New Oberlin Book Co-op Achieves Success

The Oberlin Book Co-op, which launched its first trade program near the end of last semester, continues to catch the eyes of students who are tired of paying extortionate textbook fees. Tucked away in room 109 of Harkness Co-op and open weekdays between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m., SWAP, the newest addition to the Oberlin co-operative system, is packed with textbooks, a few light novels and plenty of students.

A product of the “Cooperation and Cooperatives” ExCo last spring, the concept was initially developed by several students who sought to apply co-operative principles to pressing issues around campus. Recognizing the expensive price of textbooks, the group applied its efforts towards the creation of a cooperative system that fully functioned on the basis of trade. Starting this semester, students who donate their textbooks to the cooperative will receive a number of credits based on the co-op’s evaluation of the book.

Students may also exchange volunteer hours at the co-op for such credits, which can then be applied towards the acquisition of an in-house book. Once contributed, books are separated under the departments of humanities, social sciences, natural Sciences and Conservatory to be traded with the students who need them.

However, this isn’t the first cooperative bookstore to grace Oberlin. Prior to 1999, the Oberlin Consumer Cooperative housed a book co-op which served much of the greater Oberlin community. In many ways, the former Oberlin book co-op functioned as a traditional bookstore by offering textbooks at a discounted rate to students who purchased a membership with the co-op at the beginning of the year. Although many elements of the new Oberlin Book Co-op were inspired by its predecessor, Co-founder and Treasurer Sarah Johnson said that the current co-op is dedicated to “help[ing] students get their books as cheaply as we can,” which is maintained through an established system of trade. Now at its one thousand book matriculation point, Johnson has high hopes for the project.

“My personal goal would be for … SWAP to be a corner in a larger business or nonprofit … with more community engagement.” Nonetheless, the co-op isn’t currently interested in competing with major Oberlin book providers such as Barnes & Noble. Although the idea of future competition with the book seller is at times disputed among the nine co-founders of SWAP, Johnson is clear that the group “do[es] not want to put any local businesses out of operation and … definitely do[es] not want to put any local people out of work.”

Since most students passing through the bookstore on Monday night cited alternatives to Barnes and Noble as their textbook source, any real competition with the major book seller seems unlikely. Sophomore Cria Kay previously preferred to scan the Classifieds for discounted textbooks, but found the co-op much simpler. “ I would much rather have a place that I can just trade my textbook rather than sell my textbook and buy a new one.”

First-years Clara Scudder-Davis and Min Ming Chien instead were counting on renting their textbooks or acquiring them from the library, until they discovered the Book Co-op on the Class of 2017 Facebook page. The co-op opens itself to first-years, who often do not have tradable books, through the option of trading volunteer hours for books.

The only present drawback for the budding bookstore is its small inventory. Many students, although excited by the prospect of trading books, were discouraged when they discovered that the titles they needed were absent.  Even so, Johnson is confident that the store has “pretty decent streams of revenue” through a successful funding campaign and potential future funds obtained from the Student Finance Committee, local foundations and individual co-ops.

Once acquired, all donated funds will be applied to the purchase of the most popularly requested textbooks. While progress at such a rostrum may be slow, the co-op is determined to stick to its goal and spread its message. “Textbooks are expensive,” said Sarah Johnson. “If we can make those less expensive for people, that is main goal,” noted Johnson.