At my elementary school, there was a little bookstore set up next to the cafeteria entrance. After we finished lunch, we had the choice of going outside to play or visiting the bookstore.
I almost always chose the bookstore.
I don’t know if my school bookstore was an exception; at that time, I assumed all schools offered something similar. Our bookstore wasn’t anything fancy, just some shelves in the corner of the hallway. The book prices were discounted, making them more affordable for children, and a portion of the book sales went back to the school to support various programs.
If I remember correctly, they restocked with new inventory once or twice per month. On those days, I eagerly looked through the fresh options, hoping to find something interesting to add to my personal library. On the days when there was nothing new, I still enjoyed looking through the familiar titles. I’d note which ones I already had and which ones were my favorites. Sometimes, I’d discover something I’d passed over previously, and I’d reconsider my earlier disregard of its merits.
Occasionally, my friends would join me at the bookstore, but most often, I was alone. That was fine with me. In my opinion, book shopping worked best as a solitary venture. Evaluating content, deciding if the story was worth my investment of money and time – that required thoughtful consideration, the kind that wasn’t possible if I had to carry on a conversation or think about what somebody else was doing.
I did also love the school library. My bookstore moments, however, were especially significant to me. I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s because I was purchasing books as opposed to borrowing them. I was adding titles to my personal collection, inviting them to become permanent members of my book family, rather than having them over for a short visit.
Being in that little bookstore felt warm and comfortable, like being wrapped in a blanket. The time I spent in that hallway corner was often the best part of the school day.
Those memories resurfaced yesterday as I read an article about the current state of school bookstores. With the recent shift to online learning, many schools have shifted to offering an online bookstore model. It’s a good move, a logical move, one that I’m sure children, teachers, and parents appreciate, especially since in-person library visits have also been affected by current circumstances. I’m glad the option is available.
I can’t help but feel a little sad, however, at the disappearance, even if only temporarily, of in-person schoolhouse bookstore experiences. I’m sure there are children who, just as I did, treasure the process of lifting a book from the shelf, holding it in their hands, turning it over and flipping the pages as they decide whether to make a purchase.
Those children will still be happy to find new material via the online option. They’ll still enjoy their reading experiences. But they’ll miss the feeling of being enveloped by written words and imaginary tales, the hopeful anticipation of stepping into a space full of stories. They’ll miss those tangible moments that used to accompany the start of a new reading adventure. For their sake, I hope that, when the pandemic ends and it’s once again safe to do the things we used to do, the school bookstore experience is one of the things that returns.
In the meantime, I’m happy to have my memories. I’ll always be grateful for those moments of contented delight, standing in the middle of those shelves in that hallway corner.