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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

University Bookstores and the Intellectual Life of Campus

3172235998_97e29e3f89_m My school, the University of North Dakota, recently declined to renew its contract with Barnes & Noble to run the campus bookstore. Instead, they’ve signed up with Follett. So we are in the midst of transferring control of the bookstore from one megalithic operator to another. This seems to me a real shame. I have nothing against B&N or Follett. I am sure they are generally very good at meeting contractual expectations while maintaining a profitable and tidy operation. But there are few things so wonderful as a bookstore that is neither tidy nor profitable.

As an undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin, I must have spent, cumulatively, at least a solid week browsing aimlessly in the cluttered aisles of our Co-op Society bookstore. They had, as one guy I talked to remembered, “every book in the world.” I recall once looking through a whole table of scholarly books on theoretical mathematics. Not that I understood any of it. But I felt very academic just leafing through. And it wasn’t just the books. There’s something inspiring about spectrum-ordered rows of art supplies. And I loved the fact that if I ever needed to pick up a scalpel, a stethoscope, or a box of 25 microscope slides, the bookstore was there for me.

Okay – if I wax any more tweedy, I’m going to make some one nauseous. I get that. But hey, I’m a law professor. I like the smell of books and coffee.

The last time I was down in Austin the bookstore had pared down to a neat little operation, renting out most of their A-list retail space to Barnes and Noble. What a bore. I hear Barnes and Noble has since left, but the old every-book-in-the-world Co-op hasn’t returned.

Watching UND switch from one mega-retailer to another, I feel like we are missing the chance to extend the university experience with a truly great bookstore.

I understand the new bookstore managers are interested in learning from the law faculty what books they ought to carry for law students. I would like to tell them to keep expanding their selection until at least half of the shelf inventory experiences no year-to-year turnover.

Hmmm. I don’t think they are going to go for that.

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on April 22, 2009 at 08:51 PM in Books, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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http://phrogz.net/nodes/nauseous.asp & several other sites spell out the distinction. But, to quote Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, "Any handbook that tells you that 'nauseous' cannot mean 'nauseated' is out of touch with the contemporary language. In current use it seldom means anything else."

Posted by: Andrew | Apr 28, 2009 1:56:59 PM

Jimbino: I misspelled/mistyped "someone" by inserting a space. But I used "nauseous" correctly. The next time you want to show off your language prowess, you might try consulting a dictionary first.

Posted by: Eric E. Johnson | Apr 24, 2009 10:53:03 PM

You are tweedy, else you wouldn't say, "I’m going to make some one nauseous." You would instead write 'someone' and 'nauseated'. Be assured: you are both tweedy and nauseous. You also probably misuse 'enormity', 'peruse', 'absolutely', and "in terms of."

Posted by: jimbino | Apr 24, 2009 10:37:22 PM

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