Organization is key. Maybe this is the librarian in me talking, but if a bookstore is to operate properly it needs to be organized. If the store isn’t, it costs staff and customer time and that costs the store money. If the sections of a store aren’t organized the customers can’t find what they are looking for, which, needless to say, is a very frustrating feeling. The customers will go to staff for help and take staff time searching for a book that may or may not be there. This costs the store time and money. As well, if a section isn’t organized, how can the store know what inventory is there? How can the management know what the store has in stock?
My writing this is spurred by a visit to a chain bookstore that is near my house. Since the staff don’t tend to be the most knowledgeable about books beyond current best sellers I tend to go to this store only when I know exactly what I want. I was trying to find a book (Loot by Sharon Waxman…awesome book, by the way) which, according to the store’s computers, there were supposed to be copies of in the “Art: History” section. This leads me to the conclusion that there must be an Art section that has a History sub-section. I go to the art section…I don’t see a history subsection. I go to the history section…I don’t see an art section. I go back to the computer to double-check that I had read the location right. I had. I flag down a staff member and ask him where “Art: History” is. He tells me that it is in the “Art: General” section, as there is no “Art: History” section in this store. It’s not as if I was looking for an oddball book on finding great nuclear engineering jobs – it was just art history. So back to the Art section I go, and lo, the books are not organized in any manner I can figure out. Not alphabetically by author or title, not by art style or subject, it’s just loads of books on a shelf. Some are shelved vertically some are piled horizontally. Another staff member and I spent 5 minutes combing the shelves for the book. I’m sure you can guess how that worked out…
The layout of this store is inconvenient due to both a lack of organization and a lack of consistency in section labels. This lack of consistency is a problem that individual book stores are not as likely to run into, but is something that still needs to be kept in mind when setting up a catalog for customers to use. Due to the fact that there are multiple stores in this chain, but the computer system is centrally maintained, the section names listed in the computer catalog don’t necessarily match those that are in any given store. As mentioned, there was no “Art: History” section at this location despite the computer assuring me that this is where the book existed in this store. This isn’t the first time this store’s catalog has directed me to a non-existent section to find a book, either.
The disorganization of individual sections is extremely annoying as well. When a person goes into a library, they are expecting to find fiction organized by author’s last name and genre, but non-fiction is organized by call number. This is expected and by using the library catalog, patrons can find what they need easily. Bookstores don’t use call numbers. Without this organizing principle, the best way to organize books within a section is alphabetically by author. If a section is organized another way (eg: for biographies by subject of biography, for fiction by series), and not noted somewhere extremely visible, you are going to run into problems. (See my post from a while back on BISAC for more information on this topic) Not only was I not able to find what I wanted on a shelf that was not organized in any visible manner, but also the staff member who was helping me wasn’t either. This wasted both of our time. Wasting my time annoyed me, but wasting the staff member’s time was potentially costing the store money in lost sales opportunities.
The moral of this story: keep the store organized. Make sure the sections are properly labeled, that the labeling on shelves matches the labels in the catalog, and make sure that the books are organized and easy to find on the shelves.