My internship experience within the scope of my postgraduate degree in publishing was maybe a little bit unusual compared to the rest of my fellow classmates. Since I had already gained some hands-on experience in a small publishing house in Berlin, I decided to apply for various fields within the book industry. Don’t get me wrong, I did apply to all the major publishing houses in Edinburgh, but I wasn’t lucky enough to secure one of the placement positions. Well, I guess, “lucky” is relative, because I did end up absolutely loving my placement at a second-hand book shop!
The application process was also rather unusual because there was none. I pretty much just walked in because I knew the shop already and asked for a placement. They said yes straight away because Amnesty International is based on volunteers but that surely did not stop me from putting the most effort as possible in it.
First, a little bit about the organisation and the bookshop itself: Amnesty International is one of the largest non-governmental organisations that fight for human rights worldwide. One of Amnesty’s ways to financially support their campaigns is through the proceeds of second-hand book sales which are kindly donated by people on a daily basis. The Amnesty Bookshop in Edinburgh is one of ten not-for-profit second-hand bookshops of its kind throughout the UK. As mentioned above, the book shop chain is based on volunteers and only the manager gets a salary. Volunteers usually help with the running of the shop for four hours per week, sometimes even several times a week. Due to this strong commitment to the charity, a lot of human rights campaigns could be funded already. The store in Edinburgh is situated in a busy street in Marchmont. Due to its vicinity to the University of Edinburgh, a neighbourhood filled with young families, and the nearby Royal Hospital for Sick Children, the shop attracts a lot of young customers and families.
My day-to-day activities were usually the same – I would open up the store and make it look presentable before the first customers came in, prepare the cash register for the start of the shift, stock up the shelves, answer any customer queries, sort the donations in the stock room, price books, do the banking once a week, and prepare the shop for the end of the shift. My favourite tasks involved being in the stock room with hundreds of books surrounding me. I thoroughly enjoyed skimming through the blurbs of so many books and putting myself into our customers shoes to decide whether they’d want to read them or if we should donate it to another charity. We’d also have a pile dedicated to books that wouldn’t make either of the cuts, which was a truly heart-breaking decision each time. Even though I’m a publishing student, I did not know too many authors because I never studied literature in my undergrad. So, this was the perfect opportunity for me to not only learn so many different author’s names but also to learn more about genre itself. Furthermore, after a week, I got the general gist of what would sell well and what wouldn’t, which made me feel connected to our customers. When I used to work in a publishing house in Berlin, I never got to experience where the books would eventually end up. So, it was also a really nice feeling to get to know some regular customers on a more personal level based on their requests of certain books and their reading habits.
My other favourite responsibility was helping out with the general management of the store. Since the Amnesty Bookshop only has one manager, I got to shadow him the first few days and ask every question I could think of regarding how to manage people and a successful bookshop. After only two days, I was responsible to take care of the financial side of the store. This meant making sure that all receipts, petty cash, general cash in the register and safe, and all money earned via credit cards were correctly registered in the system. It also meant bringing the cash to the bank once a week and sending all receipts to the Amnesty headquarters in London. Occasionally, I would also help my manager to organise the working shifts and breaks of all the volunteers, which is a form of art in itself.
Once the pandemic is over, I will continue to volunteer for the Amnesty Bookshop once a week because I genuinely think that the revenue it generates helps a lot of vulnerable people in the end. I also enjoyed working with so many different volunteers and learning about their personal reasons why they volunteer there and to simply have a chat about our favourite books. I’m also really grateful to my manager who was always very transparent about the management processes of the shop and who gave me many valuable advices and insights on what to look out for in order to run a successful shop.