Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Why Borders Is Bankrupt: A Typical Experience

This morning I started listening to the audiobook of Patton Oswalt's book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. I got about a third of the way through it, enough to decide I'd take the rare action of buying a copy. I also decided I wanted it as soon as possible so I could go back and look at some of the things I was hearing before they faded in my memory. Working 12:15-9:15 and only making this decision as I prepared for work, the only way I could get a copy today was to do so over my dinner break.

I checked online and found the most easily accessible bookstore with a copy in stock was a Borders, and not the closest one, but doable with Interstate driving. The website only said "Likely in Store," but I was willing to take my chances. So when my dinner break started, I hopped in my car and off I went.

The book is by a comedian and meant to be funny, but it's also a collection of biographical essays and some are more affecting and sincere than humorous. So I wasn't sure where to look for it, with the humor, biography, or something else. I walked up to the information desk and found no one there or within sight of a 360 degree scan, so I looked up the title on the computer provided. All it did, though, was take me back to the Borders website and tell me there were three copies in stock; I still had no idea where in the store to look. After a few more seconds of waiting and scanning for an employee to show up, I started browsing the store in hopes of finding a relevant section. It wasn't in the biography and memoir section and I couldn't find the humor, so I was stumped.

I looked back at the still unattended information desk, then overheard the woman behind the checkout desk giving someone directions. I figured if she was directing someone else, she could direct me, so I walked over and asked her. She told me her computer couldn't look books up so I'd have to go to the information desk. I told her I'd tried that and there was no one there. She said she'd call someone to meet me.

As I walked over I saw there actually was someone at the desk now, but she was helping another customer. As I arrived, though, someone else came up to help me. She looked it up and led me away from all the adult books in the opposite direction, past the movies and music, hidden in the far corner by the kids books. There was the humor section and finally there was one copy of the book.

I share this because it is the exact same experience or something very like it every time I've gone to a big chain bookstore looking for an exact title. I can never find anyone to help me no matter how hard I look and can never figure out where in the store the book might be even with my professional librarian skills. It's a frustrating experience and one I avoid whenever possible, dreading when I have to go through it and entering the store resentfully expecting the worst. As far as I'm concerned, they are not in the business of customer service because they put all their efforts into atmosphere, marketing, and browseability, and none into helping people who have specific needs and questions.

Of course I know online purchasing, ebooks, and other changes have contributed to their financial failures much more than poor customer service, but I do feel it's a factor. Why should I go have a frustrating experience in the store when I have these other options available, after all? It's almost a chicken or egg quandary of which caused which. Because I can browse online in the atmosphere of my choosing, but I can't have good face-to-face, dialogue-based help without a being in a store with a real person--they de-emphasized the one part of the in-store experience that is hardest to replicate, made what could have been their biggest strength and draw into their most irritating weakness.

I don't just say this as a disinterested, venting consumer, but as someone in a related situation. Libraries are right now facing some of the worst budget issues they ever have. Many haven't even survived the last few years and others have grim futures. This has nothing to do with lack of business or success, but funding during a lengthy recession and a political climate calling for government cuts. Yet one of the big trends right now--in response to both the need to make cuts and anticipated technology impacts like ebooks--is to imitate the bookstore model. Many libraries are emphasizing space and self-service experiences while reducing staff. Some are reducing the number of staff desks or even eliminating them for a roving service model, with fewer staff available all the time to answer questions and provide expertise. I often sit on the other side of the desk helping customers just like the one I was today, in a hurry and on a mission; if I'm not there and quick to help them will they get frustrated and stop coming, resorting to other options instead?


At 5/25/2011 8:12 PM, Blogger Kelly Sime said...



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