writing

I’m looking for a book, it’s got blue in the title ….

‘So, I had a request today. I’m looking for a book, it’s got blue in the title and it’s about this bracelet….’

That was a message I got on Twitter the other day from Linda, one of the lovely booksellers at Waterstones in Staines, (that’s her below) and it got me to wondering. Luckily for me Linda knows all about my books and (even more luckily!) had some in stock to sell her. But what if she didn’t know about it? How do those librarians and booksellers go about identifying which books that their customers want?

Linda from Waterstones, Staines

Linda from Waterstones, Staines

It made me think that there ought to be some sort of app which does it – you feed it the bits of info which you know and *PING* it comes up with all the options which match. There seems to be an app for pretty much everything else. You’d have to put in as much as possible because otherwise you’d have a long, long list (for example: pink book with ‘Girl’ in the title would probably be a nightmare). But then what if the cover wasn’t as pink as you remember, and had actually been classified as red? You’d never find it. So I realised that an app would be hideous to produce and even harder to keep it updated.

But you know what? I bet your bookseller or librarian would still be able to help. Most of them – like Linda – have an encyclopaedic knowledge of books. They’d be able to ask you all sorts of cunning questions like “is it sparkly?” or “short title or long title” or “thick or thin?” and use that info to reach into the deep recesses of those huge bookseller-y brains, and fish out EXACTLY the book you are looking for, however big their shop or library. Booksellers and Librarians do the jobs they do because they love reading, and they want to help others find and love the books as much as they do, however many they have to remember.

I think you should go to your library or your bookshop today and test them out, and then let us know how you get on. Let’s see if we can find out the weirdest description of a book which they still got right! And if there are any bookseller and librarians reading this, what’s the weirdest request you’ve had to decipher? I’d love to know.

10 thoughts on “I’m looking for a book, it’s got blue in the title ….

  1. Oooo, oooo, I know – I just saw the picture flash by to the right – it’s Small Blue Thing!

    You’re right, there’s no substitute for a really knowledgeable librarian or bookseller – 3 cheers for them!

  2. I was talking to a librarian about this just yesterday! My favourite requests when I worked in a library were the people who stated, “I’m looking for a book.” There would then be a very long pause, during which we’d realise that was the end of the request. It was always fun to narrow it down after that – like playing 20 Questions!

  3. I’m working in a bookstore i Sweden. I got the question: Do you have the book “The Dali complex”? It took me some time, but then I understod that it was “The Da vinci code”…

  4. Some people in bookshops look stuff up for you but, others, they have NO IDEA what they have in stock! They don’t bother trying to help you at all. Its strange. If you work in a bookshop, you have to love books. x

  5. I love our school library because our librarian is just fantastic! If you go “Um I want this book but I don’t know the title. Or the author. But it’s about a girl. A girl who is going somewhere… um. I think.” and our Librarian will go, “Do you mean Finding Fortune?” “Yes!” And I love the people who work in Waterstones. They’re so friendly and can give you book recommendations. And they always check that you’ve read the first in the series if you’ve bought the sequel. Bookshops and libraries have such nice atmospheres!

  6. As you probably know by now – I work in a public library and we get things like this all the time. “I came in last week and there was a book with a red cover and had something to do with witches”. “I looked at a book that was about ‘this big’ and had a green cover”
    etc. Most of the time we can help. I actually pride myself on being able to find them, and I think I have quite a good knowledge of what exactly on our shelves, but sometimes the questions are just way too vague. But we always do our best. 😀
    And we always laugh about it later.

  7. There’s actually a web forum (BookSleuth, on the AbeBooks website) where people can post these sorts of questions. Half the time the solutions seem to come from librarians and booksellers…

  8. I love all your examples! And I’m glad to hear that there is a technological solution too, but it’s perfect that it has to rely on the brains of the booksellers and librarians to work….

  9. I was working in a university library once when an undergraduate came in and said, ‘I saw this chemistry book in here last week – it was blue…’

    I said, ‘Where did you see it?’ and he said, ‘Oh, on that bookcase there.’ This told me it was a recently arrived book… I said, ‘Dark blue or light blue?’ ‘Dark blue.’ This told me it was most likely from the Clarendon Press whose books are all dark blue (hardback). So I looked in the list of recent arrivals for a Clarendon Press chemistry book, checked the catalogue, walked into the next room and got it for him 🙂 he was most impressed! (mostly because I had hidden my thought processes, tee hee).

  10. I had a summer job in the local library when I was a student. One of my favourite requests was for “the fourth book in that tri-ology”. We also had quite a few order cards filled out for that best-selling author “Danny L Steel”.

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