Earlier this week, I got hit with a bill to replace library books I have lost this term. One item was for £87. Fortunately, I have just been lazy and left it gathering dust in the corner of my room for 6 weeks so instead of forking out nearly a ton, I just have to make the short walk to the library, hand it over, and face the consequences of my book-stealing antics with a steely-eyed resolve — I’d take the cold disapproval of a librarian over a substantial hit on my bank balance any day.
But it was a reminder of a problem that an enormous number of students face on a regular basis: academic books are extortionately expensive. On an unsupported student budget, it is virtually impossible to buy, rather than borrow, and in cases where necessity provokes a purchase, the prices of Blackwell’s and Waterstones are almost enough to make you question how much you value your degree.
Despair not, for The Oxford Book Club may be able to help. Set up this term, and quickly gaining recognition within the student body, the Club hosts fortnightly second-hand book sales above Java and Co. on New Inn Hall Street, and the books sold are tailored towards the needs of students. I chatted to founder Rich O’Grady in his book-strewn bedroom ahead of the Club’s final sale this Saturday to ask him about the origins of the Club.
“I had the idea for the Club over the summer”, he tells me, mug of black tea in hand, “after I went to a friend of mine’s second-hand bookshop and saw all the great books he had at such low prices. I realised how useful it would be for students to have such a resource, and then thought, ‘Where better to sell a load of books than Oxford?’”
“I hand select pretty much every book we sell and make sure they’re geared towards people’s courses.” He digs into a box full of books and pulls out Edmund Gosse’s Father And Son. “I know, for example, that next term, loads of Modernist English freshers will be reading Gosse because I’ve seen it on their reading list.”
He pulls out another: Germaine Greer’s Sex and Destiny. “I know that not only will a lot of people be interested in reading that for the sake of it, but anyone doing a gender course in history, or in classics, will want to read it as well.”
A key facet of the Club’s functionality is the online catalogue, maintained through O’Grady’s enthusiasm and dedication.
“I catalogue every single book and put them on an online document so people can people can see what books are available and can even reserve some. It’s the price and charm of a second-hand book store with the accessibility of a high-street chain shop. I try to make it really, really easy for people to get the books they need.”
“People who come and find us really enjoy it. I had someone up to me in Bridge at 1:30 in the morning, ask me if I was the person behind the Oxford Book Club, and tell me how much he loved it, which was nice.”
But The Oxford Book Club is not just about providing cheap alternatives to the eye-popping prices of first-hand books, or the strict regulations of the library, it also has a burgeoning social scene. At the heart of these are the fortnightly sales above Java and Co., which O’Grady tries to imbue with a relaxed, sociable vibe.
“We completely transform the upstairs room of Java and Co. We just inundate it with books, hang posters and postcards on the wall, and put on a really chilled-out playlist. I want people come and have a coffee, have a chat, bring their friends, browse the books, and just have a good time really.”
“I’d like to push the social side of things a lot more. We had an event at Freud’s earlier in the term that couldn’t have gone any better. There might be another one of them next term, and I’m thinking about establishing some kind of book group as well.”
The Club is also heavily involved with charity work. Half of the money from every sale is donated to The Gatehouse, a charity providing food, shelter and company for Oxford’s homeless.
“The Gatehouse is a fantastic charity to be involved with”, O’Grady enthuses, “and I really want to forge strong bonds with them. I think they have a fantastic attitude towards helping the homeless.”
“What we do benefits everyone involved, because students get good quality books a lot cheaper than they would elsewhere, they are simultaneously donating to charity, and they get to enjoy some great coffee and some great company. Everyone leaves with a smile on their face, even if they don’t buy a book.”
So, if you need a particular set text to read over the Christmas vac, or if you just feel like indulging your cultural appetite, The Oxford Book Club may well be the answer to your prayers.
Now, where’s that fucking library book gone?