The Order to Borders

The way a bookstore is laid out tells the customer a lot about the store or company owner and its values. Some bookstores, such as Borders, have lots of space between their shelves to make it easy for the customers to walk and find what they are looking for with ease. The shelves are clearly labeled with their designated section titles. In Borders, the books are arranged by author and title. By ordering a bookstore this way it allows the customer to search for whatever they are looking for with little to no help from the bookstore staff.

The Borders in Ann Arbor was two floors. All books were clearly marked—categorized and shelved in alphabetical order. Large signs helped customers locate books of their interest or the DVD’s and music they were looking for. Many bookstores have different ways of arranging their shelves and not all of them look exactly the same. Most bookstores use signs to indicate the section categories, but the amount of space between the shelves differ. Some line the walls with shelves, while others take a large amount of space and fill the floor with stand-up bookshelves like Borders did. In the picture below you can see how the shelves line up on the floor. The amount of books in this store does not overwhelm the person that looks at this photo. It is very organized and the positioning of the shelves gives the store aisles like those of a supermarket. The section labels cannot be seen in this photo as it was taken from a distance, but the space and organization allows the consumer to navigate this very large store with ease.

This particular Borders store has an ample amount of space, which most smaller-scale bookstores do not have. The space allows the store to contain massive quantities of books without the problem of shelf limitations. That being said, the store owners still have to select the titles and authors they wish to sell. The space enables more of a selection, but it still would not be able to carry every book ever created.

I have made a very simple floor plan of this Borders. It is not accurate, but it is meant to show how the store utilizes the space it has, how it enables the customer to walk through the store without being overwhelmed by the quantity of books, and it shows which sections have their own separate rooms.


Due to a technological issue the tags I have put on the boxes above are not working. For the full image the link to the floorplan with tags is here: The two sections that have their own rooms are the the Children’s section where the multimedia is held and the Family Issues and Teachers references. The title “Family Issues” contains many controversial works which are kept among the teacher’s references. Teachers are the ones that are probably most interested in the controversial works, as they are usually the ones to teach banned books.

In Tim Cresswell’s “A Defining Place” he discusses the quote “[there is] a place for everything and everything [is] in its place” (Cresswell 2). This is essentially what a bookstore is. Every book, especially in a chain bookstore like Borders, has a place on a shelf that is categorized and alphabetized. “[The phrase a place for everything and everything in its place] suggests that there are particular ordering of things in the world” (Cresswell 2). He is correct in making this assumption because even in our own lives, with the way we keep our bedrooms, dorm rooms, houses, etc. we have a way of keeping things. Even when our possessions are in disarray, we tend to know where they are. Disarray is still technically an order. If our possessions had a place before and they are out of place an order is still technically kept. But when we think about space we tend to think about it in terms of how much room we have to keep our possessions in a particular type of order. The two  things cannot be easily separated. In terms of a bookstore the space dictates how many books the bookstore can hold. But the way that the books are arranged within the limited space is of great importance to the store owners and the consumers.

“Space […] has been seen in distinction to place as a realm without meaning– as a ‘fact of life’ which, like time, produces the basic coordinates for human life. When humans invest meaning in a portion of space and then become attached to it in some way (naming is one such way} it becomes a place” (Cresswell 10). What Cresswell is saying here is that humans create meaning by forming an emotional and or physical attachment to a space. Essentially what Cresswell’s argument boils down to is that if a storefront doesn’t have anything for sale the empty storefront is a space– an open area. The books, music, and movies that Borders Bookstore was selling made it a place for people to go. People formed attachments to the merchandise that was sold and it thus became an important place to the people of Ann Arbor.

The fact that this space was transformed with bookshelves and books among music, coffee, movies, and small places to sit made this bookstore more like a house. People came to congregate in places like Borders because it provided comfort and enjoyment. The “stuff”, the merchandise and all that Borders sold made people feel welcome and made it a place for everybody. Without the objects or the merchandise a store wouldn’t really be a store at all. The books, music, movies, and the coffee bar made Borders precisely what everybody wanted it to be. It was somewhere to shop for wants and needs- a place where people could feel like they were at home. They kept large spaces between the bookshelves and made the store large enough so that people could feel comfortable. The organization of everything only added to the comfort by enabling the consumers to find what they were looking for without the help of a store clerk or the store owner. Borders tried its very best to allow its customers to feel comfortable alone amidst the bookshelves within the space the store provided.


Cresswell, Tim “A Defining Place”

Influenced by:

Borders in Ann Arbor: It’s All About Subjects – University of MI