Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Books Again

Ordinary Time

One of the odd things about working at the bookstore is that really simple things can become difficult. One takes for granted the meaning of certain phrases that realy need to be expounded upon with the aid of charts and diagrams.

Customer: Do you have any copies of Book X?
Me [checking computer system]: No, I'm afraid we don't.
Customer: Why not?
Me [continuing to check computer]: My information describes that title as out of print.
Customer: So can you order it?
Me: No sir, I'm afraid I can't.
Customer: Well, you should carry more books by Author X.
Me: Of course, sir. We try our best. However, since Author X is local and uses small publishers with a small print run, his/her books tend to go out of print fairly quickly. The only thing I can get copies of is the newest book, Book Y.
Customer: Barnes and Noble could get it for me.
Me: No sir, they couldn't. I know that for a fact. I'm happy to recommend some local used book sellers, or some websites if you wish, but I'm afraid I can't help you any further than that.
Customer: No, I'll just go to Barnes and Noble.
Me [smiling cheerily]: Very good. Good day, sir.

Here's the thing. I am happy to spend 5-10 minutes with anybody who comes to the Help Desk, trying to hook them up with the book they're looking for - even when it doesn't exist. What I never do is stand and listen to someone pout that they can't get their way.

Another (apparently) painful experience of cognitive dissonance sets in when I have to explain to someone that the book they're so certain they need does not in fact exist. I always try to break the news gently. Interestingly enough, the older someone is (and presumably the more shaky their memory) the more certain a customer tends to be that they have the book's author and title exactly right.

Customer: Do you have the new book by Author A?
Me [checking computer]: Let me see. Are you sure it's not Author B (who shares a surname with Author A)?
Customer: No.
Me: I'm sorry, I can't find that name. Would you please spell the last name for me?
Customer: Well, it's not hard. [spells]
Me [thinking about how my education really probably does make me better than this person, then feeling slightly badly about it, then checking Google and Wikipedia to see what I can find out about "Author" A]: I'm sorry, but the only records I'm finding for Person A is either a cartoonist who died in 1951 or a recently retired Canadian MP.
Customer: Well, that's not him.
Me: Clearly. Do you know the title of the book?
Customer: [names an approximation of the title of the new and popular book by Author B, who shares a surname with Author A.]
Me: Yes, that's by Author B.
Customer: No, I'm sure that's not it.
Me: I'm sorry, but I don't believe the author you're looking for exists.
Customer: That's okay, I'll just go to Barnes and Noble.

Yah, we'll see how long they put up with either one of you.

You know, I'm pretty sure of myself. I'm a graduate student, and I've worked in a bookstore for many months, and as a library tech for a year. I was trained to catalogue this stuff. It's not a Master of Library Science, but it's not nothing. If I say a book does or does not exist, I'm right. If I tell you the best way to aquire a certain title, I'm right about that, too. Just that much - it's not exactly hard. I wonder if there's a T-shirt I can wear to get this idea across...?

It gets even more sensitive when I must interfere with the logic of "I think Book C should exist, therefore someone did write it and a publisher did print it, and all bookstores must therefore have it.

Okay, that's all.

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9 comments:

J Hearne said...

I'm looking for a book, Kyle... It's called "Charitable Prevailing View." It's by Brad McLaren.

Bring it to me, book-lackey.

Legal Alien said...

Ooh! I just thought of a good book about zombies you might want to read: Green Eyes, by Lucius Shepard.

I'm looking at it on my bookshelf, so I know it exists. Dunno whether it's still in print.

Richard said...

You sure do send a lot of business Barnes and Noble's way!

katie said...

Hilarious. "The customer's always right" ...or so they say. I'm glad you at least feel "slightly" bad. That makes me smile for some strange reason.

Kyle said...

Oh, Josh...

Alien! Welcome back from vacation! I'll look for the zombie book...

Yah, Richard, but it's not the kind of business they like to have. :0)

Katie, I promise you that "the customer's always right" has never passed my lips. Never will, either. Heh heh.

Jim said...

Ha ha ha... the idea of you working in a Bookshop still has make me laugh out loud. I would also argue that saying 'the customer is always right' more often than not does a dis-service to the customer....
Also while we're on the subject I'm looking for a book... it's got a green cover, it's about God or the Church or something...?! Oh and it's written by a Man, or possibly a Woman? Do you know it??

Anonymous said...

I was once profoundly enraged - and I mean enRAGED - by a supercilious bookstore clerk. (Actually I'm pretty sure it was the Borders in Charing Cross Road in London - you can't trust these chains...)

I had carefully noted down the ISBN number of this Russian book on icons.

The clerk said 'that ISBN number doesn't exist' - but he said it in that really snarky way that says 'I think you're a moron'.

I bit my lip.

I went back and checked the book.

My ISBN number was right. The supercilious clerk was... a *&$&%^"!$ idiot.

Wasn't you was it?

Wilfried said...

Speaking as a librarian, I can so commiserate, and can so top your stories.

First cardinal rule of librarianship: "Never trust a patron." Sad but true.

Kyle said...

You guys slay me.

Tell us a story, Wilfied!