Friday, February 19, 2010

Something There Is That Does Not Love a Neatly Stocked Bookshelf

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall
Of books neatly ordered for easy browsing
And spills the upper shelves on the floor;
And makes gaps unevenly thorough the display.
The work of shoppers is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one book next to book,
But they would have each volume out of dust jacket,
To tease we yelping volunteers. The gaps
We sometimes see them made or hear them made,
But at daily stocking-time we find them there.
I let my department lead know;
And on a day we meet to walk the shelves
And set the shelves between us once again.
We split the shelves between us as we go.
To each the books that have fallen to each.
And some are paperbacks and some so nearly boulders
We have to use a spell to make coffee-table books balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of indoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
She is all history and I am science-fiction.
My SF will never get across
And take the shelves from her history, I tell her.
She only says, "Good shelving make good shoppers."
Spring is the mischief in us, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in someone's head:
"Why do they make good shoppers? Isn't it
Where we have good donations? But what brings good donations?"
Before I stocked a shelf I'd ask to know
What I was setting out or passing on,
And to whom a book was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love neat shelves,
That want them random!" I could say "Elves" to her,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
We said it for ourselves. I see her there,
Bringing a book grasped firmly by the spine
In each hand, like a librarian armed.
She moves in shelving as it seems to me,
Not of books only but of the community.
She will go beyond the marketer's saying,
And she likes having thought beyond, well,
Beyond again, "Good shelving makes good shoppers."

- REW (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Today, as I do several times a month, I stocked books on the shelves of the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Thrift Stop (MITS for short). In theory it is some sort of volunteerism, but it's really for fun. Putting things into order is a great puzzle; there is the formal order (fiction over here, by author; non-fiction of various types over there; genre fiction (romance, SF, westerns); children's books (sorted by binding, as a proxy for age rage).

And then there's the non-formalizable order: display to maximize sales, to maximize convenience for customers: groups series and interests, drawing attention to special books, balancing rigid order with opportunities for quick sale.

And there's the fun or friendship of working with other volunteers, the work-study students, and the paid staff. After a few years, they are nearly family.

I'd love to run a bookstore, but making a living running a bookstore is hard, and getting harder. SWeveral fine bookstores went out of business in Seattle in the last couple of years, and I'd be nuts to think I would do much better.

But ah! to stock books! To bring order to chaos, to chat with customers over their preferences, and the endless variety of donations! that is something I can do, and enjoy!

No comments: