Posts Tagged ‘book shops’

Almost single-handedly, Amazon, the online giant store, has redefined how we shop.

Amazon’s dominance in the book industry has been profound.  Large retail bookstore chains and small independent bookstores have been impacted greatly by the seemingly unstoppable growth of this online monolith forcing the closure of bookstores and changing the way we search for and purchase books.

And ….. it seems ….. there’s no end insight.  Amazon Books has launched into retail sales.  And, as they have in the past, Amazon have once again set out to redefine how we shop by using data driven stats to create book displays that tempt and guide the purchaser.

A not too happy account of how Amazon is reshaping bookstores appeared recently on the KOTTKE.ORG blog: Amazon’s data driven bookstores.  For the most part, this post laments the fact that online sales data rather than informed bookstore staff recommendations are being used to promote good reads to the public.

But, as in the past, little will stop the growth of this incredible market driven company.   As I blog, 7 Amazon Bookstores are already open in the US, with 6 more slated to be opening soon.  Without a doubt the current list will be updated regularly as the rollout across the US continues.

A recent post on Recode (a fabulous website I’ve just discovered!) gives an up close look inside the recently opened New York Amazon Bookstore.  In between the telling photos are some interesting observations by Dan Frommer – so take a few minutes and have a read of the post: Photos: Inside Amazon’s first New York City bookstore.

My day to day life is immersed in books.  Not only do I love reading, but my day time job revolves around igniting the magical spark of a ‘love of reading’ in young adults.  To nurture this love of reading, I  constantly make recommendations and, like the staff in book shops, I talk to my library patrons about the kinds of books they enjoy and ask what they have read previously to inform me about their tastes and interests.  The kind of philosophy that has dominated libraries and book shops for millennia – putting the right book into the right hands – cannot be achieved by relying solely on circulation or sales stats, the approach reportedly being adopted by Amazon Books.

Anything that encourages reading though is undoubtedly good!

So instead of looking at the flaws and mistakes of Amazon Bookstores, perhaps those of us encouraging and promoting books in schools can look at some of the great ideas being introduced by Amazon Bookstores and adopt them:

  • lots and lots of face out books for starters certainly makes for an appealing look
  • increased displays of ‘if you like this, how about this’ would also be welcome
  • and how about if we start using circulation stats in a big way to drive the creation of displays

Hmmmmm ….. it seems like I’ve just hit a new spark of inspiration!

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It was some years ago, after undergoing a fairly major operation that I found myself, doped to the gills with pain killers, totally unable to pick up any of the enticing books I’d brought with me to the hospital. None of them caught my interest and in any case I was sleepy and completely unable to concentrate.

Then it happened! One book somehow slipped into my hands. It spoke to me, inspired me and made me realize that my despondent state was not as bad as the experiences of the character I was reading about. I finally felt connected and inspired and yes ….. the book, I discovered with some joy, brought me hope and a great deal of pleasure. This book was a key to my return to the ‘land of the living’ and re-established within me the joy of reading. The book was given to me by my work colleague, another Teacher Librarian.

It is this experience I often reflect upon when faced with those occasions of feeling “out of it”, hit by a bad run, or totally preoccupied with “stuff”, so-much-so that my ability to concentrate on reading is dead, buried and gone. How easy it is for each of us who work with books, to suss out the kind of book that is ‘just right’ for our library patrons.

So when I read an article a couple of months ago in The Age: Bibliotherapy a novel approach to helping readers treat literary indecision I was intrigued. Before I’d gotten too far into the article though, skepticism started creeping into my mind. By the time I got to the end of the article though, I was soon saying out loud to myself ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’ ‘Is this for real?!’

To put it mildly, I was blown away by the idea that a new profession had evolved from the tools of the trade normally associated with those working in libraries and book shops. I was also bowled over by the idea that these kinds of services, normally provided at no cost, were being charged for and that consumers were ready to part with money for the kind of information being offered.

Thanks perhaps to a recent article in The New Yorker: Can reading make you happier?, which has most probably fanned interest in yet another ‘alternate therapy’, two Melbourne Bibliotherapists have expanded their trade by taking on overseas clients via Skype. With interest piqued, three sessions presented by this pair at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival were sold out. It is interesting to note that one of the Melbourne Bibliotherapists, a former genetic counsellor, trained at the British School of Life with Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, the person quoted extensively in The New Yorker article.

The process, I gleaned from both articles, seems fairly straightforward. Clients complete a questionnaire prior to meeting the Bibliotherapist. Questions asked, hinge around a person’s reading habits:

  • What kinds of books do you like?
  • What books did you read as a child?
  • What are your interests/passions?
  • What would you like to try? (Presumably life pursuits)
  • When do you read? Daily? Weekends? Holidays?
  • Do you buy or borrow books?
  • What is preoccupying you at the moment?

On her personal website, Ella Berthoud, gives greater specifics of the questionnaire:

When you book a bibliotherapy session, you will be sent a questionnaire asking you about your reading habits, loves and dislikes. We ask why you read, what you read, when and where you read – who with, or whether you always read alone. Do you ever read aloud, or listen to audiobooks? All your reading habits are explored. We also ask what is going on in your life at the moment – are any major issues coming up? Are you in the middle of a career-change, about to have a baby, moving home, experiencing a break-up, or beginning a new relationship? Are you perhaps retiring, or living alone for the first time? All life situations, whether serious or frivolous, can be illuminated by a good book. We believe that reading the right book at the right time can change your life. Our job is to help you find that book.”

Her business website, The School of Life, expands on the process:

In a consultation with one of our bibliotherapists, you’ll explore your relationship with books so far and be asked to explore new literary directions. Perhaps you’re looking for an author whose style you love so much you will want to devour every word they’ve ever written. Perhaps you’re about to trek across China and need to find ideal travel companions to download onto your kindle. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from the world and want to listen to the classics of your childhood during your daily commute. Or you’re seeking a change in your life and want to hold the hand of people who’ve been there and done that already.”

If your visit with a Bibliotherapist is in England, you will, after parting with £80.00, have a forty minute consultation face-to face, via phone or on Skype which will further illuminate responses to the questionnaire, and then be prescribed a list of the 8 best books to be read over the next few weeks or months. The list is accompanied with an explanation as to why these books are considered to be the best. A few weeks later, the client is contacted to ask if they would like to come back for another consultation.

The questions asked by Bibliotherapists are eerily similar to those asked by Teacher Librarians working in School Libraries, Librarians working in Public Libraries, and those working in book shops, all of whom have an excellent grasp of literature and regularly make sound book recommendations to their patrons. Indeed, the raison d’être of our profession aims to put the right book into the right hands at the right time. There is of course, no charge for this service. It is a role that we joyfully take on; revelling each and every time we establish that connection between patrons and books.

On sending the link to The Age article to family and friends, as well as current and past work colleagues, the comments and replies received back were interesting. One emphatically stated:

You should write to the author of the article and remind them that librarians are there for more than putting books away on the shelves.”

Another response reminded me that there is many a website today which can aid and assist the needy in their search for the right book. No costs apply of course. I’ve blogged about this previously: What’s a good book to read Miss? and Any more good books Miss?

I’m passionate in my belief of the immeasurable value to be gained from reading. I agree totally with many of the statements made in The New Yorker article:

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.”

as well as this:

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

I also applaud the engaging video which appears on The School of Life website which I have taken from YouTube:

Who knows, perhaps in our next career some of us will become Bibliotherapists!

Right now though, I get a real thrill out of encouraging others to read, getting them to discover the joy of reading and yes ….. helping them find the perfect book to meet their mood, interest, need or take them to the next point of discovery in their life.


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Probably one of the easiest events to organize and help to create a real buzz throughout the school is a Book Fair.

Ashton Scholastic is probably one of the first companies that springs to mind.  If you haven’t used them before, it’s worth giving them a go.   While I’ve found their stock to be of appeal to mostly a younger age group, if organizing a Book Fair is a new event for you, much experience and know how can be obtained by using the tried and tested ideas and format Ashton Scholastic brings.  They will deliver and provide a wide range of books, supply heaps of stickers and posters to help you promote the Book Fair and even loan you a fold out book shelf on which to all the books can be displayed.

Once you’ve gained some confidence though, you will be ready to take more control – particularly of the kind of stock that is included in the bundle offered up to your school community.

Contact publishers or book shops and give them a deal they can’t refuse!   If you are able to convince them that you have a ready supply of patrons hanging out to buy their books, you have leverage on your side to get them to organize the whole Book Fair.  No – I’m not kidding!   I have done this using three different well know book shops.  One they agreed to be involved, they delivered the books, set them up on display and – most wonderful of all – manned the Book Fair for the hours we agreed it would be open – and – best of all – handled all of the money transactions – a headache that is a pleasure to do without!

A book shop will not want to make the commitment of setting up, manning and then packing up a Book Fair though, unless they get something good in return.  The good for them is, of course, lots of book sales.   So, to be fair, you have to do your part too by publicizing the Book Fair lots, well in advance.  And by lots, I mean, lots!   Put posters up around the school.  Write articles and ads for the school newsletter.    Send notices home with students.   Create circulation desk publicity like book marks or brochures.   Make sure that everyone knows the date/s times and location of the Book Fair.   Include some ‘sneak peeks’ in your publicity material so that you help build expectation.   Ask the book shop you are using to also assist in the publicity by giving them posters and flyers to distribute.   If they are a ‘big’ book shop, ask them to list your event in their monthly newsletters.   In short – make a big  noise so that everyone who comes within sight of your school knows that there’s to be a Book Fair.

Then, during the Book Fair, just sit back and enjoy it.  Delight in the discoveries that your students make.   Be sure to include books that are of interest to the many adults that will be popping in.  The last thing you want is to have disappointed adults unable to find something for themselves!   To ensure that lots of adults do attend, hold the Book Fair outside of school hours too, either at morning drop off or afternoon pick up, so that parents can have a look too.   Extend the patronage by inviting colleagues from nearby schools and public libraries to attend.  In short – make your Book Fair an event!

Give it a go.  If it worked for me, it may also work for you!



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