February 24, 2016

No phones, free whiskey and literature: the future of bookselling?


Libreria bookshop

Libreria bookshop. Photo by Iwan Baan

Last November, we wrote about the opening of a new bookshop in London, launched by Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, founders of Second Home, a “utopian workspace.”

The shop, which is now called Libreria, officially opens tomorrow, but it has already been making headlines for its beautiful interior design, and the way it is reinventing the expectations of a physical bookshop.

The name comes from ‘The Library of Babel’, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. But as Alex Clark notes in The Guardian, the shop will aim to cut through the babble and help with “that very contemporary problem, an overload of information.” Books are curated by theme rather than genre and ‘celebrity’ readers such as the New York Review of Books editor Edwin Frank and former director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, will assemble their own shelves of reading recommendations.

Added to that will be “occasional extremely late-night opening, events that range beyond the standard author Q&A, and a printing press in the basement on which customers can sign up for courses and print their own work.” The bookshop also features a whiskey bar that is (whisper it) free. That’s thanks to the fact that Libreria does not have an alcohol license.

But as The Guardian reports, the bookshop is very clear about what it won’t have: a café or, more drastically, wifi. While most new bookshops are making a virtue of those amenities, Libreria wants to avoid such modern vices. Speaking to The Bookseller, Silva explained his thinking:

The whole idea is to help people break out of their silos and do what Amazon can’t do, to really create a sense of serendipity. We get stuck in these crappy algorithms, these really narrow forms and I don’t think they are good for our wellbeing, for society. If we are about community, helping people learn is about exposing people to new ideas they might come across. Technology is great, but social media can be like an echo chamber of people with like-minded views. We are trying to expose people to things and ideas they might not know about.

According to Sally Davies, the bookshop’s director, the shop will be unapologetically intellectual, but not, she hopes, intimidating:

I think we want to be deep; we don’t want to be afraid to be intellectual. But I’m very conscious of the privilege I enjoy in being able to walk into a bookshop and feel extremely comfortable and know my way around. But I also recognise that that is a privilege and that they can be very forbidding spaces for people. We want it to feel very warm, very welcoming, very open; that you could come in and ask for the latest experimental fiction, but equally you could come in and ask for The Hunger Games and no one’s going to raise an eyebrow.

Londoners: put your iPhones on airplane mode and join the queue for the whiskey and literature at Libreria.



Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.