I was writing a brief article for my local Patch about the demise of Borders Books & Music when a decades-old memory surfaced. Once again, for a fleeting moment, I was thirteen years old, browsing the stacks at my beloved public library. We didn't have a lot of money in those days. My mother was a single schoolteacher somehow raising five kids on her own. We rarely bought new books. We did, however, have a good library within walking distance, and that oh-so-precious library card.
Remember browsing stacks? Smelling the books, fingers grazing spines worn or new, pulling out titles to sample the pages? You had to be quiet in that library of ours. No noise was tolerated, and no one chewed gum or ate their lunch or talked on the phone. It was all about books, and when I was thirteen, I loved books even more than boys.
I still love browsing stacks. There are a few bookstores, mostly independents, but even a couple of the big ones, where the stacks are rewarding places to explore. Borders, however, is the only new-book bookstore in my town, and I've watched it spiral into the ground for a long time. I suspected the company was on the wrong track when they hired a CEO from Saks, and then I was convinced when the next one came from the grocery business. I don't know these men, and maybe they share my love of books, but they did us wrong with Borders. Not only have they failed their employees and their stockholders, they failed the booklovers who originally made the company successful. Now it's going to be gone, and at least here in my home town, we have no idea what will take its place.
Beloved Husband suggests that the end of Borders, and related weak sales for other big box stores, might be good news for independent booksellers. I hope that might be true! I use Amazon.com as much as anyone. I love e-books and the ease of acquiring them. But I also love to browse stacks of books. I worry that what will move into those empty Borders stores will be yet another chain clothing store or discount warehouse.
At least we still have our public library. It's not the quiet, ink-scented haven it once was, but it's still a library. Thank goodness.