A Reminder That Bookstores Are Not Libraries

While skimming Entertainment Weekly’s website today, I found this post: “Borders Employees List Grievances: ‘Ode to a Bookstore Death.'” I got a bit cranky. Yes, the list creator is one person (or a handful of people) out of many bookstore workers. Yes, I think that it sucks that Borders went out of business and lots of people lost their jobs and their bookstore. Yes, these people have a right to vent their frustration.

But this list of complaints is exactly why we need libraries and librarians. Let me point out a few things to you:

Borders employee says, “We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.” This high school librarian (here on out known as HSL in this post) says, “If a book-turned-in-to-a-movie gets one person to read, that person could potentially come back again and again and become someone who loves reading. It just takes the right book to hook a person.” Whatever works.

Borders employee says, “Oprah was not the “final say” on what is awesome. We really didn’t care what was on her show or what her latest book club book was. Really.” HSL says, “Again, whatever gets someone to reconsider reading is a win in my world.” I bet the author cares when he/she is able to make enough money to write full-time after Oprah praises their book, and can publish more books which will bring in more money for the bookstore.

Borders employee says, “If you don’t know the author, title, or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don’t either. How it was our fault that we couldn’t find it we’ll never understand.” HSL says, “If I had a nickel for every time in the 4 years I have been a librarian when I found the correct book for a patron based on the description of the cover, I would at least be able to buy myself lunch tomorrow.” Part of a librarian’s job is to know your collection. One student asks about “the book with the baby on the cover,” and she is so happy when I hand her Jacqueline Woodson’s The Dear One because that is exactly when she meant, but another student wants “the book with the baby on the cover” and is relieved when I give her Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting from the Current Controversies series. Both books have a baby on the cover, as do several other books in our library, but I am able to do a reference interview and get the right book in their hands.

Borders employee says, “It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.” HSL says, “If books are cataloged and patrons can search on a computer to find what they want, you would not be asked questions like this.” One thing that I think Barnes and Noble gets right is that in some of their stores, they provide computers for customers to do their own searching. (Not every store does this, though, which needs to change.) I have never been in a Borders where a computer was available for customers; each was always labeled “For employee use only.” Library patrons may not understand why books on fashion will be found in the 700s but books on what to wear for an interview will be in the 600s, but they will at least be able to use a computer to look up what they want and follow the clear layout and signage of a library to find the book they want.

Borders employee says, “We greatly dislike the phrase “Quick question.” It’s never true. And everyone seems to have one.” HSL says, “I love the questions that require some thinking and digging!” What else is a book store employee there to do but sell books? If someone has a question that could result in a sale, why hate the question? I love when students have a complicated question, or a question they worry is impossible to answer, and I can guide them to the answer. No wonder Borders went out of business if the employees don’t want to answer questions.

Borders employee says, “‘I was just here last week and saw this book there’ meant nothing to us. The store changed once a week.” HSL says, “Displays are meant to promote books. Know your recent displays.”

Borders employee says, “When you walked in and immediately said, ‘I’m looking for a book,’ what you really meant to say is, ‘I would like you to find me a book.’ You never looked. It’s fine, it’s our job — but let’s be correct about what’s really happening here.” HSL says, “Do we really need to argue semantics? Does it matter how the need for assistance is phrased? Booksellers and librarians have jobs because people need help in fulfilling an information need and we can help them.” Oops, maybe that is why you don’t have a job anymore.

Okay, in all seriousness, I understand where this person (people?) is coming from and like I said before, it sucks that Borders closed. I know some bookstore employees who are awesome and some librarians who suck, but this is a prime example of what to expect in a bookstore where the job qualifications are minor, and a in library staffed by librarians with a master’s degree. Librarians are trained to answer the unanswerable. The next time someone questions why modern society needs libraries, he or she should try to answer the unanswerable using an ode-writing bookstore employee and Google.


Coming soon: my rant about librarians who suck.



Filed under Libraries

9 responses to “A Reminder That Bookstores Are Not Libraries

  1. Angelina41

    Great post, Carrie! I wholeheartedly agree with all of your points.

  2. Super post! And only some of the reason why I’ve always LOVED libraries and librarians!

  3. Both the Borders in our area that I frequented had computers open for customer use so you could find out what section a particular book was in. They also had great, really helpful employees. I miss them. 😦

  4. I agree with all your points as well and I’m a former bookseller. There were a few things I agreed with but most of them were kinda ridiculous. Yeah, retail’s hard and thankless in a lot of ways, but this list shows such a dislike for their customers that you know it wasn’t the service that had people shopping in the store in the first place.

  5. cool post. I definitely prefer my experience in a library to in a commercial book store!

  6. Ben

    I worked in the coffee side of Barnes and Noble, so was rarely asked about books (cafe workers like to pretend we can’t read, mainly because that’s how many customers and co-workers treat us). But it made me feel good when a customer could only say “horse on the cover” and I could lead him to Dick Francis and astonish him with my book acumen. Why didn’t Borders employees want to feel good?

  7. Kristen

    I love this post. I have volunteered in a public library, and worked in a Border’s coffee bar, and in a discount book store, and I loved them all. I can only imagine the bitterness that came across in that Border’s list was the disappointment of losing what was, basically, a pretty great job.

  8. Wow, this was such a great post. I totally agreed with your points. =]

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