Bookstores have a lot to learn from libraries

My husband and I were wandering around one of the larger bookstores in the city recently. Enjoying the luxury of choosing a few books for Christmas, we were browsing as covers caught our attention or authors jumped into our heads. This is an easy way to waste, dare I say, a few hours.

When we finally decided to take our books to the front for purchase, my husband decided that he wanted a different copy of one of the books he had chosen. The problem was, where had he gotten the book? Where were the other copies located?

Had this book been assigned some sort of classification number, it would have been simple to find. If there was a catalogue that indicated the name of the display it was shelved under, or the topic in which it was classified, we would have been able to find it. However, there was no help for us. Having been through the entire store several times in our wanderings, we finally found it – more than 20 minutes later.

I came to the conclusion that bookstores don’t want you to find information or fulfill your information needs. They want to sell you books – whether you want them or not. They want you to browse, stumble upon books, pick them up and purchase them. Most people who buy books will feel bad if they decide against the book and return it to the wrong place, so they will purchase it, even if they aren’t sure. Do we want to force that kind of “customer satisfaction” on our patrons?

The aggravation of having to look for the location of a book and spending more than 20 minutes of my time was frustrating. Afterall, as a librarian, shouldn’t I be able to find my way around a bookstore? A simple classification number or online catalogue would have been helpful and saved a lot of time.

The next time you hear a colleague worrying and wringing their hands over the fact that we’re not exactly like bookstores – say “Thank Goodness!” We fulfill patrons’ information needs and help them find information. We don’t feed them any book because it’s wrapped in a pretty bookcover or make them wander around wondering where the location of a given book is.

Can you imagine a patron coming in to look for a book and the librarian telling them it could be in health, or self-help, non-fiction or the special display in the front called “What’s the buzz” – but they aren’t sure because there aren’t any subject headings or classification numbers attached to locate it? Is it good enough for a librarian to tell a patron that “we have it, but I’m not sure where it is”?

I don’t think that patron would be back any time soon.

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