The Penn Book Center recently announced that it would close its doors in May due to financial hardship. This stems from the rise in online book sales and competitors like Amazon. For nearly 60 years, the Penn Book Center has served as a literary hub on campus catering to professors, students, and the greater Philadelphia community. It also has started to bring in prominent speakers like Rebecca Traister, Imani Perry, Feminista Jones, and Helen Zia. The University must help save the Penn Book Center so that Penn does not lose a major resource for its academic and literary community.
Since the announcement of its closure, Penn faculty and students have expressed their disappointment and desire to save the Penn Book Center. Associate Chair of the English Department Chi-Ming Yang started a change.org petition, “Save Penn Book Center,” directed towards Penn President Amy Gutmann. The petition urges the administration to take action to help the Penn Book Center and has received over 3,000 signatures.
“This closure would mean an immeasurable loss to Penn’s intellectual community and to that of the surrounding University City neighborhood. We write to ask that the university find a way to help sustain this small but vital corner of our campus,” it reads.
The petition lists reasons why the University should help the book center. For example, Princeton University subsidizes a 30 percent discount on textbooks at their independent bookstore Labyrinth Books. This encourages students to make use of Labyrinth, and helps keep it in business. By helping support local businesses, Princeton is doing the right thing, and there is no reason why Penn can not introduce a similar system in order to help support the Penn Book Center.
In an April 12 opinion piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer, owners Ashley Montague and Michael Row described their feelings about the closure of the Penn Book Center.
“This shared grief reminds us of the extent to which an independent bookstore is rooted in its community. Like a plant, it’s shaped by its environment. Those daily interchanges between booksellers and customers — conversations about books, the weather, politics — help us choose which books to buy and how to display them,” they wrote.
According to Philadelphia Magazine, the University did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the likelihood of a partnership with the Penn Book Center. Montague also told Philly Mag that Penn has been “very flexible on the lease terms” over the course of the past few years. While this is encouraging, it is time for the University to step up and help the Penn Book Center survive.
"One of my favorite things is going in there, looking for a book, but getting sidetracked by different books," said creative writing instructor and associate Director for Recruitment for Penn's Creative Writing Program Jamie-Lee Josselyn. "I think that experience — getting to do that and maybe losing track of time a little bit — especially these days when we're all so busy and so scheduled, is something I'll really miss about going there."
The Penn Book Center offers students and faculty a much needed break from the University’s many pre-professional spaces, and serves Penn’s academic community. Losing the Penn Book Center comes with a serious cost to our campus, but there is a solution. The University has vast resources — the administration should use them to save the Penn Book Center.
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