Saturday, August 19, 2006

Idle observations on shelving

I'm writing today from Newington, Connecticut (my hometown), where I'll be until tomorrow. En route to Boston yesterday, we stopped at the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands, which a friend had told me about - despite living in the area for years, I'd never been there before. Contrary to its name, the bookstore is not mobile; it resembles a warehouse, with no windows, high ceilings, and books absolutely everywhere.

The interesting part is that aside from new arrivals and nonfiction, which are mostly grouped by category, adult fiction was arranged by publisher rather than by genre. Ace to Zebra, in other words (although Zebra was probably with other books from Kensington; I didn't pay attention). Books from different but related imprints (part of the same company division, maybe?) were shelved together - Ballantine and Del Rey, for instance. Those from Knopf and Crown, on the other hand (both Random House imprints, different divisions), are not. Within each publisher group, books are grouped by format (hb, pb, tpb), and then arranged alphabetically by author.

Yes, I tried to figure out the system; it's the librarian in me, I admit. I think it's probably based on how books arrive at the store, so it makes unpacking easy.

The store has a self-service kiosk where you can look up a book and find out who the publisher is, plus a customer service counter, where you could ask a human being about it. The shelves themselves were of the utilitarian, tall, metal, open-backed type. The overall selection was excellent, once you dug deep enough.

I was bemused by the arrangement, since it doesn't facilitate browsing for the majority of folks (who won't know the details on who-owns-who in the publishing industry, and don't care who published what, either). It allows for an odd sort of serendipity, and I guess it must work - the place has been in business for years - but I didn't see anyone else, besides me, browsing the shelves.


  1. I would hate seeing books shelved by publishers because I seldom bother about those. I can't tell you without actually going to the shelves and have a look who published any of the books I have except the non fiction from the WB Darmstadt because I order books directly from them and usually remember that. ;)

  2. Yes, it was definitely odd.

    Despite that, the store had a better selection of books than I'd seen anywhere for a while - especially since most of the bookstores around Harvard U have closed up shop and gone online-only.

  3. Wow. What a weird way to shelve books. I'm trying to imagine that in the libraries I've worked in. To some extent, it might work if the publishers specialised in a very particular subject, but otherwise it would be rather unhelpful. Fascinating (said she who deliberately visited a public library in Sweden whilst on holiday, just to see how they arranged their books)

  4. Did you buy anything?

  5. No, didn't buy anything, but I should have. I ended up going to B&N last night in search of reading material for the plane trip home. This is the first trip in eons where I didn't buy any books.

  6. I have a very hard time not buying books at book stores. It is a bad habit, I must admit.