Where did all the textbooks go?

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I have been visiting Ithaca - or, as I like to say it, Ithacating - over the last few days (and apologies to everyone I *didn't* call and *didn't* see - and perhaps to those I did), and today paid a visit to the Cornell Campus Store. Where I noted the following large subsections of goods: Cornell-branded merchandise; Gifts; Technology and stationery supplies; Central cafe; General books.

Do you notice what's missing? TEXTBOOKS.

When I was a student here in the 1970s, there were two large textbook stores: Triangle Bookshop in Collegetown, and the Campus Store. Most of the clued-up went to Triangle first, because it tended to have a better supply of cheaper used books. Triangle died about 10-20 years ago when it made the mistake of moving (after decades in its old location, which was stuffed to the rafters) to newer, larger, more expensive premises and found it hard to cope as various other social and technological changes took hold. (My version of the story is garbled because I wasn't here then; my chief memory of Triangle was a lovely woman named, I think, Mary, who sent me stuff overseas and was extraordinarily helpful.) Last time I was here, about two years ago, the Campus Store still had textbooks and, more important, was much more full of merchandise. The fact that it has *room* for a cafe is in itself astonishing.

What happened? Do students now only buy their textbooks online? Do professors just issue course packs? My friend here doesn't know; he does point out that it's mid-semester, so most textbooks should have been sold, and maybe the space is taken up with something else. I don't know, but there always used to be an entire floor of books no matter what the time of year, and now there's just 1/3 of a floor and it's all stuff like general fiction. In my memory, the Campus Store had a huge array of stacks, all labeled by department and course number. Most people I knew went out and bought the full list for each course at the beginning of the year, but those who couldn't afford it would buy the first few and add to them later, or take some out of the library. It might mean scrambling to find your copy, of course.

No matter how you slice it, the change is striking.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on November 10, 2009 3:51 PM.

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