The Seminary Co-Op, Remembered

While students know the Seminary Co-Op to be bright and airy, it wasn’t always so.

By Kardelen Sertsoz

In October 2012, the Seminary Co-Op moved a block from the basement of what is now Saieh Hall to McGiffert House, where it shares a building with Plein Air Café. Jasmine Kwong (A.B. ’06) and documentary photographer Megan E. Doherty (M.A. ’05, Ph.D. ’10) decided to commemorate the Co-Op’s former space with a project that has resulted in a documentary photography book five years in the making, If You Weren't Looking for It: The Seminary Co-op Bookstore.

The book consists of photographs taken by Doherty and Kwong, as well as interviews and a narrative history. “I think that the Co-Op has been, for over 50 years, an integral part of not only the UChicago community, but the Hyde Park, Chicago community, and literary communities,” Doherty said.

The bookstore was, and still is, somewhere people from all over the country—and indeed the world—can find rare books. But more than just an impressive bookstore, the Co-Op constantly hosts professors from various universities, author talks, and other events.

While students know the Seminary Co-Op to be bright and airy, it wasn’t always so. According to Kwong, the old bookstore “just kind of didn’t make sense, and that was what was so wonderful about it.” The former bookstore was a windowless maze that led nowhere, full of bookshelves, hidden rooms, and dead ends.

“I just knew that it was a special thing that I needed to capture. As the project evolved, it became clear that it wasn’t just books and ideas, but that it was a community, a center that drew people together,” Kwong said.

To Doherty, the book describes “a magical place,” a place as special and uncommon as the University itself. And that was always its goal—to document the co-op’s genesis “before it…disappears to the sands of time,” Doherty explained.

When asked about their favorite part of the old location, Kwong immediately said, “no walls. Just books.” Doherty paused, then added, “It was very unique…it was the only place kind of like that.”

An event with the two authors will be taking place this Saturday, October 15, at the Seminary Co-Op at 4:30p.m.