Sunday, June 04, 2006

Shrink-Wrap the Parents!

Why do so many of the bookshops in Malaysia wrap their stock in plastic, a practice which discourages browsing?

Last week in StarMag, Nurindah Yunos who works in the children's area of one of the largest bookstores in Malaysia highlighted the problems that bookshops face:
I witness many acts of rudeness every single day, especially during the weekends. It wouldn't surprise me if I get a heart attack one day! Many kids step on books, handle them roughly land even tear the pages or steal the free gifts that come with some books. And what do the parents do? Nothing. Sometimes I feel like screaming at them, telling them we are a business entity and not some public library! My favourite response is to go up to the misbehaving child and say loudly: “Hey dear, please handle the book nicely and pass it to me after you are finished with it. And if you damage the book, mummy or daddy will have to pay for it.” When the parents hear the word “pay'“, they always tell their kids to put the books back on the shelves. We have tourists asking us why we wrap all our books. Well, we have no choice. Until our people know how to appreciate books, we will have to keep wrapping them up. Once, my colleague saw a girl tear a page from a magazine. When she asked the girl to pay for it, guess what, the mother argued that her child didn’t do it. When that didn't work, the woman insisted on paying only for the page that her daughter tore. Hello? If I tore your dress, can I just pay for that bit that was torn? Sorry, but I always feel like laughing out loud when people say we Malaysians have good manners and are civilised.
And this week another bookstore employee calling herself Helpless Bookworm took up the theme:
For bookstore staff, weekends and public holidays are a constant headache, no thanks to selfish customers who disrespect books and other people’s property. In short, the whole store becomes a “tsunami-stricken” zone. Books and magazines get strewn everywhere. It is an eyesore to see them on tables and display shelves, or atop rows of books. ... Despite the reminder to “Please ask staff for assistance to unwrap this book/ magazine”, some readers will tear off the plastic covers then stuff them in any available space. Some parents obligingly unwrap books for their children. One mother had the audacity to utter the four-letter word to an employee who advised her not to do so – right in front of her young son. And, to rub salt in a wound, parents let their little “terrors” meddle with buttons, fragile gadgets and playing cards by themselves. No supervision at all. Some adults have been caught switching the price tags of items. There are cases of customers camouflaging an expensive book with the jacket of a lower-priced one. You don’t need rocket science to understand why there are so many missing and damaged pages and items in the store. For instance, audio books with no compact discs. During one stock-check exercise, we found a rotting chicken bone stashed behind some books! There also were books with visible water stains, rendering them a total loss. Having experienced all these, I have no qualms about blaming irresponsible parents for their rude children.
The April 2005 issue of MPH's Quill magazine had photographs of stock ruined by customers (below - click to enlarge):

In the same issue Renee Koh writes about the need to respect books:
Damaged books means losses to bookstores, which in turn translates into even lower margins, and in the end, it is you, the genuine customers who will loose out, whether price-wise or because all the books will be wrapped up...
Customers need a course in book-browsing etiquette, it seems. Or maybe we should just shrink-wrap the errant ones!


Chet said...

I totally agree that books should be wrapped, with one copy available for browsing.

Does MPH require weekend help to go around telling off such irresponsible parents? I would love to help out - gives me an outlet to release my pent-up anger in the right direction!

q said...

ermm, so i am wondering what they do with their damaged books? ;-)

(i have not altered books in ages)

Ted Mahsun said...

I'd love to join Chet if she gets to go around MPH telling off rude customers... everytime I see someone rough-handling a book in bookstores, I've always had the urge to shout at them. We could even offer our "services" to Times, Kinokuniya and Borders! :D

Books don't get enough love, and they haven't even been paid for yet!

__earth said...

Too bad there are people that would do such thing, making others it almost impossible for others that just want to browse nicely.

Sometimes, when I see wrapped books, I wish I were still in Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor is the birthplace of Borders!) The Borders is a big library! LOL!

I remember reading two chapters before actually buying the book there. Even magazines! I read an article in it and I like it and in the end, bought the magazine.

Bah. Malaysian magazines are wrapped nice and tight that it's impossible to know if I want to really buy them.

Now that I know there are ppl that like to damage books and magazines, I feel it's my duty to bring a shotgun to a bookstore and pump lead into irresponsible shoppers and browsers alike! ARGH!

ph3ar m3!

The Eternal Wanderer said...

It's a typical occurrence whenever I go to MPH in 1 Utama to see kids running around with books in their grubby paws and playing chase with other kids. At one point, one kid even threw a book at another kid, with a hapless staff running over to save the poor book. And what did mommy and daddy do? Nothing, cause they were nowhere in sight!

Poor MPH staff...on weekends and peak hours, they just do not have enough staff to walk around the store and patrol the shelves and keep an eye out for errant kids and parents.

There was one memorable incident that I encountered in which I sort of gave a helping hand to the harried staff. A boy was at the comics section...and those comics are super expensive and priceless, which is why they are kept wrapped. This kid, about 8 or 9, was holding a Spider-man comic book and guess what he was trying to do with it?? He was trying to tear off the wrapper with his teeth and scratching at the plastic! He took one look around and saw me - I gave him the meanest stare I've ever given to a child and the boy sheepishly dropped the book on the floor and ran away.

Most customers act as if it's their right to do what they want in the store - they took it literally that the "Customer is King"... but not always cause the store too have their right to ensure their stock are protected from destruction. Parents caught doing stuff like that mentioned in the letters ought to have their pictures taken with the damaged goods and posted all over the store as a warning to errant parents!!

bibliobibuli said...

chet, ted (and i'm sure _earth too) - nice of you to volunteer, i'm sure if renee drops by and sees this she'll give your offer serious consideration! bookshop vigilantes with sheriff's badges!

q - altered books - i guess the kids do their own altering! but seriously ... was going to ask you if you'd like to work with me on an altered books project ...

_earth - borders here doesn't wrap books and you can sit and free read all you want - this is why the last book i bought from borders was disgustingly sticky ... i honestly don't mind books being wrapped - i do ask for them to be unwrapped if i want to sample them and no bookshop minds that

eternal wanderer - good for you for giving the evil eye! i think a big part of the problem comes from parents leaving the kids to entertain themselves while they go shopping

The Visitor said...

adults are equally idiotic.

i'm sure, Sharon, that you've read my entry on lousy browsers. they stand around blocking the aisles, read books by putting the book on top of other books, and "buat bodoh" when you give them the evil stare.

and the bookstores can talk all they want, but i tell you, some of their own staff do not know how to respect books too.

i've seen, on more than one occasion, staff chucking books into shelves, literally throwing them with much force. and dropping books too. and the counter people aren't much better either. there have been times when i'm about to pay for a book, but the person at the counter damaged it by rughly putting it into the plastic bag and dog-earing the cover or something. then i'd tell them to get another copy.


Eric Forbes said...

As a serious book buyer I like my books in mint condition. I therefore prefer books that are shrinkwrapped. Sad to say, there are many Malaysians who do not know how to handle a book. Nowadays, adults and kids are all the same: irresponsible, rude and indisciplined. (That's why parenting books are doing so well. However, these books are really not effective either, seeing things as they are.) Believe it or not, some parents even teach their kids to shoplift!

lil ms d said...

i think it's because in general malaysians have no respect for public property. look at public phones and loos! plus we dont really have a reading culture here. it's mawi mawi mawi all the way.

you're talking about adults and kids in bookshops. ever tried lending books to friends? i have received my babies back in the most horrid manner! curry stains. *&^% notes scribbled. one book made the rounds among my tai-tai aunt's circuit (those women read ah?) and when i got it back it was sooooo dog eared i cried.

i only lend books to naa and kris. they're the only ones that know how books are to be treated.

and another thing - adults at bokshops. some of them have no sense of propriety. i was at kino once and this yuppie let out a silent fart.

that certainly saved me from spending a lot that day. choy.

shahrul said...

Hi Sharon, and everybody.

I'm the guy the who 'ID'ed during the Pay Less sale last Friday. Thank you for being so nice & polite.

Sometimes I wonder if bookstores ought to hire bouncers to scare some sense into the irresponsible browsers and corner them until they are willing to pay for the damages they or their children did. But seriously, people used to 'respect' bookstores as one of the good businesses, and books were treasured by their owners. I don't think people who genuinely loves books and reading and going to the library or bookstore would do these horrible things.

As lil ms d said, dog ears, curry stains, oil stains, scratches and such can be heart attack-inducing.


In an unrelated note, you did ask me to drop by and tell about what I took home from the sale. I'm only writing this to fulfill your request, not to brag or anything. I'm as well versed about books as monkeys are at building Boeings.

Letters to Julia by Barbara Ware Holmes. (For ages twelve up, just the age group I happen to be in. I came looking for books on writing and this is the closest thing I could find on that day, a novel about a teenage writer's budding friendship with an grieving editor through the letters they exchange with one another.)

A Crooked Heart by Anne Lamott (Sham said I'm going to love this. I hope she's right.)

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton (the trade paperback for RM3, hardcover for RM5. Hardcover wins, no contest.)

The Corrections, Johnathan Franzen (I think you took one home as well, right? You said I'm going to enjoy this and I also hope you're right.)

Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson (I was thinking of a friend who's a Patterson fan, but turns out he only likes Patterson when he's soaking the pages with bloody serial killers stories. Oh well.)

The Intrinsic Exerciser, Jay Kimiecik (a book on how to enjoy doing exercises. I got this for my relative who started her aerobics class recently. I saw a couple of those 'how to age gracefully' books, but I don't think they'll make the most appropriate gift for her.)

Like most people I talked to, I'm also happy with what I bought. It's my rezeki, or what God has put aside for me, for the day. To those who managed to get Orhan Pamuk, Julian Barnes, Richard Feynman and other reads I was scouring for (how did you all find them?), congratulations. I hope I'll be able to get my copy in the next sales.

The Visitor said...

hi Shahrul,

i didn't go to the sale. bought my Feynman from MPH Mid Valley.

bibliobibuli said...

visitor - yes, i think we both wrote about this before ... but staff not knowing how to handle books? that is unforgiveable

eric - yes, i'm a fan of wrapped books now ... didn't know about the parents teaching their kids to shoplift - really? ... it was funny that day i did the readings from scottish writers at the one-utama and read the bit from "trainspotting" about nicking books from bookshops and then selling them!

ms d- you could be right about the public property thing ... it's heart-breaking to have your favourite books defaced ... even worse to lose them altogether ... must write about book-borrowing etiquette another day ... your fart story is funny - if you try it on a warehouse sale you could get a clear run at the best books with no competition

shahrul - hi! it was great to meet you at the sale - you managed to get a good haul there, reziki indeed! i hope you do enjoy "the corrections" - it is a bit long and meandering and doens't quite tie up, but also true and very funny and beautifully written ... i think i need "the intrinsic exerciser" as i've lost all my gym going motivation ...

bouncers? i'm scared of kino's security guards who have told me off for sitting on the floor more than once ... those guys really do patrol

thegrouch said...

i like to read books at the carpeted kiddies section at kino and i'm afraid what nurindah and helpless bookworm write about is absolutely true. children do the most horrific things to books without their parents saying a word. i've seen books stomped, torn and flung about then left on the floor. sometimes i can't stand it anymore and hiss at the kids -- an act that usually stops them in their tracks. i just wish their parents would teach them to love and respect books, you know?

bibliobibuli said...

hiss? that sounds so sinister ...

animah said...

Just wondering if any of those who made comments are parents? It's very easy to take the moral high ground if you're not. Believe me, I've been there.
It takes a lot of patience to teach your children. Unfortunately many parents are too weary to persist when they are in shops. No, I am not condoning their actions. I try very hard with my daughter, and it was not easy in the days when she loved rearranging bookshelves. I remember Raman breathing down my neck when she did it at Silverfish. I was terrified! And now I'm a very strict-in-bookshop parent. Months later, Raman commented, "You have a very strong willed daughter".
I do notice that foreign kids treat books better - they have incredibly fierce mothers - noticed that?

Lydia Teh said...

Animah, I was just about to ask the question but you beat me to it.

There's a reason why parents aren't with their kids in the kids corner. They're at another section browsing. If you're not a parent, you won't understand the need to treat the kids corner as a babysitter. But I do agree that kids must be taught to treat books with care, especially those at the bookshops which don't belong to them until they've bought them.

I don't mind if someone were to admonish my kids if they catch them mishandling books, but gently please, not with threats of the bogeyman or policeman catching them. In fact, the evil eye treatment is good too. The eyes can be an effective reprimanding tool, if used correctly, and this method also will not rile over-defensive parents who might otherwise overhear a verbal reprimand.

bibliobibuli said...

really what is needed is a corner where there are books that the kids can mess about with and a nice aunty figure to keep an eye ... the parents can browse, the kids can have fun, and the stock on the shelves doesn't get destroyed

boo_licious said...

I agree on the shrink wrapping too as I hate my bks to be damaged when I buy them. I don't know why people have a problem with it as I usually get the staff to take it out for me while I browse on the counter. If I don't like it, I just hand it back to them.

It's sad how our society abuses what is given to them - not only bks but also public areas. I've not seen kids abusing bks since I don't hang out at the kids section but once I did see an adult take out the plastic wrapper for a cookbook at MPH 1 Utama. Gave her dagger stares but she was too thick skinned to notice.

Chet said...

Hey, Sharon, excellent suggestion about the kids' corner. I was wondering what happens to the books that are destroyed by kids. Maybe they can be put in such a corner, and maybe activities can be held here to help the kids learn to love books and handle them with care. E.g., book repairing sessions using the books the kids have damaged!