To bodly go: We don’t need a fully-stocked bookstore anymore

Digital and orderable content should be prioritized at SFU bookstores

SFU’s bookstore on Burnaby Campus
Paper!? Where we’re going, we don’t need paper! PHOTO: The Peak

By Nercya Kalino, Staff Writer

In the beginning, there was paper. But times have since changed. Books have lept beyond paper copies to the digital, and so it’s time for our bookstore to reflect the possibilities of 21st century learning. 

Let’s start with this: A bookstore is a monument to the death of the environment. Statistics aggregator The World Counts suggests 42% of all global wood that is harvested is processed for paper production. In technologically advanced societies, the facilities to shift this resource fully online is available. And let’s face it, we’ve all been doing it for years. Who hasn’t pulled up chapters using SFU’s digital collection rather than go fetch the paper copy from the bookstore?

Now, for a bibliophile like me, this is a complicated idea. I admit it definitely hurts to imagine a world without full book shops; I love the smell of congested bookstores and freshly printed newspapers. 

However, there are also some technological hurdles here. Some places still need paper copies. Take my home country, Malawi. As a nation, the personal devices necessary to enable an all-digital bookstore aren’t widespread. Access to internet and affordability of requisite devices is something for any digitally-curious bookstore to consider. SFU, though, has (mostly) steady internet, and many students are probably equipped with the requisite electronics. 

We can also look to schools that have already lept into digital-first bookstores. In 2016, American University brought about this change by removing books from the store and guaranteeing access to digital books or used books that students can order. The store still allows students to order the used and new books they want, they just don’t stock any in-store. 

An emptier bookstore opens up a world of possibilities for the space. At the very least, students will probably feel safer not having to go into a small, crowded space to search for textbooks during a pandemic. If we want to keep the space as a provider of student jobs, we could fully transition the space into an SFU merchandise store. Alternatively, using the floors as space for student clubs would surely be popular for SFU’s wealth of roomless student groups. 

Bookstores piled with textbooks represent a moment in time. Digital or orderable used textbooks represent a new moment. Let’s give students more choice, slightly reduce our environmental impact, and use the bookstore space to better serve SFU students.