How bookshops act as a safe space in troubled times
The role of bookshops in being a ‘safe space’ – both for the staff who work there and for members of society suffering mental health problems – has been highlighted by independent booksellers on both sides of the Atlantic in recent days.
In the UK, the Booksellers Association (BA) released the results of its inaugural Workforce Survey which showed that more than a third of those working in bookshops are currently experiencing mental health problems (compared to one in six in the general population. The survey also found that 23% of respondents identified as LGBT+ (compared to 3% of the general population, and that the majority of respondents agreed/ strongly agreed that they feel included (93%), respected (92%), and like they belong (94%) at work.
Meryl Halls, the BA’s chief executive, said: “The BA’s inaugural Workforce Survey is a vital step in our wider commitment to making bookselling more inclusive and representative of the population. We are very proud of the fact that there many areas in which booksellers over index compared with the national population – including LGTBQ, those with long term health conditions, and those will mental health challenges. It seems to us clear from these statistics that bookselling is a de facto safe space for those from a variety of demographics, and this should be a source of pride for our sector.
“ However, in other areas, it is clear there is a long road ahead, particularly in the representation of booksellers from ethnic minority groups. We look forward to continuing to work closely with our existing cohort of booksellers, as well as our partners at the Publishers Association and Association of Authors Agents, among many others, to ensure a more inclusive future for the book world. The BA will be working with its Equality and Inclusion Action Group to formulate a practical action plan for booksellers, ranging from employment and staffing, through stock and sourcing, to community engagement.”
The findings coincide with a session at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute gathering in Seattle. Here a panel looked at bookshops’ role as a ‘safe space’ for those in crisis, and at the pressures on front line booksellers who have to deal with the homeless or troubled. For example, Greenlight Bookstore in Flatbush, Brooklyn, puts together “care package bags” including items like socks and snacks for unhoused people.
Some booksellers said they held ‘emotional check-ins’ at staff meetings and established text or phone trees so that people felt supported by a wider network.
The message on both sides of the Atlantic is that in troubled times bookshops act as a refuge and place of understanding for those in need.