Fulfilling the dream of many a book-lover, Annette Freeman bravely stepped outside her mid-life comfort zone and opened a bookshop café in the heart of Sydney. Tea In The Library became a beloved haven of readers and a cosy forum for writers. Plus a great place for coffee – and nineteen varieties of tea. But behind the scenes were anxieties large and small, frustrations, challenges, and – now and again – glorious moments of success. Welcome to retail!
“How hard can it be to run a successful small business?” Annette asked herself. “People do it every day. It can’t be rocket science.” We find the answer to that question, and it is sobering news for those wannabe bookshop or café owners out there.
The triumphs and disasters, the eccentric characters and the myriad challenges of retail are spiced with wry observation and a good sprinkling of literary references. In the end, everyone will have a view on what could have been done differently to save a small bookshop café that briefly lit up the Sydney literary scene.
Now in a second edition with a new preface! First edition 2009; second edition 2015.
Purchase the ebook or traditional book here.
Reviews of ‘Tea in the Library’
Tea in the Library is, as the blurb says, about how one woman fulfilled the dream of many a book-lover by opening a bookshop café in the heart of Sydney. It is not, however, a `how-to’ business book! It does give some ideas about how to cope when the going gets tough; how to deal with the everyday crises that seem to be a part of the project; and how to stop and enjoy the frequent excellent outcomes; how to delight in the highs as well as endure the lows.
It is obviously a book for book-lovers. There are fascinating descriptions of many bookshops, in Sydney and abroad, which were visited as part of the `research’, and the literary references add to the `bookish’ tone. Fans of memoirs will be interested in the narrative of the author’s early love of books. Readers who enjoy eccentric real-life characters will find plenty to amuse them. Those who like travel books will find excursions to the Himalayas and Antarctica – places where we find there are also highs and lows to be experienced.
Finally, it is a personal book. We find out what lawyers really think of lawyer jokes, and about the anguish of dealing with unforseen, sometimes catastrophic situations. The writing style is very personal and readable; perhaps a little repetitive in places, but this in the end only adds to the character of the book. Highly recommended.
– Sue Chan, Librarian, National Library, Canberra
Annette Freeman opened her bookshop café called Tea in the Library in the centre of Sydney in November 2003. Until March 2005, Tea in the Library was a haven for readers and a forum for writers. The café served food, coffee and 19 flavours of tea, hosted book launches and discussion groups. It was, for Annette, the fulfilment of a dream. Unfortunately, Tea in the Library was not a commercial success.
This is Ms Freeman’s story of her venture into small retail business. While it is focussed on Tea in the Library, it touches on other parts of Ms Freeman’s life, dreams and achievements. I enjoyed this memoir enormously: I have similar memories of bookstores in Launceston, Tasmania. In reading about Ms Freeman’s research, I also recognise other favourite bookstores. This made reading the memoir a more personal experience for me and increased my enjoyment of it.
I think, though, that Tea in the Library will appeal to a variety of readers. Certainly, those of us who enjoy books and have thought about the bricks and mortar bookstores we visit will be interested in Ms Freeman’s experiences. Ms Freeman asked herself: `How hard can it be to run a successful small business?’ Unfortunately, it was harder than she initially thought. Ms Freeman wrote this book as a cathartic exercise after Tea in the Library closed, which seems to me to be an entirely appropriate way to close this particular chapter of her life. More importantly, it makes Tea in the Library – both the dream and the reality – accessible to many of us who never experienced it firsthand. Opening a bookshop café may have been a dream that was only realised for a short period – but at least it was.
– Jennifer Cameron-Smith, Amazon.com ‘Top 1000’ Reviewer
In 2003 Annette Freeman, Australian lawyer, book lover, and adventurous traveler, opened a Sydney bookshop and café called “Tea in the Library.” With its excellent food and drink, comfortable chairs by a fireplace, and carefully chosen stock of intriguing books, “TITL” (pun intended by Ms. Freeman) was a bibliophile’s dream as well as the very personal vision of its determined owner. Although it earned rapturous reviews and gained a following of loyal customers, the shop never quite made enough money to become self-sustaining, and in 2005, after well over a year of personal and financial sacrifice, Ms. Freeman reluctantly decided to close it, thereby unwillingly depriving Sydney of, as she says, “one great little bookshop café.”
Ostensibly about the many trials of running a small business, “Tea in the Library” really deals, in an intimate but not mawkish manner, with the author’s journey–including literal journeys to the Himalayas and the Antarctic–to a fuller understanding and a greater acceptance of herself. Forced to develop and implement a business plan, learn the complexities of the bookselling business as well as how to run a café, and grapple with the practical and emotional difficulties of hiring and, unfortunately, firing employees, Ms. Freeman found herself a much stronger and more confident person at the end of the process. As she notes, although she had become a partner in her law firm, the experience of opening, operating, and then closing Tea in the Library helped her realize how very far she had come from the young “Tazzie” (Tasmania-born) woman once almost too shy to answer the telephone and the young lawyer who wrote letters in longhand because she was afraid to expose her inexperience by attempting to dictate them.
“Tea in the Library” will be of interest to a wide variety of readers: book lovers certainly but also persons interested in running small businesses and those with an interest in Australian life and culture. However, “Tea in the Library” will appeal most to the many readers who, like Annette Freeman, wonder how far they can press their perceived limits, whether those imposed by society or by themselves. As Ms. Freeman discovered, and as she expresses so eloquently in this well-written and beautifully illustrated memoir, those limits can be pressed very far indeed. For that reason we are, as she is, “grateful that Tea in the Library has been part of [her] life.”
Pour yourself a good cup of tea, curl up in a comfortable chair, and lose yourself for a few hours in this wonderful “Library.”
– Timothy J. Lockhart, USA, published reviewer