when is a university bookstore not a university bookstore?

… answers on a postcard to the usual competition address … In the meantime, here is the solution offered by my local one. I was so annoyed by this whole business–business-barbarism, pointlessness, linguistic abuses–that I did a Mrs Trellis and wrote in. Correspondence follows below. Identities have been anonymised to protect the innocent/PR bystanders/fall-guys/scapegoats.

UPDATE (2011-07-14): see also more on the university bookstore business

2011-07-11, 10:42 a.m.:

To: Members of the U.. Community

We are contacting you to keep you updated on business developments at the U.. Bookstore.

Since 1917, the U.. Bookstore has been the supplier of course materials to the U.. campus community. Along with the core academic books, the variety and selection of merchandise and services offered by the Bookstore have increased significantly, and most dramatically over the past 30 years. For example, we are the home to the U..carding office and IT Help Services desk, as well as being the second largest reseller of Apple in the Lower Mainland. Indeed, books (including course materials, general (non-course) and medical books) now comprise less than 50 per cent of sales in our store and are declining.

In order to continue to grow, thrive and serve the U.. community as we have always done, we require a name that does not restrain the organization by limiting product or service offering. It is with this in mind that we decided to review our name and brand.

After a long consultation process, input from Public Affairs and approval from the senior executive team at U.., we have agreed that our name will be changed to: U.. Central.

Continuing to link our name with U.. is fundamental. U.. Central reflects how we are a first point of entry for students for course materials and the U..card, and how our store’s products and services are key to the U.. experience.

While we lose the term ‘book’ within our name, our passion for academia and knowledge continue to be a mainstay of our work and fundamental to our ongoing relationship with Faculty and Students. U.. Bookstore will remain an integral part of U..; we are not being privatized or sold.

For more information and to answers to frequently asked questions, please visit: http://www.bookstore… You can also send us feedback at: feedback@mail.bookstore

Yours sincerely,

Managing Director
University Community Services


2011-07-11, 11:15 a.m.

Dear Sirs,

Might it not be possible to retain some part of the name that indicates that this isn’t just any old business, but one with links to a university and to what a university does? In the current marketplace, that’s a unique selling point. I should add that “Bookstore” is a perfectly standard name for university bookstores, used everywhere I’ve been in the UK, US, Belgium, France, and indeed here in Canada, in Toronto and Quebec.

If it absolutely must go (why, and why now, and at what cost to PR firms, I do wonder): the word “book” could be replaced by something like “knowledge” without making you look too “bookish.” If, indeed, that term now has anything other than positive connotations… though people outside business marketing might dispute this; e-books still have “book” in the name, and e-readers still involve “reading.”

Other suggestions, if moving away from an association with physical books but retaining a strong connection to knowledge: academe, academical, scholarly, scholastic, (and lexical correlates)–eventually other terms related to knowledge, such as episteme. Those terms, and “knowledge,” include computers and other electronics, which are obviously a large and growing part of the business.

“Central” has the unfortunate ring of a train station, and little association with what the U.. Bookstore actually does. For a more general term that’s informative, why not just use “store” (minus the book)? Especially if books, their electronic extensions, and serving the needs of those who use them (including, of course, students…) has become of such secondary importance. The card-issuing office occupies little space; every time I’ve been in (which is fairly frequently), what strikes me is the quantity and prime location of floor-space dedicated to clothing and tourist souvenir merchandise. Is the real issue not that non-book (and non-IT: thus, non-knowledge-related) merchandise is a/the major focus for the business? And therefore there’s a perceived need to rename and rebrand the store, so as to make it even more enticing to customers for that kind of merchandise?

Yours etc.,

Juliet O’Brien


2011-07-11, 5:04 p.m.

Dear Juliet,

Many thanks for your feedback. We appreciate the time you have taken to read the informational email sent out this morning.

We would like to address your concerns

Firstly, it was imperative that we retain U.. within our name, so we are clearly linked to the university.

Furthermore, we have consulted the largest North American university bookstores with whom we work closely and who are also reviewing their names to reflect the breadth and depth of product and service offerings. We have provided a range of service and products for many years, yet, we know through research that those new to campus have no idea what we offer, and some even refer to us as the Library.

We did not engage an external Public Relations firm, but worked with Bookstore staff and received input from across campus including the Bookstore’s advisory committee’s (the V place and the O place), heads of academic units, students, Public Affairs and of course, the Univeristy’s Executive Committee.

With regards to the name ‘Central’, we too likened it to a train station, but for us this is the centre of a community, which enables its customers to move in any direction they please and it is the centre of a community geographically, as we are. With regards to the term ‘store’, this does indeed speak to retail and products, but it does not include the range of services we provide such as a Café, IT Help Desk, U..card and the U-Pass distribution centres.

U.. Bookstore is the second largest bookstore in Canada, however, we have experienced, like other book stores a significant decline in the sale of general books. The name change is not linked to the decline in books as we are continuing to invest in the choices and pricing of course materials we offer and in improving the way that faculty can order from us, but it does enable us to grow our business and continue to give back to U..

The note sent out was a summary of the longer letter, which may provide you with further insight. In addition, there is also an FAQ:


I hope this helps clarify our future direction.

Thank you again for your input.

With best wishes,


2011-07-12, 9:48 a.m.

[I sighed. Had some coffee. Decided to take the path of courteous withdrawal. Different language, different culture, communication doomed to failure. Some battles have to be–not lost; resigned.]

Dear …,

Many thanks for your response, and for its speed and efficacy. I do hope this all works out for you, and that, in the end, the name change makes no practical difference–for all one can do now is hope for the best. I speak as someone who worked in the book trade for some years; my worries are not purely in reaction against crass philistinism, but have some basis in how the business has worked over the last twenty years.

I shall, of course, continue to use the Bookstore for ordering course materials, and for my own computing and (some) book purchases. It would be petty and churlish not to.

Best wishes,



Colleagues: over to you.

I’ve worked in two bookstores that used to be world-class–Heffers, Cambridge (f. 1876); Hodges Figgis, Dublin (f. 1768)–and that failed (that is: were conquered and barbarized); and part of their failure was due to rebranding themselves as non-book-merchandise emporia. No long-term vision. No foresight. No caring about what they did, and how they did it differently. Let alone about how what they were doing was IMPORTANT dammit.

Meantime, some happy summer reading, to keep one’s spirits up, in such dire barbarous times–nothing like The Classics:

  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • Octavia E.Butler, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents
  • Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Terry Pratchett, The Bromeliad Trilogy–and if you haven’t yet done so, you O gentle sweet reader are encouraged in the strongest possible terms to read the Discworld novels!!!
  • Neal Stephenson, Anathem.

Perhaps we should all set these on our syllabi next year, and demand that they be kept in regular stock, as an act of protest.

A paradox: the perils of reading vs. the persistence of the book. Dante, Inferno: Canto V.


  1. a compelling appeal to reason, grace, justice. even so, the Running Dogs win another round. so it goes. 🙂

  2. Mike, yes indeed…
    Am also tempted to set students some sorts of research exercises in the b***store, though–several smallish hit-squads at a time–to dissect the un-b***ishness of the place, with the firm instruction to do so while talking about what they’re doing out loud (as they’ll have to record it–just audio, or full vid on smartphone).
    Entirely appropriate: one of my courses will include the shift from manuscript to print–so it’s appropriate to be working on b***ishness, literacy, literariness–and another is on the topic of INTRIGUE. Heh.
    If enough people did this on their courses, staged at regular intervals through the year, this might be interesting. Pass the baton to grad students in the summer (and an incentive for some of them to stay here and do some work…).
    At least, it would make *me* happier. Which can’t be a bad thing 🙂

  3. ‘The knowledge shop’ hardly does it … unless you add red lightbulbs and chaises longues.

    Maybe you could hold an alternative protest in which you have a ceremonial burning of tourist tat, ”i learned to drink at the university of wotsit’ t-shirts, sports junk, stripy scarves, soft toys wearing mortarboards, monogrammed golf balls, DeltaEpsilonFunclub cufflinks, goji berry bars, scented hello kitty erasers, birthday & graduation cards, novelty thoughtless last minute gifts, ‘wotsit’ encrusted souvenir paperweights, ‘wotsit tower’ sno-domes, etc.

    Crown the pyre with an effigy of the toothless, braying pseudoheraldic Sporting Beast of Wotsit (‘rah rah rah’).

    Add accelerant. 🙂

  4. Great letter, Juliet, even if they go ahead with the train station name…

    Why, I wonder, couldn’t she write UBC in full in the whole letter, including the websites, and just U dot dot???


    1. Susa–she didn’t: *I* removed that, as well as the lady in question’s name; similarly, I removed the name of the “I” in the next post. This is partly to respect privacy, as the content comes from email correspondence, which was just correspondence and not intended for public consumption. And to reduce spam to other people (virtual good manners, I likes to think).
      I’ll usually anonymise anyway, as a default position, unless it’s something like a CFP (where folks need that email address to send in submissions) or other information that’s definitely unambiguously intentionally fo shizzle public.

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