Rooted: A Guide To Sustainable and Intersectional Book Use at Uni

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Introducing Geeta’s new segment Rooted! This segment will be mainly focused on sustainability, and Geeta hopes to use this as a platform to raise awareness and investigate grass roots organisations and sustainable events/schemes going on in Leeds. In this week’s article Geeta discusses the closure of Blackwell’s, the importance of boycotting Amazon, and presents ways that YOU can be more sustainable with your book-buying, while supporting black-owned and small businesses.

The savvy, more close-fisted students amongst us may have refrained from annotating some of last year’s modules’ texts, in the hope that these could be resold to Leeds’ Blackwell’s Book Shop as ‘used’, for enough money to buy our next three Tesco meal deals. It was reassuring to know that as students, we could walk into Blackwell’s on the first day of term, without a glance at the module reading list —whether a bewildered fresher or a startled third year who’d been hit like a ton of bricks (or books) by the workload step-up from Year 2 to Year 3 — and leave with multiple double-semester module bundles, provided by a friendly and helpful assistant, of every text we’d ever need, for an unbeatable price which (they boasted) could match and even better Amazon’s. Unfortunately, this year we’ll no longer be able to trade our books in, nor will freshers be able to run last minute into Blackwell’s and leave with the set text they’d need for an afternoon on Laidlaw’s Level 3, swamped by the huge master-mind-esque ‘Pod’ chairs, wondering what a ‘Literature Review’ is. Not only are the libraries seemingly booked up until Christmas now, but tragically, Blackwell’s Book Shop has closed.

“Blackwell’s Bookshop” Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 A total of 5 University campus stores have been closed in St Andrews, Belfast, Bradford, Keele and Leeds in order to ‘protect the future health’ of its business following COVID19 (Chandler, 2020). Inevitably, this is going to mean a whole lot more business for Amazon from students, nationwide. The 6-months-free student AmazonPrime deal seems an irrefusable offer; our text books are guaranteed to arrive in time for our seminars, on top of the extensive choice of cheap tapestries for covering up cold and pre-loved, blue-tacked walls which we’re yet to find a better cost-effective alternative to. Here are just some of the reasons as to why boycotting Amazon is a crucial consideration to add to your ever-growing, ever-important list of small, individually made changes that, collectively, could make a huge difference:

  • Stop adding to Jeff Bezos’ ludicrous fortune – the CEO of Amazon is the richest man in the world. In 2019, his wealth grew by $13 billion in a single day (The Focus, 2020). Meanwhile…
  • Amazon is a contributor to the global tax gap of $100 billion (The Focus, 2020)   – the company is the very image of remorseless corporate tax evasion.
  • It’s easy to marvel at the competitive rates of electrics and kitchen utensils which we were never able to pick up on that Ikea trip. But, have you ever stopped to consider why Amazon is so cheap? Unfortunately, it’s because someone, somewhere, pays — and it’s almost always the warehouse worker. Think Primark’s prices and South-Eastern Asian sweatshops… It’s happening in the West, too.
  • ‘Amazon’s Atmosphere of Fear’ in its warehouses is due to high injury rates, timed toilet breaks and non-existent worker’s rights. Pennsylvanian warehouse conditions made headlines in 2016 and working conditions in a UK-based Amazon warehouse showed an undercover worker ‘walking 11 miles on a shift and collecting an order every 33 seconds…’ (Heritage, 2015).
  • The sheer number of Amazon Delivery trucks on the road, contributes towards higher greenhouse gas emissions, compounded of course by the thousands of air-miles racked up by importations from Chinese-based, mass-production factories, and elsewhere. Last year, ‘over 1,500 Amazon workers plan[ned] to walk out of work to protest their company’s environmental impact…’ (Ghaffery, 2019). Amazon is, however, pledging to be carbon neutral by 2040…we’ll believe it when we see it, Jeff.
  • To sell online, independent publishers often use Amazon given its highly visible platform which, in theory, should help to promote and support first-time authors/publishers. In reality, the company  ‘disadvantages small publishers by making them less visible on Amazon…landing them with hidden problems and costs…’ (Michell, 2015).
“Online Book-Buying” Credit: Medium

These are only some of the many, pretty serious, issues associated with buying and ordering from Amazon. But what would be the point in Rooted voicing these concerns, if it didn’t have a couple of solutions to offer up. Here are just some of the many ways that you can return your books for cash, trade books with other students to promote a more circular and sustainable use of study resources, and even support Black Independent businesses in the process, all the while boycotting Amazon, and from the safe and socially distanced comfort of your new, tapestry-covered, fairy-lit Hyde park pad:

Oxfam Online – yep, Oxfam has an online book shop! With over 60,000 books and a constant influx of new titles, why wouldn’t you check out the website here before looking for brand new copies elsewhere. Postage is super cheap, and the website has organised all the books in the same way it would your regular library. And what’s better than knowing that your money is not only swerving Jeff Bezos’ pocket, but instead going to a charitable cause. The only reason that more academic textbooks are harder to find in charity shops is because students don’t think to donate them! So get donating and buying with Oxfam! Website: https://onlineshop.oxfam.org.uk/shop

Facebook Market Place – why do I never think to use it? Let alone for books! We’ve seen how successful Leeds Uni Tickets and similar Facebook groups have been in providing a platform on which so many useful sales, suggestions and information can be voiced, seen and heard. Let’s start circulating our old books on here too.

Abebooks – A pretty simple, easy to use, UK-based website. It’s academic and feels like you’re navigating JSTOR, or some other academic journal-style website. A worth-while and legit alternative to Amazon. Website: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/Textbooks/

DEPOP – wait…what? That’s right – people sell their books on Depop. We’re still not quite sure why Depop is so much easier to use than ebay, gumtree and other second-hand trading sites put together…but frankly, it just IS. Maybe it’s a Generation Z thing, but the simplicity of purchasing and selling on Depop means it’s the only site that most of us use to trade old garms. Only recently, we found out that people were selling old fiction novels on there, and though they are few and far between, the law of supply and demand governs that the more we start circulating old textbooks on there, the more people will buy them. It seems like a waste to not use this platform to buy books and boycott Amazon. Especially because, as you might know if you’ve ever posted on Depop, there really is no harm in listing something — it can sit there in your shop for years, rent-free, before being purchased. A tenner is a tenner, right? And you might even have an edgy crochet-knit bucket hat thrown in by the seller too.

We Buy Books – probably offering the most competitive pay-out rate for textbooks. Not necessarily the best for promoting circular economy/ inter-student trade, but hey, recycling old books and making a bit of money back on them is an opportunity too good to miss. Website: https://www.webuybooks.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwiOv7BRBREiwAXHbv3AJXmNFxdhOPory1LChvrF00EndZDaoc-04AVbQ_D8zLytVCAm6kbxoCNoAQAvD_BwE

Additionally, below is an extensive list of Black-owned online publishers and Book Shops, from which purchasing books would mean you’d be playing your part in making your personal sustainable life-style changes, more intersectional. Even if the books you need for your studies can’t be found on these sites (let’s be honest – the white, male dominated syllabus is something we already know to be an issue), then discovering and supporting black writers whilst simultaneously educating yourself on the legacies and ongoing denouements of Colonialism, and purchasing books which support black-owned independent businesses is a holistic and far-reaching way to play your part in the anti-racism movement.

This is Book Love: Travelling Multicultural Book Carnival  www.thisisbooklove.com

No Ordinary Bookshop  www.noordinarybookshop.co.uk/

Happy to BME  www.happytobme.co.uk 

Little Drum Publishing   https://littledrumpublishing.com 

Hashtag Press  https://www.hashtagpress.co.uk/

Conscious Dreams Publishing https://consciousdreamspublishing.com/ 

Peaches Publications http://www.peachespublications.co.uk/

Onwe Press https://www.onwepress.com 

Dark Books https://www.darkbooks.co.uk/

Alanna Books https://alannabooks.weebly.com/

Just Like Me Books  https://www.justlikemebooks.co.uk/

JLG Publishing https://www.jlgpublishing.co.uk/

Casey Elisha Books https://www.caseyelishabooks.com/

Black Star Books https://www.blackstarbooks.co.uk/

Black History Books https://blackhistorybooks.uk/

Akinster Books http://www.akinsterbooks.co.uk/#/

K&M Publishing House http://kandmpublishinghouse.com/

Header Image Credit: Broke-Ass Stuart