The Great Curator: Indie Bookstores

I recently read a great little piece [] about the value of independent bookstores. Admittedly they were talking about the market for such stores in Thailand, but there was a particular line in there (from Charun Hormtienthong, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand) that got me thinking:

“The value of the independent bookstores lies in its meticulous decoration, and its extensive and expertly curated inventory.”

The internet blew the doors off curation, in a way: right now, if I want to, I can get on Goodreads and dig around and find some recommended books to read. Takes me about five minutes, less if I’m in a hurry. I can cruise ratings, I can filter by category, and I can check out what other readers thought by looking at their reviews and comments.

But is this really curation?

Social media used to overwhelm me, before I cracked the code: there’s just too much information there to filter, so you only want to engage with people who are good at filtering their content. In other words, they curate. And maybe it’s just me, but I prefer a curater who has at least some experience with the content they’re curating.

If I want curated content about cars, I’d find a blogger who was also a mechanic.

If I want curated recipes, I’d try to find a chef, or at least a professional food critic.

And if I want curated books…well, I think I’d probably trust a writer, and editor…or a bookstore owner.

People don’t own bookshops by mistake. It’s not an accident, and nobody suddenly woke up this morning with a stack of business cards for a charming indie store on the corner. People own and operate independent bookstores because they like books. In fact, they probably love them. More importantly, though, they have a whole set of other ideas and interests that will affect *how they curate their store’s content.*

A good example is my local indie bookstore, Malaprop’s. I love the place because the owners curate their content with a specific audience in mind: it’s socially liberal, LGBT friendly, environmentally conscious, with an excellent selection of non-superheroic graphic novels. I’m very fortunate that my local, independent bookstore happens to curate their content with an eye towards interests and values I happen to share. It’s a kind of reassurance, actually: I can walk in and know for a fact that someone with experience in Books has chosen every item on the shelf, specifically, for a purpose.

I don’t always LIKE the things I find there, mind you. People disagree, and I’m contrary by nature. But the idea that I can go to a place whose content has been curated is tremendously reassuring. I can’t get that at Barnes and Noble–in fact, I’m lucky to find anything I like at Barnes and Noble, except a chai latte (don’t judge me). The internet can be a little better–like minded individuals do tend to group together, and they can recommend me any number of books I’m sure I’d like.

But there is still something special about going to a place full of books and friendly staff, a place where I can ask, “Excuse me, but which one of these memoirs do you recommend?” I can absolutely expect an informed opinion, maybe even a conversation with another human being (which I do enjoy from time to time).

So please, don’t forget your locally owned and operated independent book store. And if you haven’t been there in a while, maybe go there this weekend. See what’s on the shelf. And let me know what you thought of it on Goodreads.