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Postcards from the Harvard Coop Bookstore

Updated on August 15, 2017

In my quest to visit the most fascinating bookstores and otherwise book related locales, I stumbled upon the Boston Public Library and the Harvard Coop Bookstore. As you can imagine, "stumbling upon" is a bit of a stretch, considering I stumbled upon them from Madrid, via New York.


The World's Top 10 Best Bookstores

So I may need to give a shout to The Guardian because I think they may have omitted The Coop as one of the fabulous top 10 world's best bookstores!

In all honesty, I think the good folks at The Guardian didn't mess up, The Coop probably doesn't fit the varied criteria, for example having loads, and I mean loads better than average volumes, either on a topic on or any specific subject matter; or else sitting on impressive architecture (only the top three bookstores in the top 10 list meet that one criterion), specializing on something that you won't find anywhere else in the world... and such.

I'm pretty sure, as in ready to bet money sure, that The Coop qualifies in a number of those criteria, but maybe not so as to make it to the top 10 list. So in my quest to visit the top 10 best bookstores, I feel like I may have ticked off the inexistent number 11. Tada!

The Wonderful Coop

View of the main floor
View of the main floor

The Coop is a mixture of today's bookstore, with the whole assortment of Nooks and their fancy covers, and timelessness literature where eternal pieces sit rightly labeled as Astounding Literature, and feature books by the best of the best, including the latest Nobel Prize Vargas Llosa, an assortment of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's, and the likes.

The bookstore features a great combination of the latest Larsen collection and oldest volumes kind of feel, with a whole wall dedicated to Classics –with a capital C, the only sort of Classics one would capitalize. The sections on sociology, history, politics, biographies, medicine, law and, and, and, are humongous, as one would expect in a college bookstore. In short, it has it all.

In the beginning, the Coop was simply a place to buy books, school supplies and coal and wood for those cold Cambridge winters. In 1916, when MIT moved from Boston to Cambridge, The Coop was invited, by a committee of the Technology Alumni Council and joined by the then president of the Institute, Dr. R. C. Maclaurin, to establish a branch store at MIT (The Technology Store), and has been on the MIT campus ever since. The Coop has grown into one of America's largest college bookstores; stocked with almost everything you'll need on or off campus. Best of all, the annual membership fee is still only $1, as it was in 1882.

From official website

Beautiful and Charming

Staircase leading to second and third floors
Staircase leading to second and third floors

That Old World Feeling

One feels at The Coop very much like one can feel in bookstores such as Livraria Lello e Irmao or Shakespeare and Co. Much contributing to this old world atmosphere, this environment where books are really kings of the hill, is the hushed ambience, the apparent true respect for the place where one is standing and its contents.

All tables on the second floor were occupied by Harvard students, either reading or clicking away on their laptops, without a sound heard across the whole space, everyone going about their business, quietly, peacefully, serenely, much like a library, except one can buy the stuff in The Coop.

Could be a Library

Could it or could it not be a library?
Could it or could it not be a library?

What's Not to Love?

In part, knowing the story of the place helped put me in the loving mood. It was a group of Harvard students who founded The Coop, which is actually short for Harvard Cooperative Society, in 1882.

The fact that it still exists today, and the fact that it still remains a sort of student society where membership is $1 a year, and grants you discounts to most any purchase, makes it at the very least a very lovable place.

Cherry on my particular cake is the building, a beautiful and beautifully decorated structure, as you can see in the photos.

The Cafe

Having a café in a bookstore isn't any novelty anymore, but I have one thing to say about the The Coop's Café: It was as silent and as peaceful as the rest of the place.

One feels like one needs to order in a hushed tone, which isn't really true, one can just order and be done with it, but still one feels like keeping up with the rest of the patrons, doing business quietly, peacefully, serenely.

How did I find it in me to take so many photos, I'm still not sure. Trust on tourists to make a mess of everything... whooops!

Two Bonus Shots

© 2011 Elena.


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    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid

      Hola Violet! Unlike other bookstores I've featured, The Coop is at least in your country, so it'd be easier for you to "stop by" :-) A plus: It's acoross the Harvard campus, which makes for a real interesting perk. I'm thinking whether to do a piece on that!

      I feel like you in bookstores and especially libraries, they have a peaceful atmosphere that's difficult to find anywhere else anymore.

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 6 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      I love bookstores,libraries and museums! When living in New York, I would visit the Midtown Manhattan public library and the size of it, the halls, the collection of books made me feel I was in another world. Being inside a huge bookstore is a different kind of energy in a congested city. Would love to visit the Coop. Your photos and description makes it attractive! :)