Rallying to Keep Brown Bookstore Independent

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On March 16, in front of the Brown Bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island, the Save the Bookstore Foundation held a rally in support of keeping the store independent. Approximately 150 people attended the event, which featured four speakers, Robert Coover, a novelist and Brown professor; Karen McAninch of United Service and Allied Workers; Jonna Iacono, president of the Graduate Student Council; and Sian Roberts, co-chair of the Save the Bookstore Foundation. The speakers discussed the value of Brown Bookstore and its contribution to the character of both Brown University and the East Side community in Providence.

The rally attendees, who braved the cold for 45 minutes, were comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and area residents. "The crowd was very lively and spontaneously cheered during the speakers' presentations," said Roberts. "We were very pleased with the turnout, and there was a good cross section of the community."

Iacono read from a resolution passed by the graduate student council, which represents approximately 1,700 graduate students at the university. The resolution, presented to the university's administration, cited that "an independent or self-operated bookstore will better ensure support for academic presses" and declared the council's support of maintaining the Brown Bookstore's status as an independent bookstore.

The Save the Bookstore Foundation formed early this month in response to a letter posted on the Brown University website, which stated that a Bookstore Review Committee consisting of faculty, students, and staff had been created to evaluate the operations of Brown Bookstore and that "contracting with a vendor was preferred by the majority of the committee." Roberts said the letter was posted on Friday, March 3. "On Monday, we mobilized and spent the entire day on the phone, e-mailing, and our web designer created a wonderful website. Ten days ago we didn't exist. Now we have over 120 supporters. Those supporters come from the bookstore neighborhood in Providence, from Vermont, Texas, Tennessee. Supporters are not just from the Brown community."

Among the supporters is the Brown University Community Council (BUCC), which is made up of faculty, alumnae, students, and area residents. The Brown Daily Herald reported that in response to a university official who discussed at a campus meeting the possibility of outsourcing the operation of the Brown Bookstore to an outside vendor such as Barnes and Noble, an "overwhelming number" of BUCC members expressed their support for maintaining the independence of the bookstore, repeatedly stating the importance of keeping its "existing culture and sense of community."

Since 1970, the Brown Bookstore has been an independent bookseller and is self-operated by Brown University. It is one of the few independent college bookstores among its peer universities. Bookstore staff was not involved in organizing the rally, but many attended. Student and Brown Bookstore staff member Peter Sprake said, "I'm gratified by the explosion of interest, especially given how quickly everything has happened. And I'm gratified that the bookstore staff has company in its long, lonely struggle."

Save the Bookstore Foundation's Roberts said, "We're going to keep pressure on the administration. We don't want them digging their heels in. And we want to get more undergraduates involved. I just hope we manage to stop them [from outsourcing the bookstore]. I have high hopes, but at this point, we can't predict what will happen." --Karen Schechner