Oh, the Agony

Josie Leavitt - May 18, 2009

This is a quick post. I’d write more, but I still have a headache from hitting myself in the head with my own hand trying to recycle a Baker and Taylor box. 

The glue, all that glue, leaves me wondering why. Glue on cardboard, glue in the box. Why is it necessary to have enough glue on the box to require two people to tear it apart? Why is there so much glue you can’t reuse the box without leaving the plastic shrinkwrap crumbled on the bottom of the box?

I think of myself as moderately strong, but for the life of me, these boxes are my Achilles heel. I was alone in the store today and thought to myself, "Oh, I can break down this box. Surely I can." Well, after two carpal tunnel surgeries my hands are not as strong as I think they are. I placed my hand on the teeniest part of the corner I could poke up, as I readied to pull with all my might, my hand slipped with great force, and landed right on my face. I punched myself in the face. Seriously, I punched myself in the face. I went to a Quaker school for twelve years, I’ve never been punched — by anyone. It was embarrassing, but it was the agony that actually had me reaching for a bag of frozen peas to suppress the welt growing on my head. I want to save the planet and do my part to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but not at my own peril.

It’s funny actually, that since Baker and Taylor changed its box systems there have been fewer damaged books, but more hurt booksellers.

So, Baker and Taylor: this is for you: Less glue, please. I like my face.

12 thoughts on “Oh, the Agony

  1. Ellen Mager

    Josie, I don’t have strength in my hands so I stopped trying to break down those boxes! I wait for my students or if a man comes in, I’ve asked them and it’s been a struggle for them! I also hate how the shrink wrap, which does protect the books, is glued to the bottom of the box ARG!! My worst problem is the books that are exactly the size of the box, with no protective liner, are constantly dinged, covers torn. This last year has veen the WORST for damage!

  2. Kat B

    I do not mean at all to sound snarky, but when I did my stint in a bookstore, we used a box cutter and just sliced it up. Could that help? And, if it’s any consolation, I blacked my eye cleaning my bird’s cage this weekend. It happens

  3. J.D. Smith

    I am glad that you gave peas a chance. More importantly, ow. There must be some lever-based smashing technology out there as there is for aluminum cans.

  4. JL

    Besides WOUNDING ONESELF (which has happened to everyone on my staff), the biggest problem as I see it is that it is impossible to break down the box (so, you know, it can FIT SOMEWHERE) and then re-use it. We reuse all our boxes – whether to store things, pack returns, ship books from one store location to another, or sometimes give to neighbors when they ask… all except the stupid B&T boxes, which are just useless. I’m driven mad by these boxes. I was told by the B&T people that their new “automated everything” system would reduce damages, etc. Well, newsflash, Ingram has normal boxes, and they also have the least damages of any distributor that I’ve seen. WHY? Probably because they don’t use MACHINES to pack the boxes, they use PEOPLE, with EYES, who personally wrap the stuff up. I have to say, B&T fulfillment rate has gotten better over recent years, but there is a reason I go to them last when buying.

  5. Laural

    Hi There – I vote for the box cutter too…that’s what I use! Sorry for your injury though. My embarassing moments tend to be when I bend down to pick up something under some plastic slatwall display, stand up and bean myself. No wonder bookstore workers comp rates are so high…lol

  6. Carol Chittenden

    We gave up on all that years ago. We simply put out a box near our front door (except on rainy days) that says GOOD CLEAN BOXES FREE. ASK INSIDE. For the most part we maintain a pretty good equilibrium between supply and demand, and if things get out of hand we zip the surplus down to the local mailing service, which never declines them.


    I don’t really have anything productive to add, just that this story made me laugh. And I call that a good start to the day. Hope your face feels better. Oh, and sometimes carpal tunnel pains come from tight forearm muscles. Treat the trigger points in your forearm, or better yet, book a therapeutic massage somewhere and get your arms/shoulders/neck worked on. That might help relieve future pains.

  8. Beth

    I hate the Baker & Taylor boxes!!! By the time we get the glued plastic wrap out of them, there is nothing left on the bottom to leave it strong enough to use again. Or if you can’t get the glued stuff out, whatever you put in it gets stuck on the bottom. They are just terrible and I’ve had more damaged, ripped, torn, etc. books than ever before. I hope Baker & Taylor reads this although they always have an excuse.

  9. T

    I hate BT boxes, too. (I recycle all my boxes and the local recycler does not like them either.) One reason I also go there last – and I am happy to report I have not placed a single order with BT this year…and have not lost any business due to that fact. There are other reasons, of course, but the box thing is big on the list!

  10. Josie Leavitt

    I would just like to take a moment to add one thing: I am very happy with Baker and Taylor. While I might grapple with their boxes, their fill rate is excellent and the books are seldom damaged (especially since they figured out some of the kinks in the new box system) And they tend to have the oddball special orders that no one else does.

  11. shelftalker elizabeth

    One more thing: those of you who don’t know Josie’s other life as stand-up comedian and humor columnist may not realize there’s a mathematical formula necessary for reading her columns: blog post – (humorous embellishment + exaggeration) = something approximating truth. *grin*

  12. sue

    We gnash our teeth over those boxes, too! Even the younger staff without arthritic fingers have a tough time. Our box cutter only goes so far! We do try to reuse the boxes, though. We have learned to step one foot inside the box and use the other foot to push out the end. Reverse feet and ends. That works with a minimum of pain! Especially if you emit a low groan at the same time!


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