Head to the back corner of the AS bookstore on a typical school day and you’ll likely catch a few students relaxing on chairs with a good book. In this corner of the bookstore you won’t find textbooks, school supplies or Western gear but rather a vast collection of classic and new literature as well as Leigh Ann Giles, the official bookstore buyer, or as some affectionately call her, the book lady.
For the last six years, Giles has worked for the AS bookstore, mostly in the northeast corner of the building helping students find good reading material. As the book buyer, Giles works with individual publishing companies and chooses which books will be stocked in the bookstore. In addition to the books stored on the shelves, Giles also handles special orders for students that can’t find what they’re looking for elsewhere. If students are unable to find a book in Bellingham, she can have it specially ordered.
When authors come to campus, such as Sherman Alexie who is speaking this Wednesday, Giles assists the organizers by helping to promote and sell the author’s work at the event. Giles said she’s always looking to bring new authors to Western.
“I’d like to hear what kind of authors students are interested in seeing here at Western,” Giles said.
Giles is constantly reading and trying to keep up with the literary tastes of Western students. Many of the books she selects to stock in the AS Bookstore come from input from Western students.
“I always have to keep in mind who my audience is: students,” Giles said. “[Western] students’ opinions are always foremost in my mind.”
Giles said that a deep love of books originally inspired her to work as a book buyer. Along with a passion for reading, she also enjoys that her job allows her to work alongside students in a university setting.
“I love being exposed to all this creativity from both books and the students around me,” Giles said. “It’s also fun being surrounded by young people. It’s important who you work with, but I also like working with books in general.”
In addition to choosing books that she believes Western students would be interested in purchasing, Giles also recommends books to students upon request. Often when students are unsure of exactly what they want to read, they come to Giles for recommendations on recently published literature.
Book recommendations pose a bit of a challenge for Giles. First she must gauge the student’s interests and what they have read already. Then it’s a matter of matching the book to the student’s reading style and searching her own reading experiences for source material, Giles said. One of her favorite aspects of being the bookstore buyer is the feeling she gets when a student enjoys reading one her recommendations.
“Recommending books to people and seeing them get excited about them is just a great feeling,” Giles said. “There are so many books that I haven’t read and there are always new books coming out so it can be really hard trying to find what someone likes.”
Giles often hears from students that they would like to have a section for used literature to go along with new books. According to Giles, the reason that Western doesn’t have a section of used books is because there simply isn’t enough space. Used textbooks can be purchased in the bottom floor of the bookstore, but there is no section for used literature.
“If we had space to sell used books, that would be one of the first things we [the AS Bookstore] would do,” Giles said. “If I had it my way, when you walked in, all that you could see would be books.”
Before she worked at the AS Bookstore, Giles worked at a number of other bookstores, including the bookstore at the University of California, Davis.
Giles also currently serves as interim manager of the AS Bookstore. Despite the recent budget cuts at Western, Giles said that the bookstore is managing itself well.
“We’ll definitely be watching the bookstore’s budget during this quarter, but so far we’re doing okay, thankfully,” Giles said.