Society management

How saving a bookstore can strengthen society

A few years ago, as I was standing in my bookstore on Christmas Eve, a woman approached me with a sense of urgency and frustration – why, oh why, couldn’t she find a “reader” to buy his mother for Christmas? It was at a time when these things were new. His restlessness had intrigued me, so I asked him a few questions which only inflamed him further. She then denounced all bookstores as a thing of the past and declared that books in print form would be consigned to history.

Here we are about two decades later and, as the saying goes, the disappearance has been greatly exaggerated. Books and bookstores have certainly been through tough times, but they still exist and, more importantly, they remain relevant and supported.

It is in this context that those who support The TS Bookshop (Theosophical Society Bookshop) in Melbourne are determined to fight for their store which is under threat from the Society’s Board of Trustees. A store that has operated continuously since the 1920s. They have mounted a campaign so that ahead of a general meeting to be held on July 30, 2022, members can be informed of the situation and can help staff and customers to demand transparency and the ability to discuss what is needed to keep the bookstore running smoothly. survival and success.

Writing about the role of bookstores in a community, Ann Seaton, co-executive of the California Independent Booksellers Association, said:

“What stands out for me is the desire to make books available to their neighborhoods, to speak to underserved populations, or even to provide needed services within their communities.”

It is recognized that bookstores are a business enterprise and have cash flow pressures, like any business. There is, however, a duality in selling books – a commercial imperative and a role in expressing the culture and health of a community.

Unlike a business where, say, staff stock, sell and replenish cans of soup (with no doubt important decisions being made regarding range and stock rotation) and where the customer requires largely no involvement Direct from the staff in their purchase, a bookseller is a conduit to the world of ideas and imagination and helps to organize the personal libraries of their customers.

To use an example from The TS Bookshop, a customer may have been introduced to the term “comparative religion” and wants to explore what it means; the TS Bookseller will act as a knowledgeable pedagogue and guide, first explaining in general terms what it means, then exploring the relevant range with the customer and giving appropriate recommendations.

This may turn out to be a passing interest for the client or a pivotal moment, introducing him to a new world of thought from which he will draw inspiration. In both cases, the bookseller was central for them.

Lily: Why bookstores are good for you

I have often told the story of the customer who showed up at the door of my bookstore but failed to cross the threshold. This is the story of a person who had never been to a bookstore and who, at the end of our exchange, left with a gift for a friend and a book that I had given her on behalf of our bookstore. . She became a regular customer for many years, telling me once that before that first visit she had lived her whole life in a housing commission apartment and now, through the books she bought and read, she “lived all over the world”.

I repeat this story because it sums up everything a bookstore and bookseller is and proves my point about the relevance and importance of The TS Bookshop.

This bookstore offers a full range of esoteric, spiritual and scientific titles. Certainly, their customers are incredibly grateful for their recommendations and for their very existence. And it is that existence that is threatened as the Society’s board, it seems, wants to use the store as a scapegoat for the Society’s seemingly poor overall management and dwindling membership. It’s remarkable that they don’t seem to appreciate the bookstore as their window to the world. That, along with support and investment in marketing and promotion, the bookstore is their primary vehicle for profiling the society and attracting new members.

It’s particularly hard to accept that they sold and bought prime buildings in Melbourne’s CBD (a UNESCO City of Literature no less); engaged with an architect to design an amazing bookstore; then did nothing more. No street signage, no marketing or promotion. And, now, infer by their actions, that the bookstore is a financial drain on their funds.

The example of the recent plans for the magnificent Nicholas Building in Melbourne mentioned in an article by age (July 1, 2022) should perhaps be highlighted to the Company’s Board of Directors. The director of the company buying the Nicholas Building reportedly said:

The company was looking to buy the building both as a social impact investment and to take advantage of the city’s post-pandemic revival. Its location next to the new Town Hall station, under construction as part of the $11 billion Metro Rail project, makes it an attractive long-term investment proposition. We want to be part of it.

He could be talking about The TS Bookshop on Flinders Lane. The Nicholas building and the TS bookstore house are literally 30 meters apart, so the reference is absolutely relevant.

Bookstores are safe places for everyone and are a balm in a hectic and complex world. They have a universality that aligns perfectly with theosophy’s promotion of the values ​​of universal brotherhood. How then could a board charged with touting such concepts not understand the role of its bookstore in exemplifying an inclusive and welcoming offering to the community?

Another characteristic of bookstores is their staff who largely fall into one of two categories – those who see it as a perfect job during their studies and before entering their chosen career and those for whom it is a calling permed. The staff at TS Bookstore has remained loyal and enthusiastic for decades. They have always presented themselves as competent and friendly and have been ambassadors for the company. They deserve to be treated with respect and supported by the Board, and to be helped to explore how best to take the store into its next decade.

In an article by VOICE in 2020, Bryce Covert wrote:

Losing an independent bookstore is a blow to a community. They are places where people can come together to discuss what is happening in the world, to also have a haven and a safe place to explore new ideas.

A recent article in The New York Times reported that last year 300 new bookstores opened in the United States. Going back to my opening anecdote, I would suggest that the book and the book store are far from being relics of the past. It has been fascinating to watch the discussions of community and connection during these pandemic years. It is obvious to me that the notion of a sufficient virtual world is nonsense; we need contacts. And, therefore, “the bookstore” as a safe, interesting and non-threatening meeting place where people can be helped to connect with ideas and concepts through books is absolutely viable and, even more so, relevant.

It wouldn’t be too bold a suggestion to say that a Society that has seen its membership dwindle for many years (unrelated to the bookstore) needs to address the real issues facing its organization and use the resources it has the ability to reach new audiences. The public to which the bookstore is present is an obvious asset. At the very least, they must be transparent about their intentions and match the integrity of their staff.

The fate of La Librairie TS cannot be relegated to poor decision-making by the Board of Directors and dismissal of staff and customer concerns. Battles such as those involving TS Bookstore staff and customers are nothing new and (unfortunately) not uncommon, but they can be won.

Sign the petition to save TS Bookshop and follow the campaign on social media using the hashtag #savethetsbookshop.