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Fire Away: The Co-op Bookstore Serves as a Good Model for Student-Run Businesses

Thursday, December 1, 2011

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Written by Stephanie Rennie

During the first weeks of every semester, students are often found clenching class schedules and scurrying around campus either looking for a classroom or buying textbooks. Two things saved me while getting used to the fast-paced university life in first year: cheesy nachos from The Bullring and stumbling across the Co-op Bookstore. I first appreciated the Co-op Bookstore for being inexpensive, but after many years and piles of read (and un-read) textbooks, I have now developed a strong respect for student-run organizations on campus.

 Debra McKay is the manager of the Co-op Bookstore and provided me with great insight into the co-op mandate surrounding this student-run business. Beginning in 1913 by seven agricultural students, the Co-op Bookstore planted itself deep into the roots of the University of Guelph and is renowned as the oldest surviving student co-operative in Canada. It was founded upon a co-op model, striving to be democratically run and beneficial to all.

Looking back at the roots of the Co-op Bookstore, Debra proudly stated that the co-op model “made sense then, and almost a hundred years later, [it] still does.” The concepts of student-run organizations are sparsely found on many campuses and I strongly believe that these establishments give students an opportunity to listen to others and to be listened to. Debra described the ambition of student-run initiatives in ensuring that “students have a voice.”

With the Co-op Bookstore, McKay expressed that it is the students that “guide our present and our future, our growth and our development.” The reciprocal relationship within student-run establishments allow students to embrace leadership opportunities, be a part of business decisions, and to be involved in providing services for themselves. In fact, McKay stressed the importance of students feeling welcome and embracing ownership of this establishment.

The Co-op Bookstore is an ideal model for measuring the success of initiatives run by students. This organization benefits students on many levels from financial to environmental. It holds true to its mandate “to provide affordable services,” which is accomplished through selling used books, conducting buy back services at the beginning and end of each semester, and selling a membership with a 5% discount. This membership card also operates as a passport to ensuring that students are part of the co-operative experience by voting at Annual General Meetings, as well as volunteering as a Board of Director.

Another initiative that helps students is the annual “Give a Student a Break” draw. This contest is designed to alleviate financial stress from one lucky student that wins half of their tuition payment. The Co-op Bookstore will be hosting a “Winter Win” contest as students make their way back to campus in January, giving students a chance to shave down textbook costs. These contests symbolize the deeply entrenched mandate of this student-run business to focus specifically on the needs of students and constantly trying to better student life.

There are also many environmental initiatives that correspond with Guelph’s environmentally conscious mindset. The “Save a Bag” program allows students to transfer the cost of a shopping bag to take the form of a donation to many local environmental endeavours. This is another way that student-run establishments allow students to consciously participate in the co-op business model.

 Overall, Debra McKay feels strongly that the “philosophy of co-op resonates with students.” When purchasing a necessary item from a business that gives you an opportunity to become involved, I think that students are given a chance to truly benefit from the many learning experiences at university that occur outside the classroom.

I feel as though this concept holds great significance for a progressive university like U of G, but that many students are not aware of the benefits of organizations run by students.

So instead of robotically purchasing your textbooks at the beginning of each semester, take a minute to appreciate your personal involvement as a student in an organization that is run by and for students. 

Stephanie Rennie is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Fire Away publishes every Thursday in The Cannon and in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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