There’s good news and bad news regarding technical bookstores here in Seattle. Bad news first.

Barnes and Noble: bad

The University Village Barnes and Noble has reorganized their technical department, and it is now essentially impossible to browse. Most of the computer-related books are in a single section called “Programming”, which is arranged by author. That’s about as dumb as arranging the “Travel” section by author, which I doubt would ever happen. So now, unless you know exactly what book you’re looking for, your only browsing option is to examine every book in the section to see if it’s relevant to your interests. And if you already know what book you want, wouldn’t you just buy it online?

I heard from a B&N employee that they’ve been eliminating “lead” positions, which are employees dedicated to a single section of the store. The result is this generic filing system that can be maintained by whatever staff is assigned to the department on a given day. While I’m sure this saves on payroll, it has the unfortunate effect of rendering in-person visits to the department almost pointless.

Perhaps it’s B&N’s strategy to remove reasons to go to their physical stores, thus driving sales to bn.com. Unfortunately, there’s another online bookstore that has better prices, recommendations, and service.

Ada’s Books: good

In happier news, a new technical bookstore, Ada’s Books, has recently opened in Capitol Hill. This is the kind of bookstore I love: a small place where all the books are good. It feels like someone who knows technology is choosing and organizing the books. In other words, the exact opposite of Barnes and Noble!

I also love when bookstores mix new and used books on the shelves, and Ada’s does this nicely. Alongside the latest hacker manuals you will find Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics. A book on 802.11 networking is shelved with a U.S. Navy Radar School textbook from the 1940’s. If you’re interested in the history of technology as well as what happened last week, this is how it should be.

There are also comfy chairs, a public restroom, author readings, and friendly staff. What more could you want? Coffee? Joe Bar is right around the corner (try the crêpes).

They tell me it’s a coincidence, but their close proximity to Metrix Create:Space will surely help sales. Nevertheless, in the current economic climate, I hate to predict how long Ada’s Books or any other small independent bookstore will survive. I’m doing my part by throwing money at them, and recommend you do the same.


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