Headshot of LibroMobile founder, Sarah Rafael García.
Sarah Rafael García, Founder of LibroMobile Arts Cooperative and bookstore, aims to help teach and guide young entrepreneurs first starting out in the business world. — Emily Davis

Along with a paycheck, a first job can help employees learn about business and careers. Sarah Rafael García is an author, community educator, and the force behind LibroMobile Arts Cooperative (LMAC) and the LibroMobile bookstore. In working with her younger employees, she tries to help them become better workers, to understand business, and to prepare for life in the larger community.

The mission of LMAC, a small, hybrid nonprofit organization in Santa Ana, California, is cultivating diversity through literature and the arts. Many employees who handle day-to-day tasks at the bookstore, like opening and closing the store and working with customers, are in their teens. Most are bilingual, as well as the first generation in their families for whom college is an option, García said.

In managing her employees, García focuses on several principles, including these:

Be transparent

All employees can see sales, which are handwritten in a composition book—fitting for a bookstore, García joked. The book also incudes “happy customer moments,” in which employees can share ways in which they helped a customer.

This transparency helps employees gain a sense of where the money that allows the store to operate comes from, García said. While the goal isn’t to constantly sell, but to build relationships with the community, the bookstore also must hold itself accountable and operate efficiently, García says. Transparency helps in reaching this goal.

Show everyone respect

Some younger workers are shy, particularly coming out of the pandemic, García said. Although they’re bilingual, some question their ability to speak Spanish to customers who might be more fluent.

García said she typically doesn’t believe in acting like a parent to her employees. In this case, however, she did have “heart to heart” conversations with some employees. As the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation graduate—along with a bachelor’s degree, she holds an MFA— García talked about her experience trying to balance two cultures and languages as she was growing up. She’ll remind employees that ignoring some customers, even if it’s because the worker hesitates to speak to them, is like ignoring their grandparents or other relatives.

All employees can see sales, which are handwritten in a composition book—fitting for a bookstore, García joked. The book also incudes “happy customer moments,” in which employees can share ways in which they helped a customer.

Keep distractions to a minimum

Employees typically aren’t allowed to use their phones or headphones while working, unless they need to, for instance, check the public transit schedule. Instead, they’re expected to be present and focused on the customers.

Use social media appropriately

When LibroMobile posts about a book on social media, it often sells out of its supply in several weeks. During the pandemic, social media was critical to selling books.

But social media is an important marketing tool that needs to be handled appropriately. García reminds employees any information posted needs to be accurate and positive. If an employee hasn’t been able to read the book about which they’re posting, she’ll instruct him or her to use information from the author’s page or the publisher.

In a few cases, an employee wrote a summary that wasn’t quite accurate, and the authors offered corrections. “We apologize and correct as soon as possible,” García said. She also uses the scenario to help employees understand they can’t make assumptions about a story. They need to either read it or get information from a reliable source.

Recognize the value of other’s work

For many of LibroMobile’s younger employees, working in a bookstore is an opportunity not afforded to their parents or grandparents, who often worked manual jobs. “This a privilege, and we have to honor that. We’re using our hands differently because of the work our relatives did,” García said.

Expand horizons

When García talks with young workers who are considering career choices, she’ll often help them broaden their thinking. Say an employee is interested in architecture but doesn’t know anyone who’s an architect. García might offer a book on the field. “I use books to help them expand their potential,” she said.

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