journey exploring the various possibilities of fictional worlds to be found despite books being pre-owned.
Charity bookshops rely on generous donations, and the donors understand that their ever-beloved books will be passed onto others instead of being thrown away. There is something lovely about knowing that a book you read and love has been read and loved by others before you. Donated books will be categorised, priced, labelled, shelved, and taken home by other readers, which is increasingly important in a time of global warming and reduced accessibility of sustainable resources. It is more important now, than ever, that we actively consider how we can help the environment. It is easy to see how reusing a shopping bag reduces pollution, but how does buying a second-hand book?
The production of a single book generates around one kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent (1KG CO₂e). By not buying the book new, readers can buy one that has already had its initial environmental impact. This reduces further pollution whilst reducing the initial impact, as the pollution per reader decreases. Secondly, by buying second-hand books, we can reduce the amount of paper-waste we produce. In other words, we escape unnecessary packaging that might come with a new book, such as cling film or packaging within packaging in deliveries. We can also prevent books from being thrown into landfills when they are still perfectly capable of being read.
Through buying second-hand books, particularly from charity shops, we can be safe to enjoy the satisfaction of rehoming a book whilst helping to care for our environment.
It is not just the environmental benefits, but the increased accessibility that charity bookshops enable. Selling books at a discounted price opens the joy of reading to a whole new demographic of people for whom the literary world may seem inaccessible. It is a way to keep up with literary trends and discover authors old and new to support and celebrate on social media, spread the word on and shout about, even if we can’t afford to buy a book at its full price. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds can find the books that shape their childhoods, and strapped-for-cash students may stumble across the book which inspires them to become an author.
It is worth asking: who is doing the work and maintaining the operation of these shops. The answer is countless volunteers who love books. From the retired to young people who aspire to develop a career in the publishing industry - these are the people for whom charity bookshops provide perfect opportunities to enrich life, realise personal value and gain experiences related to books. Being a volunteer in a charity shop also means meeting like-minded people from diverse backgrounds. “To me, one of the most exciting things about running this shop is getting to know volunteers from all over the world. They can come from different countries, speak different languages, but have the same passion to work here,” noted the manager of an Oxfam bookshop.
The love and demand for books bring people together in charity bookshops. In this way, the local charity shop centres communities with interpersonal interaction having been formed. Every day, enthusiastic and friendly volunteers across a wide range of ages co-operate with each other, communicating with kind book donors and buyers. This is a major reason why charity bookshops have been attracting people – it is a fortunate thing to be a part of these communities.
In the coffee stains and turned-over pages of a second-hand charity-shop purchase is a story within a story, and charity bookshops’ presence on the high street means the joy of reading is accessible and sustainable. And, of course, every book bought from a charity bookshop meant that an important charity doing great work gets the financial benefits. Supporting your local charity bookshop by shopping or donating is a way to both read more and have the books you love be read by many other readers.