…about the bookstore in the new Visitor Center at Gettysburg.
Last night, I spoke with a couple good friends who live in town, one of whom visited the new VC last during the open house for locals. Overall, he was very impressed with the facility, commenting that it reminded him of the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg Pa. Most of his comments were positive.
However, when he gave his impressions of the bookstore therein, I didn’t like what I heard. He estimated that there were only about half the titles carried in the new store compared to the old bookstore. In addition, he noticed that “alternative history” titles are now being carried – like Newt Gingrich’s historical fiction book about Gettysburg. In the old bookstore, alternative fiction was NOT offered. There used to be a committee of Park Rangers who had to approve each new book, which helped protect the public from books of lesser quality – and alternative-type fictional works were never permitted. The old VC bookstore was, in fact, about the only place in town that you didn’t find such works.
Now that Event Network is running the show there, apparently anything that sells is fine. I assume that there is no longer any say in the matter by the Rangers or any other such approval committee. It’s more about marketing than history, it seems, and if it’ll sell it gets on the shelf.
Hey, maybe we’ll be able to buy that book from the mid-90s or so, that explored what may have happened at Gettysburg had Lee’s army been armed with submachine guns!
Or that video from a few years ago (I think it was called The Confederate States of America) which was based on the idea of the south having won the war, and what it would be like to have two separate countries now.
I don’t think this bodes well for the VC bookstore. I know, I know, everything eventually “must” bow to marketing pressure. And they have to make money. Yeah, I get it. But Visitor Center bookstores have always been the last bastion for good historical non-fiction works, and now it seems as if this private-public partnership venture has opened the door to placing more importance on the bottom line. At the Antietam bookstore, you won’t find books about who would have won the battle if McClellan had tanks (heck, he probably still would have lost!) and there aren’t any novels about the war had Jackson lived to be found in the Chancellorsville VC bookstore. Since I hear Antietam is slated for a new VC in the near future, maybe that will change, and others are down the road.
As I posted previously, I’m reserving judgment on all of this until I get to visit the new facility myself next Friday. But I don’t like some things I’m hearing about the bookstore. I’m disappointed in how this management partnership is affecting some things, although I’ll wait until I can see it for myself.