Just popped along to the otherwise excellent Shoe Lane Library in the City of London to see if I could find the latest Scarlett Thomas, or maybe something by Lauren Groff, whose story L. Debard and Aliette in The Atlantic‘s fiction issue a few years ago was just fantastic, I thought.
Sadly, what I wanted wasn’t on the shelves – but what really bugged me was that the library is full of small display units marked “Quick Choice”, which are piled with books in no order whatsoever. Which means, of course, that if you can’t find your author on the alphabetised shelves you have to rifle through them all, charity shop-style, to see if the book you want is hidden under the latest Dan Brown.
Which means, of course, that “Quick Choice” is not flaming quick at all – it just wastes time and adds frustration to your visit.
So why do it? Someone, somewhere in library land must believe that people who go into a library (hmm – literate, book-reading people maybe?) are intimidated by the act of looking through, um, shelves of books for the author they want. Or maybe are so sheep-like that they don’t actually know what to read unless someone essentially chooses it for them (“Look, here are some books that won’t take long to choose!”).
The rot started at Waterstone’s in the ’80s of course – with their staff picks and groaning tables of three-for-two offers. The key difference is that Waterstone’s pays close attention to what it puts out on its tables – and also makes sure there’s at least one copy where it’s supposed to be: on the bookshelf, in case that’s where you, not unreasonably, look for it.
Does anyone spend any time at all selecting the books for the “Quick Choice”® display at the library? Given that it looked more like some harassed staff member had just flung any old rubbish on them, I’m guessing not. Gah.