Bookstore Visit:

For our first assignment, we were asked to visit the teen/young adult section of a library or bookstore and observe the space, making note of the treatment of the material, how it is accessed and by whom. I visited a large chain bookstore on a snowy Sunday afternoon. There were other customers browsing around, but the store wasn’t overly busy. This may have been because of the weather. I found the teen section at the back of the store along the main aisle, close to the “New & Hot” wall, and on the edge of the children’s section. The main aisle is filled with display tables aimed at adult readers. There were several adults browsing through the books and talking to each other. The “New & Hot” wall is an enormous display of new releases and bestsellers, and it attracted many customers who stood thumbing through books and browsing titles. The children’s section occupies an entire corner of the store, with a large open area with toys set out for children to play with, colourful cardboard shapes hanging from the ceiling, posters and displays advertising product, and low shelves and tables stacked with books. There were several families looking around the children’s section. The teen section, in comparison, consists of only three tall shelving units positioned to create a half rectangle open to the main aisle. The noise from the people in the surrounding areas was impossible to escape. The teen section was open to view, and there was very little space for teens to browse the books. I found the limited space uncomfortable and the noise of conversation distracting.

I was impressed by the amount of books available for teens. The arrangement of the material, however, makes browsing frustrating. A display table in front of the shelves is stacked with books and marked with a sign that read “Teen Titles”. These books aren’t in any kind of order (alphabetical, by genre) and although I recognized some new releases, there were older titles as well. The books on the three shelving units are divided into sections marked by signs including “Teen Essentials & Award Winners”, “Teen Fiction”, “Teen Series”, “Graphic Novels 13+”, and “Teen Life Ages 13+”. Within these divisions, the books are arranged alphabetically. Most are lined up with their spines facing outward, but many are turned so that their covers are on display. The books are not divided into genres. The only non-fiction I found is in the “Teen Life Ages 13+”, and these books are all devoted to issues relating to adolescence. I didn’t see any non-fiction books about subjects such as history or politics. Many of the “Teen Essentials & Award Winners” have the company’s “Recommended” stickers on their covers. At the end of each shelving unit there are displays with more books, many of which I recognized as current popular titles. As I scanned the shelves, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of material available and the limited organizational scheme. I thought to myself that this would be okay if I had a specific author or title in mind because the books are arranged alphabetically. But for someone who knows the type or genre of book they want, but nothing more specific, it must be tiring to have to skim through every title on display to make a good connection. I found myself judging my interest based on the covers. This worked well for some books (a dragon on the cover usually indicates fantasy), but not all. I would have appreciated a more thoughtful arrangement.

There is a very new-looking computer terminal inside the teen section, for use by employees and customers. The computer allows access to the company’s catalogue, and gives information about product such as price, quantity in stock, reviews, and ordering information. The terminal is outfitted with a credit card slot so that customers can are able to order product not available in the store without going to the cash area. To one side of the teen section there is a rack with merchandise relating to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, including t-shirts, posters, buttons, stickers, and key-chains. Other than this display, there are no other kinds of media for sale in the teen section. At the front of the store there is a large area devoted to music and there are racks of movies for sale near to the cash area, but there is no teen-specific media area. In the children’s section, there is a display of c.d.’s and dvd’s for children. The computer terminal with its credit card slot and the display of Twilight merchandise was a clear reminder of the store’s main purpose: to sell product. It’s easy to ignore the fact that this company is first and foremost a commercial enterprise. Remembering this, I began to think about how and why the books in the teen section were chosen, and the many other titles that didn’t make the cut. I noticed several classic teen reads missing from the shelves, and I wondered if this was because the copies were sold out or if the company saw a bigger profit in more recently published, more massively appealing books. My intention is not to pass judgment. Rather, I think it’s important to remember that bookstores are not fully representative of the wealth of material available. The same must be said of libraries. One collection can’t house every published book. Decisions (tough ones!) about what to stock will always have to be made.

I was alone for most of the time I spent in the teen section, which was about thirty minutes. All of the other visitors to the section were adults. On a Sunday afternoon, I expected to see more teenagers browsing in the section. I did notice, however, evidence of customers having browsed the area. Books had been pulled out and not properly re-shelved, and the alphabetical order was often disrupted. Of course, I can’t say whether this was caused by teen customers. I worked at a bookstore in another city, and the teen section there was similar, if slightly more spacious. My experience there was that teens, adults, and even younger kids enjoyed browsing the teen section. Many times we would find a group of teens sitting together leafing through books, discussing them, and searching for the next title in a series. With so many books on offer, covering such a variety of topics, this never surprised me. There was always something available to interest every customer.


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