“I remember being a student and sitting at the Bull’s Head Bookshop and listening to authors, going to poetry readings,” she said. “It really makes me feel as if I’m coming full-circle to come and be one of the speakers there.”
Today, she will talk about her second book, “Pass of the Crow (I Am Currency Vol. 2),” at the bookshop. This marks her first time reading as an author at the store.
“The small bookstores are the ones that root for the smaller authors,” she said. “I’m not sure they would even be having me if they have this changeover.”
As a visiting author and UNC graduate, she hopes the potential privatization will not change the community.
According to Smith, independently run university bookshops are rare. The Bull’s Head does not answer to a corporate office, which allows the bookshop greater domain in choosing inventory. Founded in 1925, Bull’s Head is the only bookstore that offers books for the general public in the UNC system.
Currently, the bookshop hosts events and book readings for faculty and alumni. There are usually 15 to 20 readings each semester, and 20 to 25 percent are led by alumni. Smith also takes consignment from alumni who have self-published books; a portion of the proceeds from sales are paid back to the author.
Graduate student Erin Ryan knows this from experience.
In July, she self-published her book, “The Tyranny of Jessica,” before joining a master’s program in the School of Information and Library Science. She said she’d struggled to get her book into stores and was only selling it online until she came to UNC. When she visited the bookshop, she noticed it carried local authors. She asked Smith if Bull’s Head would be interested in carrying her book.
“(Smith) was willing to take self-published books because I was a student,” she said. “They put it on the shelf in really nice placement.”
Although Bull’s Head currently does not carry any undergraduate literary works, Smith is open to taking them. The bookshop carries undergraduates’ musical works, including a cappella albums.
Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, partners with Bull’s Head for various events.
As a member of the board of the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independent bookstores, Fiocco is familiar with Follett, the company that might privatize Student Stores. Fiocco said the biggest danger of privatization would be a lack of outlets for professors and faculty.
“If (Bull’s Head) were taken over by a corporate entity, then it would be my hope that that entity continued to allow the bookstore to interact and to be part of the community,” Fiocco said.
Although Bull’s Head and Flyleaf Books are competitors, they work together to establish best practices for business and help each other with inventory.
“Flyleaf very much supports the Bull’s Head,” Fiocco said. “We would be very upset to see them go away.”
Junior Emily Iffland comes into the bookshop at least once a week just to browse.
“I think it’s really a necessary part of campus,” she said.
For Grady, Bull’s Head is an outlet for her to reach larger audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
“I just feel it’s important to keep these small bookstores because small bookstores tend to be all about the experience, where the big chain bookstores are more about the bottom line,” Grady said.
Smith said she is still unsure about the future of the bookshop but wants to keep the focus on the art.
“I think so much now is about money and making money and how things can be more efficient,” she said. “Not as much attention is paid to artistic things or beautiful things.”