With over thirty-nine years in the book trade, I am an obvious supporter of book stores. I started in the trade whilst studying librarianship at RMIT in the late 1970s. I was doing librarianship and working in a bookstore because I have always loved books. Every present-giving occasion was made special when books were received and many of those editions have pride of place in my home library.
It was only as I progressed through my career that I realised the dual role bookshops have of being part of the cultural life of a community as well as a commercial player in the local economy. The non-threatening atmosphere of your local bookshop is one that allows people from all walks of life to enjoy the experience of browsing the book shelves and discovering the world through the written word.
Over the years I have had personal involvement in hundreds of author events and festivals. I came to appreciate the value of these as a defining and unifying aspect of the connection people have with their bookstore. They provide an opportunity for readers to come together and meet their favourite writers and other readers. We will mount our tenth Crime & Justice festival later in the year and do so knowing that it adds to the cultural calendar of our city yet comes at a significant cost to us as no funding is available because it is run by a ‘commercial’ entity. It would be terrific to have local council and government support for these types of initiatives, especially given our status as a UNESCO City of Literature.
In a time when the words ‘local’ and ‘community’ are bandied about fairly loosely to encapsulate the feeling we may get from the virtual world as well as the physical world, it is worth noting that the presence of the local bookstore is a hub for interaction, as indeed is your local library.
Our personal experience has been tough over the past few years as we transitioned from one location to another, and then another. It is has been difficult to maintain continuity whilst also grappling with the changing landscape, where authors and publishers are in the same space as ourselves, communicating directly with the reading and book buying public. That said, we are still standing and I have enormous gratitude towards my colleagues for having met these challenges and maintained their enthusiasm for their bookstore and the broader book trade.
I do believe Melbourne and any city would be poorer without its bookshops so we will continue to pursue our ‘vocation’ and to enjoy the community of readers we have been talking with for almost forty years.
Mary Dalmau is an independent bookseller with Readers Feast Bookstores in Melbourne, Australia.