When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with books. My parents, themselves voracious readers, fed my addiction as well as any enablers could. They took me to the library every chance they got, and for birthdays and Christmases they plied me with as many books as I could carry. I’m now an adult, the holder of a Master’s Degree in English from UConn, and I still consider books to be the best possible gift you can give someone – what better way to show someone you care than to give them an entire world to get lost in?
Two years ago, I snagged what I considered a dream job – I became a bookseller at the University of Connecticut bookstore. I’d already worked at the Co-op once before, as a student in 2006, but this was different. This would be working in an independent general bookstore, surrounded by likeminded people. I would be helping coordinate the annual Children’s Book Fair, an event that has seen the likes of Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona), Ann M. Martin (The Babysitter’s Club), and Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). I would be helping other people discover new favorites and old classics. I would spend my days constantly surrounded by books in one of the few bastions of independent, cooperative bookstores in a state that has seen so many college bookstores lose their identities to corporate takeovers. And for two years, my job has been pretty much perfect, and my house is practically clogged with Advance Reader Editions of books that haven’t even come out yet. In addition, I’ve bought countless books for my Dad because he loves having a daughter work at an independent bookstore, so he can bug her for hours about whether or not the new Cormoran Strike novel has come out in the U.S. yet.
Now, that job and the jobs of many others are going to be dramatically impacted.
The University of Connecticut is strongly considering selling the UConn Co-op to an outside corporation such as Barnes and Noble. While I understand the business practicalities of such a maneuver – and universities are increasingly run like businesses – I cannot in good faith let such an egregious decision go by unnoticed. Here are some of the consequences that would accrue from letting the Co-op go corporate:
- Loss of the textbook price comparison software
- Textbooks won’t be available all year long (most likely, on a first-come, first-served basis)
- Textbook buyback payouts will decrease
- A cutback in student jobs
- Layoffs of the current Co-op full-time staff
- Decrease of student support services (such as tech repair, shipping services, Apple computer support, orientation packages, graduation ticket sales, bus ticket sales, and, much, much more)
- Less support of student organizations
- Loss of the student voice in the governance of the bookstore
- No more Secret Sales
- Less student supplies available (such as school supplies, art materials, and housing essentials)
On top of these, we will also probably lose our in-house buyers, which is a major reason why we are so beloved by our community. We would go from having someone on the premises who knows our stock inside and out, to a satellite entity who doesn’t know anything about what our community and store-goers want or need.
The reason why so many people love the UConn Co-op and the UConn Bookstore at Storrs Center is the personal relationship they have with our buyers and the personal commitment we all have to this university and, more importantly, to this community of Storrs/Mansfield. I have had several people say to me that if the Co-op goes corporate, they will no longer purchase from us and will take their business online. That is a profound loss of business, but more importantly, it is a loss of heart.
The positive changes UConn has undergone in the decade-plus since I first arrived as a college freshman to its campus are staggering. We pride ourselves on being the best, in both the state and the country. We are consistently at the top of lists that exalt our research capabilities, the advances we make in technology, and the ways in which we make money for the state. Heck, we were chosen above Yale to display the Shakespeare folio! Not only that, but obviously, this issue is a deeply personal one for me and not in the way you might expect. I got two degrees from UConn, I teach at UConn, and I work part-time at UConn. I don’t do this because of my personal connection to the University as Geno’s daughter. I do this because I have a deep love for this community and what it represents. To me, UConn is more than a campus. It is a second home. I’ve been going to the UConn Co-op since its first big location next to the Homer Babbidge Library, and what always made me love it (and buy TONS of books from it) were the passionate people who worked there. My former boss, Suzy Staubach, worked here for 40 years and was instrumental in building the business model that you see today – one that thrives on personal connections to everyone that comes into the store, and one that seeks to create interpersonal communities sot hat the UConn campus becomes united. A corporate entity would, ultimately, destroy those fragile bonds, cut jobs, and ruin what makes the Co-Op so special, all for the sake of turning a profit.
Let’s show the other colleges that there’s a reason our bookstores are so successful in the independent model. We have a chance to do something different. To do something bold. To go against the grain.
Because that is what makes us unique. That, to me, is what makes us UConn Country.
PS. If you’d like to sign the petition to #savetheCoop, go here: https://www.change.org/p/dannel-malloy-alan-calandro-eliza-conrad-patti-fazio-michael-george-robert-hasenfratz-michael-kirk-kyle-muncy-sally-reis-susan-herbst-martha-bedard-save-the-uconn-co-op?recruiter=false&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink