Reappraisal: The Joy and Pain of Purging Books

About six weeks ago, the computer acting as our main database server crashed. Setting aside the anguish and expense thereby caused, for the next week or so, while our favourite tech wizards attended to renewing our setup, we were at loose ends for tasks. So, with the looming need to undertake inventory of 20,000 individual items in the shop, we decided to audit some areas of the stacks… which turned into ALL areas of the stacks, and I’m hoping it will clean up our database sufficiently so that we can avoid a complete inventory.

We pulled the books off the shelves, one by one, put aside all older items (identifiable by an inventory item number below a certain value), and carefully considered each of those, for merit. And dusted the newly exposed shelves, because, wow, do books attract dust!

This sounds pretty straightforward, yes? Nope.

I (Aimee) am the one in charge of selecting the inventory, so the reappraisals were my job, while our intern and my coworkers would make enormous piles of old books for me to sort through. I bought each and every one of these books thinking it had value and would make me some money. Wrong: these were piles of my mistakes! I had to wade through my failures every day for a very humbling six weeks!

I remembered, and recognized, many of the books (after all, I’ve had them for a long time!). I found book number 004: I’m now past 125,000, so that one owes me a LOT of rent. Turns out nobody wants a limited edition Powys, and while I still think it is nice, it will no longer live here rent-free.

Many books bore the penmanship of people I used to work with, including my mentor (Michael), the person who hired me 20+ years ago (Jennifer), a woman who worked with me when I started to take over the shop (Alison), a few people who moved away but otherwise I’d have tried to keep my hooks in them (Sam, Iva, and dear Mark), my current wonderful colleagues… in short, many of these little annotations caused a little oxytocin burst… but then there was also the person against whom I won a long-fought lawsuit last year (for stealing, tampering with my computers, etc.). Quite the rollercoaster, this.

Canadian Literature shrunk by about a third. I have subsequently moved the section, out of concern that its location was a factor in the poor sales volume. I refuse to cull D. H. Lawrence deep cuts and the like. I discounted some things I think might sell as a result. I kept things I’d buy again, like obscure local history books. I am less optimistic about what “will” sell, and at least temporarily more cognizant of the difference between that, and what I *wish* would sell.

I didn’t keep count, but we sent around 2,500 books to local charities. Is it a financial hit? Yes. But, the hit landed when these were bought, not when they were sent away.

We have moved some bookcases around, taken others out, and shifted sections, opening up the shop to the light, and also to lines of sight, which is important because someone has been stealing a lot of literature. We also made a little more room for the packing/storage/staff room, which was much needed.

We are still tweaking the details but, man, it feels nice in here. The shelves are densely packed with great stuff, the filler gone, the sections tight.

How will this change the way I do things?

I’d already started to raise the bar in terms of the books I choose. Losing four local shops last year, with others on a buying hiatus, and charities having been closed during pandemic times, the offerings have been overwhelming, and I’ve had to become ruthless so as not to go broke or require a storage locker (a situation which always starts as temporary but ten years later the rear half is still stuffed with now-obsolete once-bestsellers). The bar is high for new acquisitions, which has proven a clientele-pleasing method, as sales are strong!

We bought a nice new display case from a monastery (!), and I need a couple more glass-fronted cases for the more expensive books: an evolution I’m pleased with. (If you have a nice, one- or two-glass-door oak cabinet, I’m your girl!)

Come in for a visit!