By Melina Tavakoli Moghaddam, BA Politics and International Relations
Joe Burridge, manager of the soon-to-be-closed SOAS bookshop is pretty clear about things – “I just want them to leave me alone.” SOAS management’s new obsession with the renovation and repurposing of spaces has claimed a new victim – the SOAS bookshop in the Brunei Gallery.
“SOAS management’s new obsession with the renovation and repurposing of spaces has claimed a new victim – the SOAS bookshop in the Brunei Gallery.”
SOAS has provided us with the following statement: “We greatly appreciate the service that the bookshop has provided to SOAS over the years, and we know that it will be missed by staff and students when it moves off campus. Because of the growth in student numbers at SOAS, the demand for space on our campus has increased accordingly. This means we continue to review how SOAS spaces are being used, and the changes we are making mean that we are no longer able to accommodate the bookshop. To ensure a smooth transition, we gave the owners of the bookshop a 1-year notice period, advising them that when their lease ends in August 2024, we will not be able to offer an extension. We hope members of our community will continue to benefit from its services in the remaining months and support the bookshop when it moves online.”
Intriguingly, SOAS has gone about the closure in a secretive manner – of the students surveyed only 15% knew the bookshop was being closed and when Mr Burridge was informed that his lease would not be renewed he was not given a reason, without any scope for negotiation, with a paltry offer of a different role at SOAS.
The closure has created confusion amongst the student body particularly when you consider the reality of the space. There is undoubtedly a requirement for more space, COVID restrictions are a thing of the past yet SOAS students are still expected to tolerate online classes; but it is unreasonable to suggest that this demand will be met by repurposing the bookshop, which in itself is a unique space and unlikely to be suitable for teaching.
As a branch of the Arthur Probsthain Oriental and African bookshop, the SOAS bookshop holds over 3,000 volumes of specialised content, which Mr Burridge has taken personal responsibility for importing, relating to courses only offered at this university. It is entirely different to the local Waterstones around the corner, instead, this bookshop possesses a uniqueness which the university is refusing to preserve.
According to Mr Burridge, there have been three failed attempts at closing the bookshop, all motivated by a demand to repurpose the space. Recent rumours around campus suggest that SOAS management intends to use the space for individual study areas. It is unlikely that such a small bookshop can be renovated to fit more than two tables. Ironically, despite the fact that SOAS students make up the majority of the bookshop’s customers, the Students’ Union had not been informed of the closure.
There is now a growing movement to prevent the closure, using the hashtag #SaveSOASBookshop. Various posts on the SOAS alumni Facebook page have expressed anger and sadness about the closure, particularly one by Professor Scott Redford, the Nasser D. Khalili Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology, reads: “The SOAS bookshop, its carefully curated contents, and its experienced, knowledgeable, and helpful manager Joe Burridge, is invaluable for the intellectual health of SOAS. What can possibly replace it? Why is this issue even under discussion?”
Photo Caption: Joe Burridge working in the SOAS Bookshop [Credit: Amal Omar]