The End of Civilization As We Know It

I dropped into Borders the book store on Friday afternoon. Borders in the UK seems to be going bust and is having a closing down sale. It was an extraordinary and horrible scene in the shop in Buchannan Street in Glasgow. A major book store closing down just before Christmas was inevitably going attract the hoards. I picked up a few books from amongst the melee yet got no pleasure from it. I’d rather have a good bookshop than get a one off discount on a couple of novels and a computer book or two.

Major chains disappearing from the High Street always has shock value. There was a great deal of sentiment laid at Woollies’ doors before they all closed. With Borders though it seemed to be the end of something other than a business.

I looked around and wondered whether it was indeed the End of Civilization As We Know It. I’ve a feeling that the large bookshop kind of operation just may not be viable any longer. I suspect that we are going to have to learn to buy our packaged wisdom in different ways. That will mean learning to browse in different ways, getting it in different packages and probably relying on more social ways of learning about knowledge.

I remember when I first started writing book reviews for The Episcopalian (in the days before inspires). One thing that really shocked me was when people told me that they had bought some book or another on the basis of a review I’d written. Someone I has been too stupid to realise that the reason why the publishers put free copies in the hands of reviewers is because they respect the difference that a good (or, obviously, a bad) review can make to actual sales.

A few years on, I’ve grown just a little cynical at what is being repackaged constantly and served up in the Christian Book market. I’m sorry for all those in the book trade whose livelihoods depend on bookshops at this worrying time, yet I know that I feel that the trouble Borders is in is of far greater cultural significance than that of Wesley Owen.

I suspect that in the future, people will rely on book reviews more than they have done previously in chosing their reading matter and I think those book reviews will not be in the usual places. They will be on blogs, twitter, facebook and communicated through ever more cunning marketing campaigns that we don’t see creeping up on us.

The death of Borders is not the End of Civilization, but it is the End of Civilization As We Know It.


  1. This is disaster. What will I do on my day off??

    I may have to consider returning to America after all.

  2. marion says

    I worked for Border Books for 10 months Kelvin. Helped clean and stock those now empty shelves. To see the store like that is awful. I love the feel and smell of a new book, and the idea of using an electronic book fills me with horror. To browse slowly, and then to make my choice of reading material is so much better and satisfying than ordering on line, and quicker.

  3. I suspect we must cherish our public libraries far more than we have done hitherto if we wish to retain the browsing experience.

  4. I have tried to cherish my public library, but it is so full of computers, and the only place to read/write/ think is a round table by the door, so I had to retreat to the Beanscene instead.

    For those of us who don’t live near the Mitchell, where are the good ‘local’ libraries?

  5. Kelvin says

    Well, I know I am spoilt by having the largest public reference library in Europe on my doorstep.

    What I meant by cherishing local libraries was probably that we need to tell those who fund them what we want from them.

    There is a consultation going on in England about it, and Rachel Cooke writes about it in a recent Observer.

  6. The closure of the Glasgow branch is sad news indeed. The Fort Kinnaird branch in Edinburgh has been declining for a while, but even a year or so ago Borders in Glasgow was a great bookstore.

    Apparently Borders has been starved of funds over the past few years, forced to promote potboilers to make up for lack of investment. There’s some hope for good high street book stores if you look at Blackwells in Edinburgh, which I think has got even better in the last couple of years. And, further afield, Foyles in London: they refurbished recently and it’s just fantastic. Models for the future, hopefully.

  7. I agree that Foyles’s refurbishment is a triumph. Howevrer, I still think that the idea of the big bookshop is probably going to be so rare that it will be like Wembley Stadium or Edinburgh Zoo. Of national note rather than local significance.

  8. Rosemary Hannah says

    The noise level in my local library is such that I cannot think at all – and I’m used to a noisy family around me. In Borders today – incredibly depressing. It was so so much better than Waterstones. But Waterstones is better than nothing. But then again, I use Glasgow University Library more than anything else.

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