Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Someone will come in the Bookmark and ask, "How do you organize your books?"

I''ll usually answer, "By color and size.....just kidding." We organize books just like every other bookstore and library in the world, by author's last name. Admittedly, our categories are fairly loose, because we decided that we didn't want to have to create a sub-section for every type of book. So, for instance, our reference book section includes books about games and word-play, how to write, how to create media, etc.

It's an intuitive process, that seems to work pretty well. People seem to find their way around, usually.

In my store, it isn't quite so simple with graphic novels. Most people know the title or the characters, not the writer or artist. So I have sections for the best-known writers or artists, (The Frank Millers and Alan Moores and Alex Ross) and I have sections separated by subject matter, but mostly, I separate graphic novels by publisher. This is pretty strange, when you think about it -- I'm sure no bookstore would have a Random House section, next to a Simon and Schuster, next to Afred Knoft. But Marvel and DC and Dark Horse and Image are known quantities. Want Spider-man? Look for Marvel. Want Superman? Look in DC.

These lines are starting to blur -- Marvel will do a book like Anita Blake, or The Dark Tower, which is completely non-superhero. Dark Horse and Image are doing all kinds of different genres. So when a customer comes in looking for a particular title, and doesn't know the publisher, it can be a problem.

Fortunately, I probably remember 95% of my titles and where they are. But if I was to get bigger, I couldn't expect my employees to be that up on it. As the number of graphic novels keep increasing, this is going to become a bigger and bigger dilemma. It's still manageable, but just barely.

I've started making categories sections: my 'real' world shelf, with Maus, and Berlin, and Palastine. I just recently, for fun, put in a Zombie shelf. I have a pop-up books shelf, and a goth section, and so on.

But it's very loose and unweildy, partly because I just don't have the space to give each category its own section, and partly because so many title are neither fish nor fowl. Most comics are more hybrids than pure breeds. There are tons and tons of comics with Science Fiction elements, but only a few are pure S.F. It would be a bit of a reach to create a Western, or a Mystery, graphic novel section. I could probably do it, but only if I took some of the books out of the places they are likely to be found.

So it turns into a very subjective, intuitive process. The book goes there because it feels like it ought to go there. Given unlimited space and the funds to duplicate titles so that I could put books in author sections and then genres, and then publisher.

I depend on people asking me where to look. I wish people would. I've had this conversation way too many times: "Couldn't find what you were looking for?"

"I wanted Maus, but you don't have it," the customer says as he's walking out the door.

"Wait! I have it, really I do."

It's a challenge I enjoy, and which I think I'm pretty good at, and which allows me to experiment alot, which is fun.

My Zombie shelf is silly, but I'm thinking about a Pirate shelf next, and then maybe a Ninja shelf. See what happens.

1 comment:

dkgoodman said...

The next big killer app is going to be Google for reality, where you can ask the computer, "Where's my car keys?" and it'll say "They fell behind the dresser again."

When I worked as a lowly messenger clerk in a public library, I came to know the location of most of our books. I could tell a customer, "It's a tall book with a blue spine on the second shelf down." The librarian would get mad at me because patrons were supposed to get their answers from her. :)