Saturday, March 20, 2010

Finding your Faith(not mine)

Yesterday I went to a local bookstore to see what I could find. I always find more than I have money for, Isn't that the case with most bookstores? Anyway, as I was walking by a display table the wording on it caught my eye. Find your Faith! I walked over hoping I might find a good book on religions for the girls. Imagine my surprise(not) when I found only one religion featured. With all the books on faith/religion in that store the only one represented was Christianity. Makes me wonder what the table would have looked like if a Muslim, Pagan, Islam, or Atheist practitioner had put it together. I have noticed a lot lately that bookstores and a few other businesses tend to separate christanity from other religions or only carry christian decorations (I am a bit slow sometimes). Bookstores have a christian section and then a religions section with Paganism hidden over in the New Age(oldest religion around put in the new age?) Makes me wonder who decides what is ordered, who decides how it is displayed and if their own faith has anything to do with it. Would I have the same problem if I were in the same position? I would hope not, I hope I would try to be fair and put a good representation of all belief systems on the table. I haven't decided if I will speak up to this bookstore or not,knowing me I probably will, and I do understand that businesses need to pander to the majority. Can't they at least try to be a little more open? I would ask them if they are going to carry religious items in a non religious store then put out a good representation of several religions and acknowledge other holidays not just Christian or Jewish ones. There are more of us out here than you realize and our voices are starting to get louder!


Aleta said...

We live in the bible belt, like deep in the bible belt. The community response to stuff is what drives the store managers and what not to set it up like this. However, most pagan stuff in any state I have been in has been in the 'new age' section. Most people don't even know what it is to know it's a religion though I think of it as more a spiritual journay. I consider religion to be a supression of the masses because that is what most religion is. Spiritual ideals and beliefs are entirely different.

The Mommy said...

I also live in the bible belt, and our local library actually had all (it was a pretty small selection) the pagan and occult books behind the counter instead of on the shelves, forcing patrons to ask for them. They originally said that they had the policy because many of those books were stolen from the library on a regular basis, but when asked how someone could steal a book out of the library with their fairly advanced alarm systems in place, one librarian admitted that it was because many of the people in the community found those books to be inappropriate, and some of the library's donators had threatened to stop giving the library funds if those books were left on the shelves. The library recently got a grant to demonstrate how many books have been banned and burned in the past, and this display prompted them to return those books to the shelves. Then, we had an anonymous benefactor donate a huge collection of pagan and occult works to the library! What a blessing...

I think that this kind of selective persecution of other religious beliefs is pervasive. Only with us speaking out against it and requesting equal treatment will this change, and that will be a gradual change at that. Although these kinds of things fill me with frustration and anger, I believe that going forward with love and respect for all faiths is the only way to change things. By starting out a conversation with something like "The christian faith is a beautiful religion, bringing so much joy and gladness to it's believers, but my faith is different. Your display regarding "Finding your faith" is misleading to patrons of your book store like myself that believe differently. May I ask why you only have one religion represented here?" Asking questions, without demanding answers, and then gently suggesting a different title for their display or a different method of categorizing their books would be an excellent way to begin change in someone's heart without introducing harm or contention.

Tbeth said...

That's a lame display, I agree! Which bookstore? As for how books are ordered, I used to manage an indie bookstore and was responsible for most of our weekly stock orders as well as some of the catalogue orders for new releases. We, the staff and the owner, ordered to our taste and to the customer's tastes and to what the publishing co. sales reps tipped us off to as likely being hot sellers.

Since I was (am) and Earth Spiritualist, I definitely ordered great stuff for a healthy section of "new age" materials and this attracted customers and opened up dialogue about what else they would like to see in the store. I definitely asked for and used their input in my ordering. I also listened to feedback from our Christian customers about what they loved in that genre of books, especially since I didn't know, first hand.

So, customer feedback in an indie bookstore is -very- important.

In the chain stores, there's less in-house ordering... most of the time, their stock is ordered by a regional buyer who may not be local. The communication gap between customer --> local store --> regional buyer is, of course, a lot wider and the messages don't relay as well, though you might be able to find out how to directly contact the store's regional buying office and put through feedback. They often work more from sales numbers and publisher numbers, though, than direct customer verbal feedback.

This is something to consider when paying that higher price at an indy... in a way, you're paying to support that opportunity to have a more direct relationship with your bookseller... and it can be a really nice relationship! I loved the conversations I had and the friends I made with our regular customers. And the better and more personally they were treated, the more often they became regulars, so it was a nice mutual loop. When ya can, buy indie. It's like the farmer's market... better if you can communicate more directly with the person growing your food (or buying the stock for the store).

Of course, if you're buying from an indie where the owner and/or the staff who buys books or relays customer feedback are all religious in an exclusive way, you may not get very far... so find the indies with open minded owners and you'll get even farther. :) Nightbird Books, here local to us, has great stock and wouldn't bat an eye at buying Pagan books. I've seen some great book displays there, that prove it. :)

Thanks for blogging! I love reading about your thoughts and experiences!

Tbeth said...

Oh, and on the subject of store shelf arrangement - putting Pagan religion and such in the New Age section vs. with the other religious books... I get what you're saying about how that's ironic, considering the roots of much of what's available for Pagan practice run deeper than "new," but one way to look at it is that we are experiencing a "new" revival, a new age and era of interest in these paths, that was hidden away for a while, suppressed/oppressed.

An indie booksellers has more choice about where to place books, while a chain store usually has a shelf layout predetermined by their corporate bosses. You can definitely read some political/cultural stuff into how a bookstore is categorized and laid out, that's for sure! :)

So, there's that... but there's also the logistics of customer browsing comfort. I experimented with different store layouts, in part thinking about what you're posting about, so at one point I had our Christian religious books near our "New Age/Pagan" section for a while, and our Pagan customers complained. They felt uncomfortable and exposed browsing next to people who would often give them strange and judgmental looks (and they might have been giving them looks, themselves!).

Typically, they liked the New Age section best when it was placed near the sci-fi/fantasy section... there was just often overlap in taste and interest, there. And they felt more comfie when the section was tucked away a little, not out in the main traffic areas of the store. This has a lot to do with the social stigma, but I felt it was better that they feel comfortable to browse in peace and explore that section than for me to try to force them out in the open in order to legitimize the section as more mainstream. All that accomplished was losing a lot of our customers for that section till it went back to a little more privacy! :)

You know what was most difficult was finding best placement of other non-Christian religious books, not necessarily earth spirituality based, but Eastern religions and such. They ended up doing best kind of on the fringe of self-help, meditation style, holistic health books, because there was often overlapping interest in the customer base for those sections.

It's an interesting process, figuring out bookstore layout... very different from library layout and all based, not so much on politics, as on correlating sales and customer interests among the various categories of books. Of course, customer sales and interests are stemming from culture and politics, so that's why we can see it bookstore layouts... but I don't think that's what motivates most booksellers in the layout of their store... it's the sales numbers, bottom line. :)

Tbeth said...

All that said (and please pardon all my typos!), I would encourage you to give customer feedback about the lopsided display. Since it all boils down to customer service and sales dollars, what you have to say weighs in.. more heavily at your local indy store, granted, but sometimes it can trickle up the food chain at chain stores, too. :)

Tbeth said...

Oh, and pardon me blowing up your post comments, but I want to add that I love "The Mommy"'s suggestions about giving feedback in a constructive way... suggesting a different display title or representing other religions, asking questions, etc.