Fighting Over Books

In Books, Culture on August 20, 2011 at 11:43 am

Important Note: this book-burning is metaphorical (Photo by Ken Bryant)

Full confession: I missed a submission when I put together my “Your Home Libraries — Revealed!” post. And that’s a shame, because it was a good one.

Ray Hsu — author, academic, and all-around super-guy — sent in a submission about libraries that might surprise you. The scenario takes place on the west coast, at the University of British Columbia (where Hsu is a post-doctoral fellow), but in many ways it’s reproducible at any university or college location. In essence, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle at UBC due to the rebranding of the university bookstore: it’s being changed from “UBC Bookstore” to “UBC Central,” as a means to reflect the changing value (read: decreasing) of books in an overall picture of learning, development, and sales at the university. A faculty petition is circulating, and it reads:

“UBC claims that the name UBC bookstore does not adequately reflect the products and services that the store provides and that the word ‘bookstore’ is limiting and restraining to their business and to the changes that they are proposing which will make more ‘effective’ use of the space. While they say they are committed to selling books, their decision to re-name the store, is part of a UBC ‘re-branding’ initiative that will see the space sell ‘fewer traditional books’ and focus more on other services such as the UBCcard, IT help desk, and a ‘technology recharging system’.  By changing the name to  UBC central, UBC is effectively eliminating the presence of our campus bookstore and is contributing to the  demise of bookstore culture  Vancouver in general…The name change is a mistake.  UBC should be committed to… upholding the tradition of having a bookstore as a fundamental part of campus life.”

It’s here that we turn things over to Dr. Hsu, alumnus of University of Toronto, University of Wisconsin – Madison, and himself no stranger to spending time amongst books in a setting of higher learning. A few weeks ago, the Vancouver Observer’s Krissy Darch put together an interview with Hsu, in which he somewhat surprisingly claimed that he was “part” of the reason why the name was being changed. “When I go into the bookstore, where do I go? I go straight to the computer section,” he says. “If they were really to call it something according to the budget numbers, it would probably be called ‘UBC Computers and Other Things.’ But UBC Central is just less ‘offensive’ than that.”

Interestingly, Hsu contests the notion that the removal of the term “Bookstore” will lead to the “commercialization” of the location — or that even if this happened, that it would be a bad thing. “Of course, commercial enterprises can also be social situations,” notes Hsu. “A friend owned a used bookstore in Madison, and I went in there lots of times to hang out. We ran a creative writing group out of there. I would go in there and we would workshop poems. There were people who were working at the bookstore who were also writers in the group.”

Hsu goes on to discuss the pressures of the academic job market and the publishing industry, why these might be influencing the backlash against the name change, and the “ambiguous relationships to bookstores or even to the category of ‘book.'” It’s a compelling discussion, and not what you might expect — so take a look here, and when you’re done that, check out Ray’s website here.

  1. The University of New Brunswick Saint John no longer has a library, it has an “Information Commons.” Most of the old bound journals and many books were turfed during the transition.

    • They changed the name of the entire library to that? Hmm. That’s concerning. It’s not as if the term “library” could not include the kinds of info-tech they’re currently (and obviously) trying to foreground. There is something in a name, obviously.

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