September 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Eleventh - Moving Books

For the next two months we'll be doing a special feature each month in honor of Borderlands' upcoming 10th Anniversary (November 3rd, 2007).  We'll share some stories about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.

by Alan Beatts

Anyone who collects books or who is an avid reader knows what a pain moving books can be.  But to really appreciate how bad it can get you have to work at a bookstore (or, gods help you, own one).  As I write this, Borderlands has a total of 18,937 books in the store.  When we moved here from our old location, we only had about half that number.  All of which had to be boxed up in alphabetical order and moved over to the current location.  We were clever (at least a little bit) and found boxes that were exactly the right size to fit three long rows of mass-market paperbacks (those are the small paperbacks) stacked one deep.  At least that meant that the books would stay in order as they were moved.  Then it was just a matter of packing them up.  And packing them up.  And packing them up.

I was busy working on getting the new location into shape and most of the rest of the staff were either working their other jobs or helping me at the new location, so Claud Reich packed almost all the paperbacks by himself.  When I left the bookstore that morning, there was a pile of broken down boxes in the middle of the store about five feet high.  By the time I got back there in the evening, there were three or four piles of boxes in stacks higher than Claud's head (and he's not a short guy -- taller than my six feet, in fact).  When you think of regular moving boxes, that doesn't seem very high, but remember, these boxes were only 4" high.  That is a lot of boxes.  And then there were all the boxes of hardcovers and trade paperbacks.

Of course at the other end they all had to go back on the shelves, but that wasn't too bad since there were plenty of people to do that job . . . except that the order got a little messed up and so we had to take a bunch of books off the shelves and then put them back.  Actually, that happened twice.  The second time we had to take about a quarter of the books down and put them back.  It was OK though -- no one died.  Although I think that someone did say something about throwing me down the stairs (the second mistake was my fault).

So that was a chore but not too bad.  The real pain in the fundament book moves are the "little" rearrangements.  As our long-time customers know, we switch things around at the shop pretty often.  One section will get too crowded and a reshuffle will be in order or I'll have time to make some new shelves and we'll have to move things to get them to fit.  The catch with all of that is that you can't move a full bookshelf.  At least not if you want it to remain looking like a bookshelf and not some strange, non-Euclidian geometry exercise.  So, adding one shelf sometimes means moving a bunch of others.  And that means clearing the shelves.  But where, you might ask, do you put all the books that you've taken off the shelves?

On any flat surface you can find.

I can tell you from experience that the floor at the front of the store and the open area in the middle of the shop will accommodate about half of all the hardcovers in the science fiction and fantasy section of the store, if you allow a narrow walkway all around the edge.  After that it gets interesting.

Moving paperbacks has its own special qualities.  There's almost never a problem with where to put them after they come off the shelves (they're small, don't 'cha know) but moving them . . . most people can comfortably hold two hardcovers in each hand.  That's not much of a strain and you really can't carry much more than that effectively.  But paperbacks on the other hand . . .  An average person can carry about 15 inches of paperbacks at once and they can do it fast.  Here's how it works -- you stick one hand into the end of the shelf and then you stick the other hand in part way down.  Now squeeze your hands together, hard.  If you've done it right you can slide the books out of the shelf and they'll stay between your hands long enough to tilt the whole stack so it's vertical.  Then you walk wherever you're going and tilt it back.  The books hit the table or whatever with a "thump" and you're off for more.

The problem is that you have to squeeze _hard_ to do it and it gets tiring for your arms.  After a while you'll slip.  Best case the books just fall to the floor in random order.  You curse, re-sort them, and pick them back up.  But worse case you try to squeeze harder.  This will cause what we booksellers call a book-fountain.  The extra squeeze just as the books are slipping gives them an added push and they'll tend to go up . . . and all over the place.  It's sort of like 52 pickup with paperbacks.  Or throwing the paperback I Ching.

The last piece of icing on the book-moving cake is that Borderlands is open seven days a week year 'round (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Gay Pride Day).  That means that moving the books around has to happen after closing time and must be finished by noon the next day.  And I'm here to tell you, it's been a close call a couple of times.

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