Those Who Count The Books

My dreams on New Year’s Night (not New Year’s Eve– the night after) were filled with swirling words; words revolving in rows, words spinning, dancing and changing partners to form new phrases and new meanings. This is because I spent New Year’s Day helping Mockingbird Books do inventory.

I thought that California still had an inventory tax of some kind, and it does, but that is usually due in July, apparently tied to the state fiscal year. Brandy says the reason she does inventory at the end of the calendar years is for general tax purposes. To determine your profit and loss for the year, you have to take existing inventory into account. Brandy has been in the book business for more than 20 years. This means that she does not take the word of her database and call it good; she touches every book in the store — or someone does.

What’s in a Name

Brandy uses Basil as her in-store Point of Sale system. It works well for a used book store; interfacing well with Amazon, providing decent reports and deleting books (mostly) from inventory when they are sold. It does not help much with the process of inventory, though. Last year Mark printed out a bunch of hardcopy lists directly from Basil for us to use with inventory. This year, after a few Basil upgrades, that particular option was no longer available. Instead, Geronimo toiled in the land of Word for about an hour and a half before creating a table that the data could drop into. He spent the rest of the day printing out sections, using more than a ream of paper. We all agreed that Basil could do this better. Surely other Basil customers do inventory.

The lists were pretty good though, and most of the “glitches” make sense given the algorithm the database uses. The lists printed alphabetically by author’s last name. Logical, yes? That’s how we shelve, after all… mostly. The system struggles though, with anthologies, collections and books “authored” by groups like The Smithsonian.

It also leads to mildly annoying but understandable listing errors. Robert Penn Warren shows up correctly in the W’s as Warren, Robert Penn. John Dos Passes shows up, incorrectly but logically, in the Ps as Passos, John Dos. Thomas deQuincey shows up in the D’s, because whoever listed  Confessions of an Opium Eater ran the name together. Linda LaPlant showed up in the P’s, as “Plant, Linda La,” because someone left a space.

I started with Biography. Jeff had expressed concern about Biography. It’s the one section of the store where we do not usually file by author last name. We file by subject name. If the book is a memoir of a time period, or a book about a group or a thing (the Bolshoi Ballet or something) then we file by author. It is not as confusing as it sounds. It’s all based on the goal of getting the right book into the customer’s hands. Still, with a list that’s alpha by author, Biography was going to be a challenge. I reversed the usual way of working, starting with the first book on the shelf and finding it on the list, rather than working from the list. It worked great. I found two books in Biography that were memoir but correctly belonged in Sports. I found a book in History and one in Travel and Adventure (Into the Wild) that belonged in Biography.

Buoyed by my success I tackled the 14 page list of California and the West. These should have been all by author and should have gone more quickly, but that was not the case. Many of these have authors like, “The Smithsonian,” or “The Historical Society of Sonoma and Napa Valleys,” or my least favorite when it comes to searching by author, “Anon.” My personal favorite of weird database choices for authors was a facsimile of a journal written by “Mrs. Hugh Brown.” Listed under “Brown?” Under “Hugh?” Nope… listed under the Ms for Mrs.

About four book were on the list but not on the shelf, which is the point of inventory. I found two of them on the shelves above, Native American, when I tackled that section. Of the missing two, one is a slightly more expensive book, and I think it might have been in Rare Books although I couldn’t find it.

After Biography, Native American and California and the West, I tackled Metaphysics. I got to do Metaphysics last year, so I have some affection for that section. There are some small subsections Geronimo printed out for me; Divination, Shamanism, Paganism and Women’s Spirituality. After that I did Philosophy.

Next came Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Gay/Lesbian, Sociology, Current Events, Military History and various War sections. Gender Studies is supposed to be an umbrella category, but I found three books labeled Women’s Studies that weren’t on the list, and two labeled Men’s Studies, ditto. I recommended re-labeling these.

We Have Issues

Brandy and Geronimo had a lively discussion about collapsing sections. The problem area, so to speak, is labeled Current Events. Many of the books shelved in Current Events are not current. What do you call a section that has some of Randy Shilts’s books about the AIDS epidemic? AIDS is still an issue, but a different one. What about Freakanomics? That’s not really current, is it? Brandy, again, hews to a simple rule; what is the easiest way to get the right into the customer’s hands? I think “Current Events” needs a new name. Maybe “Social Issues?”

We have a decent military section, and by far the biggest part is the American Civil War, no surprise to anyone.

And Now a Word From my Muscles


Sitting, stretching, standing, bending, kneeling, reaching, grasping, lifting, stacking.

Feeding the Troops

Geronimo brought enough food to feed a village; Danish, bagels, cream cheese, orange juice and champagne. Since I can imagine the shambles I would make of Biography after a couple of mimosas I abstained.

I brought chocolate.

The store treated us to pizza at lunch.

We did not go hungry during our foray among the shelves.

Never Again

Once I finished up Military/Wars, I asked about Fiction. “The second half of Mysteries needs to be done,” Geronimo said.

I picked up the list. P-Z. Only then did I realize this meant I had to do James Patterson, again!

Eeek! Noooo!

I did all 758 Patterson books — okay,okay, that’s an exaggeration. I got stuck with Patterson last year. You’d think I would learn. Mystery is not a perfect section. If I did A-O I’d have Christie (but at least she is fun) and Cussler. I don’t have the same sneering disregard for Cussler that I do for Patterson, though.

Next year I’m not doing him. That’s it. That’s my final word.


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