Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 11


So yesterday, I have to be truthful, I wasn't happy with my entry. It felt...embittered. Thats a tone I'm trying to avoid. The lovely things about Borders are the important things. The stuff that aggravates, while sadly it defines our days currently, will pass. Ten years from now the memories of the infinity and diversity of indignities will be like Animorphs, all the rage but now forgotten in the face of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The victories and the laughter and the smiles will live on.

I'm not trying to be obtusely sunny. It's just that in my experience it's true.

I was going to delete yesterdays post and only make it available to people via email, but in consultation with my most enthusiastic supporters i've decided not to. I don't like the tone, but it was real. It was a real reflection of a bad day. It's what happens when an intrinsically optimistic person has their patience and their optimism challenged for a full 10 hour shift at the end of a week of shifts that did the same thing. It's what happens when a store full of good humored, kind and thoughtful (if not always patient) people are treated like livestock.

I singled out a man whose job I hate and made a caricature of him giving an intrinsically one sided view of him. But ... and I have to thank Rob for this, I realize it's not my job to be journalistic about it. I don't have to give the point of view of him as something more than the job eating ogre that he can be. If what I feel when I sit down to write is anger, not just for me, but on behalf of my team, then that is what comes out. That will be the document of the time.

I guess everyone has bad days.

In keeping with the concept of Glastnost here, i have to repair something I said yesterday. I made reference to the infantilization of two of our IPT (inventory processing team, for those not down with borders lingo) by The Viper. I got the two wrong. I had thought it was Zen Master and History Linguist Student, but it was in fact Zen Master and Massively skilled and talented graphic artist and blogstar whose ability to hang signs he brought into question. I think this brings me back to the point that this is a document of my perspective and I do my best to channel what other people give me throughout the day, but occasionally I'm going to misremember.

House clean. New business.

I'm sitting at a local hangout tonight with some friends I haven't seen in too long. I truly am surprised when we get together how much I enjoy being around them. One of them is a former key holder from my days at an express (which I liquidated) and the other has recently gone through a liquidation of a major video rental place where he had worked for 10 years. Inevitably the question arose: so what are you going to do.

I have no idea. Zero. None. I'm certainly not going to sit here and declare working for Borders to be the best career that anyone could have and that without them all hope is lost. It's just I feel uniquely designed to work for them. We were discussing how when you love the core of what you do, perhaps not the nonsense, perhaps not the intensity, and certainly not the strange customer service anomalies that present themselves, but the strip-everything-away-and-leave-the-base-metals raw fundamentality of what you do, then work, even if hard, is not like "work". He loves movies, he loves talking about them and leading new people to new movies. I love books and I am never happier than when standing next to a person with a stack of three titles i've lead them to on a bizzare often times manic treasure hunt based on the tiniest little threads of commonality. Michaelangelo used to say, perhaps apocryphally, he could see the sculptures sitting inside the stone, and he just helped them to get out. If i may compare myself (humbly?) to one of the greatest geniuses humanity has ever know, I see a customer for what they want to be, not what they are. I can tell when a person has that initial conversation with me what they aspire to read, even if they cannot.

How is this skill useful anywhere else? Who else is going to pay me just for being approachable and intelligent? I don't know if it was ever written down as policy, but I think with the shift to make books and Borders Plus cards it was inevitable that we would need to begin hiring people based on their sales skills not their book, music, or coffee knowledge. It was going to be a store of thin white men with slicked back hair, dark tans, and whitened teeth all in red polo shirts "what do i have to do to get you into this plus card today". It was inevitable. The goals once met, would be set higher and progressively higher. Had we not folded, had we remained on our current path i've no doubt in my mind I would have become outmoded. I could already see it begin. I can sell a kobo. I'm good with ereaders. I like them. But the plus card, god i was miserable at that. It was only a matter of time before I would have to start applying spray tan and lose about a baristas (probably natalie, or rose...maybe nick c) worth of weight, or be asked to leave.

So if i'm outmoded at a Borders...Where am i relevant?

I'm encouraging comments on this one, i mean i like them for all my posts, but this one in particular it's important to me be a two way street. I know I'm not the only one with this feeling. This idea that i'm a hard cover in an ereader world cannot be unique to me. So Whose got some ideas on dealing with this? We're 23000 bibliophiles trying to translate our skills into something new. What do you see yourself doing a year from now? Have you abandoned hope of finding a job that lets those qualities shine? Did you not really care about it any way and just think of books like sacks of flour, bed sheets, or widgets? I need your help to process this. And maybe you need mine. If there is one thing Borders has always been great for it's smart people who elevate each other. I see no reason for that to stop, just because the lights are off and the shelves are empty.

If i'm going to be irrelevant soon, I at least want some good company!


  1. Gah, I have so much to say to this but I need to go to bed. I will "Part 2" this tomorrow. But thanks for the plug, sir!

  2. Cory, I left 6(!) years ago and I still struggle with this. I finally decided to finish my degree and others beyond that, so that I can teach at the university level. I may no longer be able to put that perfect book into someone's hands on a daily basis, but perhaps I can inspire one or two to at least search for it...

  3. Hi! I'm Christen and I work with Cory at Borders. Borders is my part time job. I'm a full time librarian and I love what I do. I guess I'm one of the lucky few at our store whose entire livelihood isn't destroyed because of the closing of our store, but I love what I do at Borders and I'll miss my store and my coworkers.

    That being said... a few years ago my dad told me that if I was a superhero, my power would be the ability to always find the perfect book for each and every person. (I still smile when I think about him saying that.) One of my favorite things about being a librarian and a bookseller is Reader's Advisory. Like Cory mentioned above, I love seeing a happy customer walk off with a stack of books that I recommended. I think one of things I will miss most about my job at Borders is the challenge of recommending books to paying customers. Lets face it, if you recommend a book to someone at the library, there's no pressure for that person to like it because they can always just bring it back and get something else. However, when you're working with paying customers, you really need to be spot on! And I loved that!

    Cory, thank you for continuing to blog. I look forward to reading each and every new post!

  4. I became irrelevant twice. I was a pastry chef, a job which is both highly specialized and in low demand. Add to that my refusal to work and 80 hour week and I am unemployable. And I am a tremendous trainer and bookseller. I tried working for BnN but I really hated their company. It's very corporate after working for Borders. I have no idea where I'll end up.

  5. Cory, we are all struggling with the same thing. There were two wakes last night; one for the whole HO team, and one for the Merchandising group...primarily the buying group. Almost all of them came from the field.

    There's a special kind of person who can ask a customer "What do you like?" and from that answer, give them the book she never would've found herself. There's a unique family that hears "the new McCullough" and understands why you say it in hushed tones like a baptism, or "the new Patterson" like you're admitting you at Ben & Jerry's for breakfast.

    There was no sentence I liked hearing more than "That was the first book I read in xx years, and I loved it." Unless it was its sequel: "What should I read next?"

    It does break down to specific abilities: analytical skill, critical thinking, decision making. Running a store? Managing to financial goals, team motivation, organizational skills.

    The best advice I can give anyone in our boat is to figure out what you loved, and then break down the acts into the components you enjoyed. That way, even if your next job isn't books, it will be something you find stimulating.

    And keeping reading and recommending. Because you may take the bookseller out of the bookstore, but I can attest you never take the bookstore out of the bookseller.

  6. I, for one, never really cared about being a bookseller, per se. I took the job at Borders in 2004 because I needed to supplement my income and this seemed like the least offensive, most easygoing way to do it.

    Over time, the pride I took in my job came from being part of a team, and making sure I did above and beyond my fair share of the work. I think in the four-five years I was in charge of getting the laydowns ready for Tuesday, I think I missed maybe five Mondays total: I couldn't stand the idea of someone else having to do my work for me.

    The thing I think I'll take away most from my Borders experience is that sense of teamwork. I pursued a life as a freelance artist mostly because I considered myself anti-social and really unable to collaborate with other people: I wanted to do it all on my own.

    But having worked with the 461 crew for so long, I've come to realize that I enjoy being part of a team, and that's been a positive influence in my life. I've since gone on to take and approach and apply it to my creative life, and so far its been a real success.

    If I can swing it, I hope to never have to get another retail-based job like this ever again. Partly out of sheer laziness, partly because I'll just be miserable comparing it to my experience at Borders, which will overshadow any subsequent similar work.

    My only exception would be if somehow most of the 461 group all ended up working in the same place. If we could all be transferred to a NON-corporately owned business, I would sign up for that in a minute. Get on it, Drew!

  7. Cory,

    I know there is nothing I’ll say that you don’t already know – but when have I allowed that to stop me?

    Relevance is relative ;) In fact, I’d go so far as to say that perhaps now you are more relevant as a bookseller than you’ve ever been. It’s not until our foundations - our comforts - our identities are shaken that we are forced (hopefully) to take a long, hard look at who we really are, at what our larger relevance is. You are losing a job that you loved – a job that was obviously so much more than a job. And, as you’ve so eloquently and hilariously highlighted with your blog, for many of us Borders represents something much deeper than a retail chain. It was our safe place. It was a place filled with irony and the intoxicating smell of books and smartass booksellers who all seemed to get each other’s jokes and sarcasm while also getting the larger “it” that you speak about. So yes, Borders was absolutely something unique and meaningful. However, it was also a container. Borders was not all the awesome qualities that we adored about working there, it was simply a place that contained people who possessed those qualities. This is an important point to focus on, I think, because I truly believe it is possible to experience many of the things we loved about Borders in other workplaces. Borders was awesome because we were awesome. We are not dying with the company; we’re simply being forced to experience change. Change can suck and hurt and bring about loss – but change is also the absolute sign of life. When change stops, we’re dead.

    We’re all so conditioned to fear change, but what if we choose to celebrate it? What if, instead of fearing the unemployment, social alienation, and irrelevance that could result from Borders closing, we focused on the possibilities of employment, community-building, and relevance that this rite of passage might also bring? By being forced to move on we’re also being allowed to access the infinite possibilities that await us. Possibilities that we might never had the chance to experience if our comfort zone hadn’t been threatened (like becoming a famous blogger, for example).

    And so, I guess the main message I’d like to convey is that of my favorite professor – the message that people really soar once they realize that the desire to be comfortable paralyzes us. We were all really comfortable at Borders.

    Remember me when you’re giving Arianna Huffington a run for her money!


  8. Store 451 checking in! :) Even though I spent most of my time at the register, sometimes I was still able to recommend books to customers. I would go grab them off the shelves or direct the customer to their location.

    Yesterday I went into my local B&N w/my friend, as it is the soon-to-be only bookstore in the area (not counting the 2 spiffy used bookstores downtown). It felt so disappointing after nearly 6years @ Borders. The selection is much less than our store; ours is 2 floors and the B&N is one level. But what choice will I soon have for books? Amazon? Yuck. I did score some books at one used bookstore though. The lady working there said she will miss our store. They get a lot of used books that came from our store, as well as other Borders. I found one. :)

  9. Having had to leave behind Borders a few years back because of the economy and the inevitable need to move out of New England, I understand completely the feeling of being specialized in or -gasp!- loving helping people find their perfect book. When I go into any bookstore, but especially a Borders, I have never been able to stop myself from helping people find books when they are in areas I know intimately. I look and see them and go "I think they'd like -blah- book." And it's delightful to have a chance to show that book to them.

    I have no useful advice on where else to go, sadly. I would be there myself if I did! I worry about ever trying to get a job at B&N because I'm such a die-hard Borders girl. I can only hope that, in the years to come, some Borders higher-ups who were still in line with the old ways of thinking might take a risk on some small chain of stores in the Northeast maybe. And that I'll have a chance to really enjoy being part of a bookstore, putting books into the hands of eager readers.

    Until then, I keep writing. I keep working jobs that let me interact with the general public, jobs that are not cut-and-paste but rather take some thought. Any amount of it! Any job where people might come in knowing what they are looking for, but are open to suggestions, companion pieces, or maybe don't know what they want and are looking for some in-put... those jobs mimic in small ways the feeling of knowing books inside out and backwards. Even if they are not as entirely rewarding.