Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Trouble With Book Stores

Is that they have too many books.

Book stores were invented in my lifetime. In my Nancy Drew Days, the only place to get a book was at the library. (Well, except for Nancy Drew Books, which you could find at the Dime Store. Right next to the 45s, and I don't mean guns.) If you wanted a book at the library, you had two choices - the "school library" or the "public library." The same lady worked at both of them. She had a long tweed skirt, a white blouse and a cardigan sweater. If it was warm enough, the cardigan was draped over her Librarian Chair. Otherwise, she was wearing it, usually with a Kleenex (registered trademark) stuffed up one sleeve. She also wore "stockings" that resulted in legs the color of bratwurst. And sensible black shoes with crepe soles that didn't clickclickclick when she walked up and down the aisles with the book trolley.

(I never figured out how the same lady could be at the school library when I left for the day, and at the public library when I arrived there, a half an hour later. Perhaps they were twins.)

If you wanted a book you had to look in the Card Catalog, a very scary configuration of index cards in very long and tenuous drawers that you had to remove from a dresser-like piece of furniture, and you WERE NOT TO PUT THE DRAWER BACK WHEN YOU WERE FINISHED...such an offense could result in losing your Library Card for an entire year. No one ever explained WHY you couldn't put the drawer back. Maybe people put the drawers in the wrong slots, which could cause permanent damage to the Dewey Decimal System? Perhaps there were liability issues around dropping drawers on toes; but liability was not a popular concept at the time. As evidenced by the fact that PE consisted of us shooting arrows on the playground, and climbing ropes to the ceiling of the gym. Of course, we had "spotters" who could alert the authorities if we lost our grip twenty feet up and splatted to the floor. Although the spotter thing was probably overkill. Even a school-age body falling from the rafters would make enough noise to attract attention on impact.

Once you looked in the Card Catalog, you would get a Locator Number; which was, for all intents and purposes, the precursor to GPS technology. The idea was to wander up and down the aisles in the library until you found someone to talk to about the sparkly pink lipstick you bought at the Dime Store and had in your purse right this very moment even though the school didn't allow it and you could be sent home for its possession. And then got in trouble for violating the Library Noise Ordinance (which would certainly go on your Permanent Record.) I digress. The Locator Number was written in white ink on the spine of the book, and involved a bunch of numbers and decimals. It was invented by Dewey. There is a really good book out right now about Dewey the Library Cat. He was a cute orange and white tabby, and he lived in Spencer Iowa. I highly recommend the book, if you haven't read it.

Darn. I digress again. The Dewey Decimal System was just like playing Hot and Cold. You read the spine of the books, which were arranged in heavily-decimaled, semi-numerical order; and headed in the direction of the Locator Number according to the Card Catalog. And finally you found...an empty spot where your book should have been because your friend Jane had checked it out even though SHE WAS NOT WRITING A REPORT ON ULYSSES S. GRANT! The lady in the cardigan told you that Jane had the book for two more weeks, which pretty much meant that you were screwed unless Jane would let you borrow it one night.

I'm pretty sure that, because of privacy issues, librarians are not allowed to tell you that your friend Jane has the book these days.

So it is a good thing that we have book stores.

Book stores emerged just after the Vietnam War. They were places to partake of poetry readings; and, frequently, tofu and brown rice. You could sit, crosslegged, in an aisle, devouring an Indonesian backpacking guide that you hadn't paid for and had no intention of paying for and no one would blink. Because, eventually you were going to get hungry and have a plate of tofu and brown rice. If you did find the need to purchase a tome, you would find, upon arriving home, that it had a distinct aura of incense - or possibly patchouli - about it.

Oh, the era of the Independent BookSeller. Heaven. Nirvana. But, something was missing...oh, yeah. Profits.

Fast Forward 30 years:

No bookstore visit is complete without Starbucks. I'm not complaining.

There is this RADICAL, NEW, method of organizing volumes. Alphabetically, by subject. No white writing on spines, no Card Catalogs. No liability if we drop drawers on our toes. But...

And this is radical, also...books are not arranged spine-out. They are often placed cover-out. Because. A Cute Orange-and-White Kitty Named "Dewey" stares at us, and a couple of copies end up in our basket. And we see the front of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and we loved that book, and it would be fun to read it again. And look at all those cookbooks featuring big, smiley photos of Rachael Ray - my mother-in -law just adores her. Better grab a few.

Get out! A display of Ghirardelli Chocolates??? I love book stores. Maybe I'd better get the Nancy Drew Complete Collection. That GrandDaughter will be eight in no time...

I wonder whatever happened to the Cardigan Lady?

4 comments:

High Desert Diva said...

We are close to the same age, aren't we?

Loved the post. Glad you're up and running again!

Nancy said...

Hmmm...are you close to "old"? that is how old I am. In fact, I think I'm beyond old.

And you, my dear Diva, are a Spring Chicken.

Susan said...

Hi Nancy,
Roberta gave me your jewelry website (it's terrific) and I linked from there to here. If you're wondering where the cardigan lady is these days, I've found her - she is me. I recently found work at our county library and I have to confess I had to go out to buy two pairs of sensible shoes right away. I didn't know about the kleenex up the sleeve trick, though, but now I'm definitely gonna give it a whirl. From now on, I'm calling the book cart - the book "trolley" - so much more romantic. And I loved reading about Dewey. I was so pleased the jacket photo was the real Dewey and not a model. I'll revisit Frillz when I have some money to spend - your product is lovely. Susan Alongi aka 1/2 SARG

Nancy said...

Susan, you would have been an awfully young Cardigan Lady at my elementary school. So I think I'm looking for a different one. But if you happen to see her at a Cardigan Lady Conference, tell her I say "Hi!"

Thanks so much for stopping by...both sites! And I just loved the "Dewey" book. Even though it made me cry.