Borders closes. #38: 2011
In September Borders declared bankruptcy and closed, leaving thousands of booksellers out of work and millions of book lovers migrating to other stores or online to purchase books.
No matter what you think about mega-bookstores or Borders management, this is a sad event for everyone who loves books. The Borders employees had much about which to complain, as pictured in the manifesto posted in one of their stores. It is a list of complaints with which most public librarians can empathize: disrespectful and demanding customers, abandoned children, and crazy trends. However, I think there is much we in library land can learn from this tragedy. For example:
- Disgruntled, dispassionate employees can destroy an organization quicker than anything else. In Borders case, management stopped investing in their staff. As a result, very quickly workers felt abandoned and became disconnected from the corporation and the book industry. They stopped engaging the customer, and the customers simply stopped coming.
- You never know where that customer is coming from or what kind of day they have had. So, giving the customer the benefit of the doubt is always “the best practice” piece of this equation. The lesson for library management: when hiring staff, they have to like working with the public. We can’t teach them that. If you find crazy, unreasonable questions annoying, don’t work in a public library.
- Public libraries traditionally have claimed the generalist middle ground. We welcome the quick question that takes 20 minutes to answer, the film success of a book, and people browsing and messing up our shelves. It is what we and our customers do, so embrace it!
- Just like Borders, leaving a child unattended in a bookstore or library is called child abandonment!
Personally, I hate to see the loss of a bookstore (even a mega chain like Borders). They compliment what we do and what our customers do. However, if we don’t hire staff who like working with the masses, train staff (and then train them again…), and treat our customers with respect, library land will become another Borders story.
We live in interesting times.
firstname.lastname@example.org #39 November 2011
P.S. To all those great Borders employees who loved working with customers and answering all those crazy questions, I hope you think about a career in library land. We need you! kp