Saturday, April 23, 2005
Our campus bookstore
has been nominated for a Libris Award by the Canadian Bookseller’s Association in the category of “Campus Bookseller of the Year 2005.” They are up against some big players — the UofT bookstore, which has won often enough, from the looks of it, and the University of Western Ontario bookstore, which has been nominated before. The criteria are:
To a university or college campus bookstore in recognition of excellence in book retailing. Based on the standard of store fitting; range of stock relative to store size; helpfulness and knowledge of staff; overall store atmosphere; customer service and new initiatives; buying judgement.
I have been to the UofT bookstore, and often, in many of its incarnations; I did my undergraduate degree there and lived in Toronto for twenty years. It is a fine bookstore. I’m sure that the bookstore at Western is also very fine. These are two large and well-endowed universities; they each need, and can support, an impressive bookstore.
At UNBSJ we have a small bookstore. A very small bookstore. But filled to the brim, with an astonishing variety of excellent books. Pat Joas, the manager, is a reader you see, a reader first, and her enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of the rest of the staff, is evident in every tightly packed shelf, every pile of signed books by the authors who make up our reading series — in which the bookstore plays an integral role — and in the fact that though they are crying for space, they still manage to have a credible range of new and established books in a good range of academic fields, as well as in areas of general interest. And the children’s books! You would think, in a store so pressed for space, that they would focus on required textbooks, some bestsellers by the cash register, sparkly pens, and the usual regalia. And these things are there, along with a very fine selection of children’s books — real books, not licensed ones — and a marvellous array of novels, stories, and poetry. Yes, poetry, piles of it. And people buy it; we have a loyal following for the reading series and an enthusiastic core of student poets.
All of this is possible because our bookstore is independently run. It is not “managed”; it follows the books, not the bottom line. It is a rare and precious thing, as a reader to my blog commented, particularly in this age of the megastore and the chains. Of rationalized campuses. I — we — feel very protective of it. I want it to win the award, but part of me is afraid that if it does, some marketing genius will notice its success — like the baleful eye of Mordor, turned on little Frodo — and decide that it can be EVEN BETTER if only it is “professionalized.”
It could not be better. Bigger, yes. But not better.
[cross-posted to my blog]
I’ve heard “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”, and I believe it’s deeply and dangerously wrong. The right approach is, “You can’t manage what you can’t perceive”.