One of my recurring career aspirations in my twenties was to be a librarian. I once had occasion to survey a whole group of librarians about their jobs, and they were all very quick to make one aspect quite clear. “You can’t be a librarian just because you like books and only want to read all day,” they told me. “You must genuinely enjoy helping other people.” As I sat in the Friends of the Library’s Second Editions Pop Up Bookstore at 101 South Main this afternoon, I decided the ideal job might incorporate a little bit of both.
Second Editions actually has a permanent home just inside the main entrance of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on Poplar. Store manager Antonio Edwards hoped to spread the word about this surprisingly underrated bookstore by bringing hundreds of gently used books downtown for a special two-day event. The result was a cozy, inviting space with books neatly arranged by subject. Dr. Bean’s Coffee and Tea Emporium set up shop at the front of the room, and quiet jazz played in the background. I was in heaven.
Throughout the day, customers drifted in to browse, and many ended up at the checkout table thrilled to be purchasing stacks of four and five books for less than $20. Occasionally, they had to be lured into the building. I personally convinced a pair of Swedish tourists to come inside in spite of a dearth of literature in their native tongue. I later astonished them with my knowledge of Swedish weather (cold) and culture (setting wicker goats on fire).
During the occasional lull, I flipped through a collection of letters that Sidney Poitier wrote to his great-granddaughter and a graphic novel based on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in London’s East End. Many of us recalled a time when downtown Memphis was so run down that we wouldn’t have even seen anybody walking by outside the window. The mood throughout the afternoon was relaxed and conversational. It was easy to forget that this bookstore would only be around for a few more hours.
My time at the pop up bookstore was decidedly more delightful than it was challenging, yet the impact that the Friends of the Library has made through programs such as Second Editions are impressive nonetheless. Because of their support, the Memphis Public Library system has been able to overcome gaps in funding to continue providing the community with a precious resource: access to information. Second Editions is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, and all profits from the store go directly to supporting the Memphis Public Library system.
Learn more about Friends of the Library at www.memphislibrary.org/support/friends/.