I was in my city’s Barnes & Noble store about a month ago, and I figured it’d be a long shot, but I thought, what the hell, why not give it a try. My dad had been looking for a long time for a book of poetry by a Spanish writer named Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Believe me, it’s a hard thing to come by.
Browsing several shelves for nearly half an hour, I finally found the Spanish section, and the sight I saw broke my heart. First of all, I spent so much time looking because there were no labels over the tops of the shelves to indicate a Spanish language section. Secondly, there were only two cases front and back dedicated to Spanish language books. And to add insult to injury, everything was in disarray and out of alphabetical order.
Something about this just didn’t sit right with me. I mean, I know throughout the day people pick things up and put them down, not necessarily where they belong, but there’s people working in the store periodically checking this and fixing the situation. Well, maybe I just happened to catch it at a time when someone hadn’t checked in a couple of hours, so I thought, let me just give them a heads up.
I walked over to the customer service desk and politely told the woman working there, “Hey, just to let you guys know, I was looking for a specific author in the Spanish section, but it’s all out of order over there. Could I get some help?”
She didn’t seem all too pleased to have me bother her with such an inane task, but she walked over anyway and asked me the author’s last name. I offered it and specified the genre, and if she could perhaps tell me where the poetry section is that would help. This is when she turned to me and said, “Honestly, there’s no separation for specific genres in this section. It’s all just by author, so if you don’t see it in the B’s, it’s not here.”
Naturally, I was annoyed at this attitude, but I tried to remain polite anyway and reiterated my predicament of all the books being in disarray and out of order. At this, she took a glance back at the books, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yeah, no one really worries about keeping up this section.” With that, she walked away.
My mother was with me, and I couldn’t help but look at her with so much fury in my eyes. I’d been in the store’s restrooms and even those were in better condition than the Spanish language section.
I get it. It’s a niche audience, they’re not big sellers, and probably not that many people browse the area on a daily basis. But it’s still a part of your store, and every customer should matter, no matter what their background or language they speak. And yes, that kind of blasé attitude toward those books is a personal affront to those customers. It’s telling us we don’t matter.
Fast forward to last week, which was about a month later, and the optimist in me said, Go ahead and check it out again. I still didn’t find any books by Bécquer, but there were now four full cases with Spanish books, labels that read Ficción and Religión, and they were alphabetized properly. I smiled at my mom. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
(Note: This was originally published on my personal Tumblr blog here.)