Bookseller Gripes

By now, most everyone has seen this list of gripes that some Borders employees believe they had hidden from their customers. Accompanying the legitimate complaints against customers doing appalling things (like tearing up the store or leaving their children alone to tear up the store) are the complaints that bother me enough to write a post about it. The anonymous former employees don’t like your taste in books. They don’t like helping you find a book with very little information to go on. They don’t like that you’re confused because the store changes every week. And frankly, they would rather you shop elsewhere. They might have thought they were keeping these opinions a secret, but they weren’t. Underlying many of the comments posted to the various sites that have featured this picture is the idea that there is such a thing as being too good to work retail.

The reason I even bring this up here is because librarians have chimed in agreeing with many of the points on the list, including the frustration of finding a book with little information. In some ways, I understand the booksellers being frustrated, since they might not have been trained in reader’s advisory or reference. But librarians? Librarians who should know how to ask questions to find out what the patron is really looking for? The real problem I see is that patrons can tell if the librarian feels inconvenienced or is looking down on the patron. Patrons can tell if the librarian would really rather you go elsewhere. We can’t take patrons for granted. Patrons who feel slighted or unwelcome in the library will just go away. They might not make a grand fuss about it, they might not ever tell you why they’re not coming back; they’ll just find themselves too busy to go to the library. They’ll buy all their books, or borrow them from friends and family, or just stop reading. Do we have such a glut of patrons, of readers, that we can afford to alienate them? And why would we want anyone to leave the library feeling like an inconvenience?

Please note that I am NOT advocating allowing people to trash the library (or bookstore) or leave their children unattended. This is unacceptable behavior. What is NOT unacceptable behavior is: looking for the latest Oprah Winfrey book, reading Twilight, remembering only a few details about a book you heard about on the radio last month, or being confused because the corporate overlords dictate moving everything around every week so customers CAN’T find anything without your help. (The last one is bookstore specific– I hope libraries don’t get into that habit!) It’s a real Catch-22 to the customer, who knows he’s inconveniencing you by asking questions, but who has to ask because everything is different now.

I know how appalling some people can behave in public. I have cleaned up after my fair share of them (both as a worker AND as a fellow customer.) But we HAVE to recognize the difference between the horrendous, thoughtless behavior that is unacceptable and the normal human behavior that allows us to have a job.

Write Every Day?

Seth Godin says something I probably need to hear every day. Write every day, in public. This is very hard for me because I worry about the repercussions that follow speaking one’s mind. It’s not that I worry about my writing not being good enough– I wrote professionally for years and I know my writing is at least adequate. It’s that I worry that if I express the wrong opinions, I could put my career in jeopardy. Pretty ironic when my career is studying and teaching librarianship. I also pay attention to discourse and how policies are shaped and how they then shape the people who have to enforce them. In other words, I think too much.

I do agree with Seth Godin and I am going to try to write more, publicly, every day. I think it will help my writing for publication as well. I’m working on several articles and a couple of research projects. One article is on culture shock in school libraries and the other is a narrative of my experiences doing institutional ethnography in a school. I want to write it in a way that would be useful to a librarian who wants to examine work processes and discover how to change them for the better.