Ten Marks of a Good Bookstore

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

If you’ve followed this blog, you probably have the idea that I’ve spent a bit of time around bookstores. I’ve even reviewed a few of them. Along the way, I’ve formed a few ideas of what I like in bookstores. Here’s my top ten.

  1. An inviting entrance. Featured books inside the front window or inside the door. An attractive display inside. Good sight lines that enable you to get a sense of the layout of the store.
  2. Good lighting. I’ve been in some stores where it was difficult to read the titles on the books.
  3. Clearly marked sections and subsections or even a “map” of the store.
  4. A clear ordering system within sections so you can find your favorite author.
  5. Regularly stocking with new items and clearing out of deadwood. I’ve been in some stores where the same items have been in the same place for ten years.
  6. Clean and clutter free. One shouldn’t need a bath after a trip to the bookstore! Likewise one doesn’t enjoy tripping over boxes of books in the aisles or knocking down  a pile of books.
  7. Selection and specialties. Good bookstores go far beyond the bestsellers with good depth in the various categories. It also seems that stores develop specialties–usually several. It could be cookbooks, sports, philosophy and religion. One second hand store had a great selection of thrillers, mysteries, novels and romance stories.
  8. Places to sit and page through your finds. Good stores are comfortable places you are not in a hurry to leave.
  9. I always love stores with a bargain section, particularly if they throw in some interesting, but slower moving works or duplicates.
  10. Above all, I love a store with a knowledgeable bookseller who knows his or her stock, and has a passion for reading, and getting good books into the hands of others. Add someone who is cheerful and will take time to talk or help you find that hard to locate item and you truly have a winning combination.

I won’t guarantee that this will mean a profitable store. That takes savvy with business management, purchasing, marketing and much more. But I think the things I’ve listed above incline people to return and that has to count for something.

What would you add to this list? And what places are good examples of good bookstores?

Bookstore Review: Bookends & Beginnings

Bookends and Beginnings interiorOn my mini-bookstore crawl in Evanston, I also came across a listing for Bookends & Beginnings, located in the legendary location of Bookman’s Alley. I became even more intrigued when I walked past a big B & N store and discovered they were located the next block north on Sherman — literally in an alley off the main street. As I approached, I found what looked like a very modest storefront and thought, this will be a quick visit.

Wrong. I walked in and discovered a store four or five times bigger than I expected, kind of like the stable in The Last Battle (or the TARDIS in Dr. Who) that was bigger on the inside than the outside. And even more surprising in the shadow of B & N, this store sells new books, ranging from serious literature and non-fiction to a section on the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field (hey, the Cubs are in the playoffs as I write!).

Book RecommendationOne of the most delightful things you won’t find in that big chain bookstore are handwritten reviews by bookstore staff underneath books throughout the store. For example under The Book of Strange New Beginnings by Michel Faber, I found:

“I usually don’t like futuristic novels, especially ones about a criminal who becomes a true believer. However this book was a wonderful engrossing read from first page to last.”

I don’t usually read YA fiction, but this succinct review intrigued me–not enough to buy the book–yet.

Children's BooksIn the back of the store, off to the left is a delightful children’s corner, complete with lots of stuffed animals and comfortable places to sit and look at books. Jeff Garrett, one of the partners in this enterprise considers this his pride and joy. The children’s section stocks books in 26 languages. In a former life, Jeff was a librarian, specializing in rare and specialized collections, 18th and 19th century German and Austrian library history, and global children’s literature. The store’s website says, ” He served twice (2004 and 2006) as president of the Hans Christian Andersen awards jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).”

Nina Barrett is owner and business manager for the store (and married to Jeff–no typo). Nina has published three books, acquired a professional chef’s degree, worked as a food reporter, and won two James Beard awards, a major award in the world of cooking and food. Needless to stay, the store also features a “rich selection of food-related books.”

A Bookselling TraditionI mentioned Bookman’s Alley. From 1980 to 2013, Roger Carlson was one of the premier booksellers in Evanston. When Nina and Jeff took over this site, they did not take over the books from the former store. My sense is that there is a rich history of bookselling in this location but Jeff and Nina have put their own distinct imprint on the bookseller’s trade.

The store is a beehive of literary and cultural activity. For example, today (October 13, 2015) there is a workshop on the art and craft of memoir with Dina Elenbogen, an Evanston History Walk, and a literary salon on “Ta-Nehisi Coates and the topic of race in “Post-Racial” America”. The store regularly features author readings. You can also sign up for a newsletter and emails to keep in touch with bookstore events, staff picks, and more.

This is a store for the whole family–children, teens, and adults of widely varied reading interests. The store also sells a distinct selection of cards, papers, notebooks, toys, jewelry and more. That big chain store down the street is cavernous, and just like the ones in my home town. Bookends & Beginnings was a far more intimate, personal space that continues a long history of bookselling in the heart of Evanston.

Contact info and hours:

1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #1, Evanston, IL 60201, 224-999-7722,  INFO@BOOKENDSANDBEGINNINGS.COM

Tuesday through Saturday 10 – 7, Sunday and Monday 10 – 6

Bookstore Review: Amaranth Books

Amaranth BooksBookstores can be like old friends. I had a chance to visit one of those while in Evanston, Illinois this weekend. A number of years ago I was at meetings in Evanston and found a wonderful used and rare bookstore called Amaranth Books. C.S. Lewis lover that I am, I found a reasonably priced copy of Allegory of Love. So, when I had a break between morning and evening speaking engagements, I looked up bookstores near where I was staying and discovered it was .3 miles away, just a short walk.

One of my first impressions walking in was of a store neatly organized that optimized display, an extensive selection and ease of moving through the store’s three main aisles, lined with books on each side. Just inside the entry are a good selection of $1 and $2 books. I was tempted by several but limited myself to a biography of Cotton Mather, reflecting my interest in American religious history.

The store also features an extensive selection of used classical CDs, tempting me with another of my loves. I found a recording of Adolphus Hailstork music. Our choral group has sung some of his music and I was delighted to actually find something recorded by him.

Amaranth interiorThe store’s website indicates that they buy and sell children’s literature, classical CDs and DVDs, cultural books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and rare books. Given the location near Northwestern University, one gets the feel that its appeal is to an educated, literate clientele. In the fiction section there were a number of first editions. I was impressed to find the full Oxford English Dictionary in what looked like mint condition as well as the Grove Dictionary of Opera (four volumes) which I’d not seen a copy of before. I was particularly impressed that the books I looked at were in good condition and, I thought, reasonably priced.

The owner, Joe Warnick, has been in this location for 24 years. Like many booksellers, much of his business is done online and you can search their selection through AbeBooks website. Because he specializes in used and rare books he also buys collections, preferring to work within a 20 mile radius of the store (much of greater Chicago).

Like nearly all booksellers I’ve talked with, he spoke of the challenges of bookselling in the rapidly changing environment we are in–knowing what to buy and stock, how to promote, how to connect with customers. What impressed me, however, was the fine selection and display of books (as well as CDs and DVDs) he achieves in his space without the clutter, dust, disorganization, and indiscriminate attention to book condition one sees in many stores. My only regret was not getting back to see this “old friend” sooner.

Contact information and hours:

Amaranth Books, 828 Davis Street, Evanston, Illinois 60201

Phone: 847-328-2939  Email: amaranthbooks@gmail.com

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 – 5:30, Sunday 1-5 (their website indicates that they are closed Sunday, but often in from 1-5–best to call first!)

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

I visited an unusual bookstore the other day. It was located inside the campus of Vineyard Columbus, located at 6000 Cooper Road in Westerville. Roughly 8,000 people attend services at this church each weekend and The Bookstore is located just inside one of the main entrances off of the south side of the building.

Jeff Baker, the Bookstore Ministry Coordinator sat down with me and explained the mission of this bookstore and some of the strategies they pursue to encourage reading as part of the efforts of this church to disciple people toward Christian maturity. Very early in the church’s life, in the late 1980’s, they established a booktable to sell books to equip their congregation. This morphed into The Bookstore when they moved into their current location and Jeff has served as Coordinator since 1998,

Jeff Baker, Bookstore Ministry Coordinator

Jeff Baker, Bookstore Ministry Coordinator

Jeff described his passion as one for using books to help equip believers for growth and transformation. One of strategies he, and bookstore clerk, Meg Kuta (who formerly worked with a major bookstore chain) work on is finding “entry level” books that they can sell at prices as low as $5.00 a copy that are easy reads but have quality content that appeal to the non-reader, which he estimates might make up 80 percent of the congregation (pretty much what is true of the general adult population). He gave shout-outs to Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale who are publishing a number of titles in this vein.


Gifts, Theology, and Children’s Books!

At the same time, as I looked around the store, I was impressed with the quality content available and the amount of the store given over to books as opposed to gift items, stationary, cards, and other non-book items. You can find meaty Bible study tools, theology texts. serious biographies, like the new one on Tom Oden. There is also a delightful children’s section. The store stocks resources for small group leaders, the diverse ministries of Vineyard Columbus, and books related to current sermon themes. All Vineyard leaders are able to purchase books at a 20% discount and Jeff works with ministry leaders to find resources to enhance the efforts of each ministry.

We talked about how Jeff works with the pastors to order books that they will be mentioning in sermons. He observed that the way books are recommended in a sermon have a big effect. Recently, for example, a speaker talked about the devotional guide Search the Scriptures and wove the impact of using this guide throughout his sermon. As a result, the store sold 150 copies! More offhand recommendations may sell five or ten copies to the really interested.

Like many bookstores, The Bookstore will host author events with local authors as well as national authors visiting to speak at services or conferences hosted by the church. This coming year, they are planning to host a series of author events with local seminary professors. According to their website, they also host a writers group and a C.S. Lewis discussion group.

I asked Jeff what he most and least likes in Christian publishing. Vineyard Columbus is an ethnically diverse congregation and one pet peeve which he has engaged publishers on are books with only white people on the covers. He also has problems with the “end times prophecy” books which he feels nurtures idle speculation rather than serious discipleship.

Positively, once again he spoke warmly of the deeply discounted “entry level” books that Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale publish. He also spoke of the growing level of cooperation he is seeing among authors, publishers, publicists, and booksellers, all who have faced challenges in the changing landscape of bookselling.

Finally, we discussed some of the books that are his “bookseller’s picks”. Several times in our conversation he mentioned Gordon Fee’s Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God, a book deeply consonant with Vineyard’s theological commitments. Two other books Jeff and Meg are recommending these days are John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat and Michelle DeRusha’s 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.

While The Bookstore’s primary clientele are Vineyard members, the store is open to the public. Jeff contends that their prices are often better than you-know-who. They also have a Frequent Buyer program that offers a 10% discount on all purchases, email notices of featured books and specials and has no annual membership fee.

Their hours are as follows:

Monday Closed
Tuesday-Friday 12-5pm
Saturday 5:30-8:15pm
Sunday 8:45am-1:45pm
Additional contact information for the store and other resources including an extensive list of book recommendations by topic are available on their website.

Bookstore Review: Caliban Books

Caliban BooksThis is torture for a book-lover. You are on a tight schedule and discover a really cool bookstore and just don’t have the time to really explore it. The other day I happened upon Caliban Books on the way to a meeting while visiting Pittsburgh. I just didn’t have time for more than a few minutes to give the store a quick once over, grab a business card, and snap a couple pictures. But I thought I would pass along the word to any fellow book-lovers who live in or will be visiting Pittsburgh.

Caliban Books is located in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh in a modest sized shop at 410 South Craig Street, off of Forbes Avenue, in a trendy location of boutiques and eateries situated between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University campuses and near the Carnegie Museums.

The store stocks roughly 40,000 books, covering just about any category, on floor to ceiling shelves radiating from the checkout counter near the entrance to the store. You will find additional books stacked on the floor at the ends of shelves. They also sell original prints, maps, and art.

20150910_170115They are also a store within a store. Near the front counter, you will find the racks of LPs and CDs that make up Desolation Row Records, self-described as “a small, independent record shop (located inside Caliban Book Shop) specializing in Indie Rock, Sixties Pop, Punk, Americana, Folk, Blues, and Jazz owned and operated by Kristofer Collins.” Vinyl and books all in one place–why couldn’t I have had a free hour or two? Perhaps it is God’s way of saving the family budget and delivering me from temptation!

I also learned from their website that Caliban Books is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. John Schulman, the co-owner, spent several years appraising books for Antiques Road Show and can appraise for estate, legal, tax, and insurance purposes. The store will consider purchases from individual books to whole libraries in the Pittsburgh area.

So where do they put all those books? Some are at the S. Craig St. store but many are kept in their warehouse located in nearby Wilkinsburg where they house approximately 150,000 items. The warehouse may be visited by appointment Monday through Friday.

Hours and contact information (from the website):

410 S. Craig St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 681-9111

HOURS (Caliban Book Shop and Desolation Row)

Monday-Saturday 10am-5:30pm*
Sunday 12pm-5:30pm
*open most Thursdays until 8pm

Wilkinsburg, PA.  Open by appointment.

HOURS: For phone inquiries, please call Monday-Friday between 10am and 5pm. If we don’t answer please leave a message — we will get back to you within 1 business day.

I only had a few minutes but I’ve mentally bookmarked this store for a return visit when I get back to Pittsburgh.

Bookstore Review: Blue Jacket Books

IMG_2382Wednesday took us in a different direction on our vacation bookstore crawl, to Xenia, Ohio and Blue Jacket Books. We heard about this store when we reviewed another store in nearby Yellow Springs last summer. So it was time to see if it was up to the rave reviews of our comment-er. It was!

IMG_2373What impresses you the moment you walk into Blue Jacket Books is the friendly greeting from owner Lawrence Hammar. He will offer to assist you in finding books in whatever subject matter you are interested. He is able to do so. This is one of the larger independent used book stores I’ve come across in Ohio, with hallways, and side rooms and various sections devoted to every conceivable genre. As one walks straight down the hallway where you entered, you encounter beautifully bound books and first editions, local and Civil War history, further down American history, a sitting area with religious books and a back area being developed for his recently acquired Midwest Americana collection (8,000 books acquired from an Illinois bookseller in outstanding condition).

IMG_2364Coming back up the hallway you will find on your left first the art room with an extensive collection of art books as well as books on music. Many of the art books come from a collection owned by deceased Columbus artist Paul-Henri Bourguignon. In the next room on the left are a number of books covering the cultures and literature of every part of the world. There is an extensive section on cultural anthropology that come from the owner’s own collection (he taught as a faculty member in the area of cultural anthropology and also women’s studies for many years). This area also has books from the collection of Erika Bourguignon, an Ohio State professor in anthropology and folklore studies. This room includes a seating area which is used for author signings/readings and other book group gatherings. Off of this room is “The Outdoor Room” which includes sections on nature and sports.

IMG_2369Across the hall from this room is the main showroom areas featuring various genres of fiction including mysteries, fantasy and science fiction, classical literature as well as non-fiction genres from poltical science to auto repair. Toward the front of the store one finds an extensive antiquarian section as well as an area inside the front windows dedicated to children’s literature. Off to one corner near the front, there was even a section for “Bibliophiles and Bibliophilia”!

The store first opened in 2006 under the ownership of Elizabeth Svendsen. Lawrence Hammar took over ownership of the store in 2011, adding his own extensive collection of books to its inventory of over 50,000 books. Because of the specialized and academic nature of many of the works in this store, roughly one-third of the store’s sales are online. The store does buy books and collections although at the present time (July 2015) they are not buying books due their recent acquisition of Midwest Americana. First time purchasers are given a bookmark offering them a fifty percent discount on future purchases of five or more books at a time.

IMG_2381The owner represented to me the quintessential independent book store owner. He loves books, knows his inventory, and can readily direct one to books in his or her area of interest. He even recommended a mystery author I’ve not heard of, James Lee Burke, and I walked away with one of his books, The Lost Get-Back Boogie. He loves to host authors for book-signings and readings and welcomes book groups for special tours of the store. And soon, it will get even better as his wife opens The Table of Contents Cafe next door.

If you are interested in making a day of book store crawling in this area, after visiting Blue Jacket Books, you can head north on U.S. Route 68 for about 10 miles to Yellow Springs to visit two other book shops: Epic Book Shop and Dark Star Books (reviewed here last year). Make sure to head north after visiting these stores to Young’s Dairy for some good ice cream!

Blue Jacket Books is located at 30 S. Detroit Street, Xenia, OH 45385 and their phone is 937-376-3522. You may also order online from their website, although only a fraction of their books appear online. Best bet if you are looking for a particular book is to call the store. They will be happy to help!

Bookstore Review: Paperback Exchange

IMG_2361We are taking some time off this week and love exploring some of the smaller towns around Columbus. On Tuesday, we were in Lancaster, Ohio and discovered a wonderful used paperback store right on the corner of N. Columbus and W. Main in the heart of downtown Lancaster. The Paperback Exchange has been in downtown Lancaster for about a dozen years but just moved to their current location in March. They were previously in a couple other downtown locations, one of which they vacated after a fire in the building and the building was torn down.

IMG_2359We found the store well and neatly laid out with large sections for current fiction, adventure and mystery stories, romance novels, science fiction, and a section of children’s books in the front of the store. The store has smaller sections of more “serious” religious literature, history and classical literature. They also feature a selection of cards, candles, and other gifts and sundries. True to its name, you can also receive store credit for many books and some other media. Consult with the store for its current policy on book and media credit.



The sign outside the Paperback Exchange is reminiscent of the old Long’s Bookstore sign that now adorns the outside of the Barnes and Noble Store at Ohio State The Paperback Exchange sign came from a store in North Carolina. When you walk into the store, you will be greeted by one of two very friendly bookstore cats, either Dickens or Webster, or perhaps both. We only met Dickens on our visit.



What impressed me about the owner, Leanne McClellan, is that she has not only created a welcoming space with a great selection of the books most people are reading that sell for very reasonable prices. She also is a proponent of downtown Lancaster and was one of the pioneers in the revitalization of the downtown. Lancaster now has several new eateries including Table 1, Ale House 1890, Signatures Restaurant and Sports Bar, as well as a Glass Blowing Museum, Art and Clay, which is a walk-in ceramics studio, and Blank Slate Artisans where you can buy handcrafted items from local artists and more. Destination Downtown Lancaster is a great resource for planning a visit but once you are there, Leanne can give you an up to the minute account of the good things going on in downtown Lancaster!

So, if it is the latest fiction, a good beach read, or the latest James Patterson thriller, the Paperback Exchange is a great place to go for books at half price or less, as well as an update on the latest attractions of downtown Lancaster. Also, look for the Paperback Exchange at the upcoming Lancaster Festival, July 23 to August 1.

Paperback Exchange is located at 201 W. Main St., Lancaster, OH 43130. Their phone is 740-654-5856.

Bookstore Crawling in Columbus

[Note: This post was updated April 23, 2019 with info about store closures, moves, and an actual upcoming bookcrawl on April 27, 2019]

I’ve heard of wine-tasting tours, gallery hops and pub crawls in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve yet to hear of a bookstore crawl in Columbus and I’m kind of wondering when the booksellers around here will get their stuff together to pull one off. Searching online, I found a San Francisco Bookstore and Chocolate Crawl, a London book crawl, a blog post about book crawling in Houston, a Literary Crawl in Nevada, a Cambridge book crawl (a GREAT place for a bookstore crawl), and more.

B & N

Barnes and Noble Easton Town Center

But I think we have the makings for a great bookstore crawl in Greater Columbus. I would have no problem spending a day visiting some of the great bookstores in our area. So I’ve come up with my own book crawl itinerary. In some cases, there are multiple outlets for some stores and I’ve chosen a favorite out of these. Since I live on the north end of the city, I’ll start there and work my way south.

1. Barnes and Noble Easton Town Center. This is probably the biggest and classiest Barnes and Noble in the city and if you were to go to one retail outlet for new books, this is it. Biggest danger here is being distracted by all the other boutiques in this trendy shopping district.

Village Bookshop

Village Bookshop

2. Village Bookshop2424 W Dublin Granville Rd Columbus, OH 43235‎. This is a used and remaindered bookstore located in an old church building, with both first and second floors. You can ramble from room to room, from sections of children’s books, to a table of biographies, to sections of American, world, and military history (including a great selection of military prints) to literature, philosopy, fiction, and much more. Update April 2019: This store is now closed.

3. Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers, 3560 N High St, Columbus, OH 43214. I have to admit that I’ve never visited this indie bookstore focused on children’s books but they’ve been around a long time and must be doing something right. The pictures on their website suggest this is a delightful place for children! Update April 2019: This store has moved to an Upper Arlington location.

4. Karen Wickliff Books, 3527 N. High St., Columbus , Ohio 43214. They claim to be the oldest and largest used bookstore in Columbus. This is the place to go for out of print, scholarly, and collectible books. I’ve found their religion section among the best of any used bookstore I’ve visited.

5. Half Price Books, 1375 W. Lane Ave. Columbus, Ohio 43221. Half Price Books is a national chain of used and remaindered books, music, and video. I’ve been to all their Columbus locations and think this is the best (though we like them all!). It’s located just west of Ohio State, and because of this has a bit more academic selection of books including a great section of $1 and $2 books.

6. Acorn Bookshop, 1464 West 5th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43212. Even the entrance to their website is fun and what makes this store, located in Grandview, to the west of Ohio State, is the effort all the booksellers make to know their customers and how much they love bookselling. George Bauman is co-owner and has been bookselling for 50 years. On one visit, I met Norman Knapp, who “Norman-izes” their books which includes cleaning, repairing, and on books with dust jackets, putting a protective plastic sleeve like libraries use to protect the book. Make sure to go down to the basement, which has more extensive selections in all the categories you find upstairs. [Update: Acorn Books closed its doors in March 2018 after 25 years of bookselling.]

The Book Loft

The Book Loft

7. The Book Loft, 631 South Third Street, Columbus, OH 43206. This store, in the heart of German Village, can be entered from a brick walkway lined with flowers along the side of the building. The store consists of a series of rooms on a couple levels and you will want to print out or pick up a store directory.

Read It Again Books and Gifts

Read It Again Books and Gifts

8. Read it Again Books, 4052 Broadway, Grove City, Ohio. This is a charming used bookstore off the beaten path a bit on the southwest side of Columbus in Grove City’s renovated downtown district. The booksellers have expanded their hours recently and have great selections of the latest fiction as well as a broad selection of children’s books, history, biography and cookbooks (one of which we bought on our last visit there). What impressed me was how they worked with children in the store to find “just the right book.” Update April 2019: This store is now closed.

Columbus is a great place for booklovers. I’ve probably missed some good places and would love for my Columbus friends to add to the list in the comments. And if you are visiting town this summer and love books, I hope this might help you plan your own bookstore crawl.

[Update: Gramercy Books in Bexley opened in January of 2017, the first retail independent to open in Columbus in 20 years. For more information, read my review of the store.]

April 2019: Several new stores have opened in the Columbus market since 2015. Six stores are hosting a book crawl April 27, 2019. Here is a publicity graphic:FB_IMG_1556038889368


Big Brother at the Bookstore and Library

Well-worn library and member cards

Well-worn library and member cards

One of the troubling aspects of modern life is how much data about us is stored in various computer data centers. Shopping at my local grocery, I use my shopper card to receive discounts on groceries and fuel while providing the grocer a whole profile of my shopping habits that allows them to customize coupons to my shopping tastes. Every online vendor collects similar data and cookies on our computers track our browsing habits. Health records are maintained on a number of sites. My cell provider has data on all my phone activity and even where I make calls from and where I am (or my phone is) at any given moment. A quick Google search of my address provides information of the appraised value of my home, how many bedrooms and bathrooms we have, and how much I pay in property tax. And this blog and other social media sites provide a substantial amount of information about me. Much of this is done with my knowledge and consent (whether I’ve read those disclosures or not). And most of the time I don’t trouble myself that much, except when this information is compromised by hackers, which seems to happen with disconcerting frequency.

What the Edward Snowden affair made clear is how much of our information is vacuumed up unbeknownst to us through NSA monitoring. The reality is that we probably should assume that very little of what we do, and nothing of our online lives, is private. What may not have occurred to us is that even our bookstore and library searches, if tied to an account (a library card or shopping card, for example, or our name) are also subject to search and seizure without our knowledge under the Patriot Act. Under current laws, according to an article in The Nation, federal authorities may seize any “tangible” thing considered relevant to a terrorism investigation and workers are under gag orders not to disclose these seizures.

What librarians facing this issue have done are to post warnings of patrons that their library internet activity and searches may be monitored. Some have gone so far as to pro-actively destroy wait-lists, caches, and other records. One librarian quoted in The Nation article commented that “It used to be a librarian would be pictured with a book…. Now it is a librarian with a shredder.”

Section 215 of the Patriot Act that permits these kinds of seizures is due to expire on June 1. According to a Publishers Weekly article a coalition of booksellers, authors, readers, and librarians is pressing for the passage of a USA Freedom Act which would restore some privacy protections. It would not eliminate information requests but limit the scope of requests by requiring individual account information under an individualized standard of suspicion.

My personal opinion? While this is an improvement, it does seem that we have eviscerated the Fourth Amendment that reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

These searches involve search orders but no warrant issued from a judge’s bench, nor are these orders presented to the person whose records are being searched. It is all done in secrecy. The truth is, as I’ve already stated, we should probably assume that nothing we do on a phone, with a credit or shopping or membership card, or do online or give others permission to store online is private and we can expect that it may be accessed without our knowledge. But to justify warrantless, secret searches as protecting a free and democratic society is to delude ourselves. That ship has sailed.

Something to consider the next time you check out a library book or use your Barnes and Noble card to buy the latest best-seller.

Fallen Golden Arches: Lessons for Booksellers

Harlem Micky Dz” by Sam SmithOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

McDonald’s is facing hard times. They’ve closed 350 stores and are closing 350 more. In articles I’ve read, it appears that they are trying to stanch declining sales by experimenting with serving breakfast all day long and adding premium burgers (even after they pulled their pricy Angus burgers) and maybe throwing in kale on the menu? Kale at McDonald’s? Seriously?

Certainly some of the issues are that McDonald’s menu has not been known, with some exceptions, for its’ healthy food options. Yet other competitors with similar menus are not having the same problem–I suspect that the success of Five Guys is part of what is driving the interest in premium burgers.

I am not an insider either in the restaurant industry or in bookselling. I am simply a customer–one of those people that McDonald’s as well as booksellers depend on to survive. And here are some things I’ve observed that I think McDonald’s has to address that are far more fundamental than menu:

1. Consistency. At one time, you could go to any McDonald’s in the country and get a consistent product–one that tasted like your McDonald’s up the street. That is no longer the case–sometimes we’ve had burgers that taste like cardboard, and other times, what we remembered. And it makes you wonder about other aspects of the back operation.

2. Service. A while back we were in line at one restaurant waiting to order…and waiting, while a manager, who was standing between us and the counter, belly-ached to his line people about how he didn’t like his job and couldn’t wait to go home. By contrast, I was in a Panera recently where I overheard a manager interviewing a new hire who effused enthusiasm for his work, his team, and the quality of product and service they sought to bring to the customer. Can you guess where I prefer to eat these days?

3. Atmosphere. A number of McDonalds remodeled with this futuristic Jetsons look. Instead of making it a comfortable place to enjoy a meal, it sent my wife and me the message that “we’d like you to eat your food and scram as quickly as possible.”

The truth is that I look for the same kinds of things in the bookstores I enjoy visiting. One of my favorite places has a consistently good selection of the kinds of books I enjoy reading (and seems to provide this for a broad range of tastes). I’ve always enjoyed stores where the people working there know and love books. Recently, I learned about BookPeople, one of the best indie stores in the country, based in Austin, TX. It’s just fun to follow their blog and see their enthusiasm for books and bookselling. Same goes for my good friend, Byron Borger, at Hearts and Minds Books. The other thing the best stores create is an atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be the same–some are musty and dusty places with books everywhere. Others are well-organized. Others provide comfy chairs to browse, perhaps with a beverage in hand. What all of them say is “we’re glad you came by.”

All this seems like a no-brainer, whether it comes to selling burgers or books. But what do I know? I’m just a customer.