"But my favorite job was at Housing Works, where I stood at the sluice gates of the incoming book donations and was tasked with judging which ones would be elevated to the shelves on the book floor. Housing Works is a fascinating case study, because its floor inventory and its online inventory (also housed in the building’s basements) are separate entities. It’s almost like two bookstores in one—the first for browsing and surfing the serendipity of the stacks, the second for title-searched Internet ordering. On average there, thirty per cent of book sales are made in person and the remainder are made online. A book sorter needs to keep this ratio in mind when determining whether a book should go to the book floor or to the online division. Apart from that consideration, he follows his own lights. Here, for the curious, are some of the precepts that guided me.
I have always thought that the backbone of a good used-book store is formed by its fiction and history sections, so whenever possible I separated these books for the floor. Naturally, there were exceptions. Specialized histories with a narrow scholarly focus are better sold online—so a history of the Punic Wars makes it to the store; a study of urinals during the reign of Hadrian doesn’t. In fiction, forgotten midlist titles from the nineteen-eighties and nineties tend to molder on the shelves, while, oddly, forgotten midlist titles from the seventies or earlier exert a kind of retro fascination and are more likely to sell to someone off the street.”
By Sam Sacks, with whom I sold books for years, as volunteers, staff members, and post-staff hangers-on. I miss his face.