Adventures of a Textbook Girl
There’s a TV Show You May Want to Watch

Customer walks up, holding a magazine with some hand-written notes in the margins.

Customer: Hi, can you tell me if you have any of these books.

Me: Sure, what’s the first title?

Customer: How to Snare A Rich Man.

Me: OK, we don’t have that one, but we might be able to get it in if you’d like me to check.

Customer: OK, how about Sugar Daddy 101?

Me: Do you know the author on that?

Customer: Umm….

Me: It’s ok. It looks like we don’t have that one either.

Customer: How about How To Marry A Millionaire?

Me: We do not have that one either.

Customer: OK….can you tell me where those books would be?

Me: Sure.

I showed her to the Intimacy and Relationship section in Psychology. I some how don’t think we’ll have what she’s looking for. Maybe it was a joke gift…?

"Gets along well with others"

So, in a troubled economy, especially in a college town, jobs - especially part time jobs - are at a premium. The children’s department at the bookshop where I work recently advertised for a part-time position, posting with flyers on the doors to the store, and on Craigslist. They were accepting applications Tuesday through Saturday, the dates of which were specified on the job posting. It is now the Monday after we stopped accepting applications.

Girl: (Walks up to Information Desk with a piece of paper in hand) Hi, I read on Craigslist that your Children’s Department is hiring, so this is for Holly.

Me: Okay, well I’m sorry but we actually stopped accepting applications for that position on Saturday.

Girl: (Thrusting paper at me.) Okay, well if you could just give this to Holly then.

Me: I’m sorry, but we can’t actually accept resumes or applications unless we are actively hiring, and again we stopped accepting applications on Saturday. We just don’t have the capacity to store resumes to review or look for when we’re not hiring.

Girl: Well if you could just take this and give it to Holly, I’m sure she’d be impressed. I worked at a library, I’m very qualified.

Me: I mean, I’m sorry but if I take it she will likely never see it. We accepted applications last week Tuesday through Saturday and got a lot of applicants, and if they thought we needed more, they would have extended the deadline. When we are hiring again we’ll post on both of our doors, and likely also on Craigslist

Girl: Well I live in [town two towns over] and I saw this ad on Craigslist. And I don’t remember them saying there was a deadline.

Me: Well I didn’t look at the Craigslist posting myself, but I know they usually post what they post on the doors. And we were accepting applications Tuesday through Saturday, and that deadline has passed.

Girl: Well my impression from the Craigslist ad was that you wouldn’t be hiring til the end of the month.

Me: Well I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say about that. But we stopped accepting applications on Saturday, and if we needed more people to consider, they would have extended the dealine. But they got a lot of applicants, a lot of people to look over, and so we just can’t take any more resumes.

Girl: You seem a little overwhelmed.

Me: I’m just trying to emphasize to you that if I take that paper, it probably won’t be considered.

Girl: Well I’m sure a lot of them won’t be considered. (Thrusts paper at me again). I’m sure if Holly just comes across this she’ll be impressed. I worked at a library for years, and I’d be a great asset to the store.

Me:…Okay. But just remember it probably won’t be looked at. 

Girl: (Hands me resume) Okay, thank you. What’s your name.

Me: Jocelyn.

Girl: (Holds out hand for a limp handshake.) Jessica.

Her resume was a double-spaced page, with her work experience listed on the very bottom. First thing listed after contact info and “Objective” - “Gets along well with others”. Under “Qualifications.”

The Grass Is Always Greener

Due to split up of shipments from the publisher, we are missing 300 copies of the book for the 600-person Introductory Chem class. Students have been telling us that the professor has e-mailed them to tell them to read the first two chapters before class tomorrow.

Customer: So the Chem books are coming tomorrow?

Me: By 3 o’clock.

Customer: Is there any way I can pre-pay for them now and pick them up?

Me: No, we’re getting 300 copies in, you just have to come in and get it.

Customer: OK… so I have homework - how can I do that?

Me: Well, you can go to the library and try to do the reading on the copies there. You can see if anyone you know in the class has the book already…you can hope the professor is understanding and lenient of the fact that 300 people don’t have the book to do the homework…

Customer: OK…do you know if [professor] is lenient?

Me: I have no idea.

Customer:…do you know if the chapters are long?

Me: I have no idea, I was a Humanities major.

Customer: Were your chapters long?

Me: For Humanities classes?

Customer: Yeah.

Me: We had to read books.

We actually got the book in a week ago, we just didn’t want to give it to you

(Customer had previously come up looking for a Genetics book, and when I magically guessed his course number I pointed him to where the class would be shelved.)

Customer: So it wasn’t there, and the tag said that more would be coming in Friday, but do you have them now?

Me: No, you just have to check back Friday afternoon.

Yes, downstairs means downstairs

Student walks up with a book in-hand.

"So can I pay for this-"

"Downstairs."

(Looks confused, gestures behind him towards the Computer Department) “So, wait, can I pay upstairs, or downstairs?”

"Downstairs."

You Have To Finish Your Sentence For Me To Help You

"So um, I was uh wondering if you guys had like these books… it uh.. . Borders used to have it but now they’re closed and, uh -"

"What kind of books are they?"

Öh, um they’re like uh these Brain Test books, uh like puzzles -“

"They’re on the shelf behind me.

Educators: Holding the future in their hands…

(Customer walks up, looks like a 2nd or 3rd year student, holding a piece of messily folded paper.)

Customer: (Starting to unfold paper.) Hi, I’m teaching a class this quarter and wanted to get information about ordering books for it.

[Note: It is now the second week of classes in a 10-week term.]

Me: You’re teaching the class this quarter?

Customer: Yeah.

Me: OK, well this is really late, we usually ask instructors to give us the information about a month in advance. So just to let you know it will probably be about two weeks before we can get the books in stock.

Customer: (Slightly taken aback, folding her paper.) OK, I’ll just go elsewhere then.

(After a brief discussion on how professors order books, customer then proceeds to order a reader that has sold out for a class she is enrolled in.)

What is the “Information Desk” for?

(Customer hesitantly walks up towards the Coursebook Information Desk.)

Me: Hi, did you have a question?

Customer: (Seriously.) Yeah…you can’t tell me information about courses that I’m in that I need to know, right?

Me: Well if you can tell me the department and course number, I can tell you something.

Customer: Environmental Studies 23.

Me: OK, well I can tell you that it is one book required for that class, called Our Changing Planet, which we have in stock down (pointing) that aisle on the right hand side, probably on one of the lower shelves.

Books Without Borders: A Toast

Last week Borders announced it was closing 200 locations nation-wide for bankruptcy - including the one  local here. 

So a thing you learn very quickly when working at textbooks is that Amazon is the enemy. They sell books below cost when new, as they’re not really actually making their money from their book sales, as well as brokering the private used deals- which is all good for the students, and I have in fact at times told a student when we’ve been sold out of a book they need that honestly they’d get it faster by going to Amazon.

But the fact is that this does mean reduced sales for the store, which results in more cuts, which leads to things being stocked in even fewer quantities and more people going to Amazon just because we don’t have it - don’t you just love spirals?

Borders claims a lot of the reason it’s doing this closure is due to competition from Amazon.

But when you work at an independent book store, it’s not just Amazon that’s the enemy - it’s also corporate bookstore around. We are encouraged to support other locals and independents - if we don’t have a specific book, recommend another bookshop in town. If it’s out of print, recommend the local used store, or suggest Powell’s, as opposed to Amazon (which for California, will in fact usually work faster if they have it). But never ever should you recommend trying Borders - even if the customer will wind up having to walk past Borders to get to the bookstore you do recommend.

Because of the nature of large-scale corporations, they can stock things that don’t sell, stock larger quantities of books they will eventually have to send back, and offer further reaching coupons weekly or monthly than we can afford. Many times I’ve told a customer that we don’t have a book because it hasn’t sold in years, but could get it in a couple of days - to be told they will just try Borders instead, though it was a shame because they wanted to try to give us the business first (P.S. Customers who try to guilt trip a struggling independent for not stocking a nonprofitable obscure book for your random whim? Sorry, but no). This is aside from just the general competition of having another bookstore not only in the town, but on the same street, especially a bigger one.

So it almost goes without saying that when the announcement was made, the bookshop erupted backstage. Facebook statuses from my co-workers celebrating, high fives, congratulations from regular customers on having “beaten the big boys” by surviving. This happening in the back rooms while the owner congratulated us on having made it, but cautioning us to not be disrespectful and to try to keep our celebrations/gloating to ourselves.

A publisher rep visiting one of the buyers brought the owner a bottle of champagne on a day I was working, and the buyer brought it down to the staff room, so that everyone working that day could try to rotate in, have a small glass, and toast - ostensibly to our survival… until someone came up with the clever toast of “To Books Without Borders!”

So in all of this, I’ve been being happy for my bookshop that it’s surviving, and I understand the competition drive…but I can’t really celebrate “Books Without Borders,” and the closure of a (even a corporate) bookstore. While there is the big, menacing shadow of the corporate entity known as Borders lurking behind its mentions and the plastic-y facade of its store here, I walked in and saw booksellers like me, people who were happy to be working in a bookstore. There are books on the shelves (and CDs and DVDs and other brick-a-brac…) and the SMELL of new books, and people there to read and buy books (and do homework, drink coffee, meet up with people, and shoplift…). It was a place that before I started working at my bookshop I honestly went to more often, because I was a poor college student and they gave me discounts. It was a place I went to to do my homework and apply for jobs online, because I could plug in my computer and then procrastinate by reading books I was too poor to buy. It was - and is, for at least a few more months - a bookstore in a college town, and I can’t help but be sad that it’s going away.

Customers come into the bookshop and while they’re congratulating us on still sticking around get serious for a moment and contemplate the bleak future of the bookstore, as heralded by the closure of Borders. Can physical bookstores survive in the age of digital commerce? More importantly, can books survive as a viable medium and popular commodity with the rise of e-readers (including the iPad and iPhone with e-reader apps) and e-books?

I’m not worried about this - and why not is a rant for another day, as this is already a bit too long. I don’t think books will ever disappear, and as for the store closures, I think it’s a sign of bad times, but not a death knell yet. The downside of corporate is that while their large coffers mean smaller locations can afford things they wouldn’t be able to as independents, it also means they tend to take the fall for mistakes for the bigger locations, or the corporation in general. All the articles I’ve been reading about the Borders closure have also cited large miscalculations in terms of marketing and technology as being larger factors in the closure, as opposed to competitive sales. As an independent, my bookshop is making it’s own decisions, watching it’s own budget, with people on site, who care about this specific store calling the shots.

My bookshop and the Borders are two of four general bookstores in town - not counting the two spiritual bookstores and the Goodwill stores (one tiny Goodwill solely a dedicated bookshop). The bookshop and Borders are on the same street, about three blocks apart, with another store (primarily dealing in used, though with a large selection and also some new) just a block or two down from the Borders. Then there is the fourth store just about a block and a half down from the bookshop, off the main drag of downtown. I’m not worried about sustaining the bookshop in the long term. And while it’s good (for the bookshop) the corporate competition is gone, there’s still competition around, albeit friendly.

I’m not going to spread it around, either in the bookshop or outside of it, but I am sad Borders is closing. I will mourn it’s loss, and the loss it means of a central location for people to gather around books, and remember the times I’ve had there. And welcome anyone who wants a substitute to come into my shop - it’s not as big, and there’s no coffee, but there will always be books. And I’ll drink a toast with you to Border’s and it’s closure.