Our final Bookshop of the Month for 2019 takes us to Kent and the Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) Bookshop. This academic bookshop started life in a student union cupboard four decades ago, but has since grown into an impressive and well-loved campus bookseller. We spoke to Bookshop Manager, Craig, about their wide-ranging bestsellers, bustling events schedule and the bookshop’s integral role in CCCU life.
1. What do you hope your bookshop brings to the Canterbury Christ Church University campus?
Our bookshop is located at the heart of the campus adjacent to the University Chapel and the Touchdown Café. It is often said that the neat triangle made by chapel, coffee shop and bookshop provides sustenance for the soul, body and mind of students and staff at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU). Our bookshop is university-owned and staffed by booksellers with a long experience in the book trade both from a campus and a high street perspective. Being university-owned means we work closely alongside academic staff, with the Student Union when it comes to campaigns, and with student groups and societies – such as the CCCU Bookclub.
From humble beginnings the bookshop began life in a student union cupboard forty-two years ago and has evolved into a fully-fledged academic bookseller. We’ve refurbished several times over the last 20 years, always growing in size, but last year, a reduction in retail space meant a radical re-think in how we provide resources for students to help them succeed whilst at university. A lot of attention was spent on detail as well as on our stock. So for example, the new bookshop includes island units which are on wheels. This allows us to be totally flexible not only in how we display stock, but also how we adapt the bookshop at different times of the year, for new promotions and for events.
As a campus bookseller we are finely tuned to the needs of our customers, undergraduate to postgraduate; and we are able to react quickly – whether obtaining a customer order for the following day, or promoting and supporting a conference the following week. This semester, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology new to CCCU felt students at a university with a campus bookshop didn’t realise how lucky they were. A Senior Lecturer in Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work once said of the bookshop:
It belongs to us – we can have a say in what is provided, stocked and offered to staff and students in a timely way. It is run by colleagues who understand our programmes, our requirements and who are open to new ways of working. They are student and staff centric, they go the extra mile.
An academic recently praised the bookshop for “always helping her find the books she didn’t know she was looking for”. Surely this has to be our goal, the goal of booksellers everywhere. This is what we do to support and help enrich academic life on campus.
2. You regularly support university events such as public lectures and book signings. What has been your favourite event of 2019?
We’ve just finished supporting the Canterbury Festival, where the series of talks ranged from Bettany Hughes on the history of Istanbul to Chris Lintott’s lecture on how crowd research is helping us better understand the cosmos. Next up we’re providing the festival bookshop for the Folkestone Book Festival – a ten-day extravaganza of talks which opens with a lecture from celebrated novelist Ben Okri. This year the theme is the shape of things to come, given HG Wells’ association with the town. Then, on campus in December, we’re supporting the Education Faculty’s Newly Qualified Teacher conference, as well as several book launches by academic staff. Even the end of semester is a busy time and we open throughout the year only closing for public holidays.
I think our favourite event of 2019 was supporting a fascinating lecture given by Dr Vybarr Cregan-Reid, who is Professor in English & Environmental Humanities at Kent University. His talk illustrated how our bodies have evolved and in many ways failed to adapt over time, and what the future holds. Having read his previous book Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human, his new book Primate Change: How the World We Made is Remaking Us is highly recommended.
3. What types of books are your customers buying? Do you find that, as a university bookshop, you are primarily selling academic titles, or are non-academic books just as popular?
Our customers buy textbooks in business, law, healthcare, education, life sciences, social & applied sciences, arts & humanities. Trade fiction and non-fiction is also popular, especially titles related to subjects studied at CCCU. So yes, academic titles are definitely what we sell most of. However, looking at our current Top Ten, predictably Cite Them Right is at the top of the tree, but we can also see the novels Johnny Got His Gun and Little Women alongside Bad Education: Debunking Myths in Education, Child Development and Fundamentals of Project Management: Tools and Techniques.
We work with reps from trade publishers such as Faber, and Penguin Random House as well as, of course, academic publishers. Our future depends on publishers and booksellers working together. This working relationship at its most successful is embodied in our very own Yale rep, Josh. Together we talk and pick out forthcoming titles which will match our customer base.
We stock newly published titles including novels, so The Testaments was big for us, and now the new Philip Pullman. We rejoice in the freedom to choose less well-known authors and perhaps books that we feel deserve a new readership. A couple of years ago we created a window display for one book: All the Devils are Here by local author David Seabrook. Due to the great work by Backlisted (the magnificent books podcast presented by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller) this title was brought back into print by Granta.
Being part of the Department of Library & Learning Resources, we’re happy to check library availability of textbooks and give Dewey numbers to students to help them locate the book they’re after. Using Stephen Fry’s escalators and stairs analogy when it comes to printed copy or digital download – it’s all about providing options for students, whether the book is required as a physical copy to be purchased or borrowed, or as an e-book, or to be accessed on a digital platform. Students we help in this way do think of their campus bookshop when it comes to their next assignment, research project or seminar.
4. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be?
A wonderful book published this year which we recommend to absolutely everyone, but especially to our Mental Health Nursing students is Heartland: finding and losing schizophrenia by Nathan Filer. The book is full of warmth and compassion, is well-researched, and has the power to help change our attitude and understanding of schizophrenia and what it means to be mentally unwell.
Books we’re looking forward to include new novels from David Mitchell and Scarlett Thomas – and our top recommendation for 2020 is A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry which is due in March. It is a masterpiece.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
In terms of events, there’s the Booksellers Association Academic Book Week which takes place 9-13 March 2020 when we’ll be working again with our comrades in academic bookselling as well as with lovely publishers such as Yale. We are supporting the UKLA Writing for Pleasure conference at CCCU with a very exciting author yet to be announced. Previous keynote speakers have included Michael Rosen, Anthony Brown, and Piers Torday. We’re also providing the conference bookshop for fifth Annual Canterbury History Weekend with Michael Wood, Dan Jones and a host of historians!