Theosophical Society prepares to merge library and bookshop after falling on hard times
The CBD’s Theosophical Society bookshop and library is preparing to undergo a new look after financial pressures forced the charity to consider diverse ways of serving its devoted customers.
Both services have temporarily closed as work gets under way to expand the library within a section of the bookshop’s current space as part of a restructure the organisation hoped would draw more people through its doors when it reopens in the near future.
The Society’s board decided to merge the bookshop and library - which currently occupy separate spaces at 234 Flinders Lane - after having become a victim of online competitors and COVID-19 lockdowns.
Under the restructure, the library (which will also retain its current space) will take over the management of the bookshop and its space in a bid to save costs.
Stephen Fiyalko, honorary secretary of the Melbourne Theosophical Society, which has long supported and encouraged the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science, said the change would see a greater emphasis on promoting the library rather than just selling books.
“It will change the whole atmosphere and create a community space for people to sit and read rather than just stand around looking at books,” he said, adding the library and bookshop would work “in tandem to achieve the same end”.
“We’ll still have the same function; there’ll be books for sale, there’ll be all the stuff that we have currently for sale, but we’re going to open up the central part of the bookshop.”
Mr Fiyalko said the restructure was a necessary cost-cutting measure as the bookshop had fallen on hard times, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
“The bookshop has been with the Theosophical Society for many years, and it was a very strong part of the organisation, contributing a lot of income and promoting theosophy over a long period of time. But when Amazon came on the scene, it was in a steady decline,” he said.
“We’re taking a whole different approach to how we’re going to be presenting ourselves to the public as well as promoting theosophy.”
Mr Fiyalko said the library, which was relocated to Flinders Lane in recent years after calling Russell St its home for 40 years, was an “unrealised asset” to the community that few people knew about, which the society wanted to change.
He said some ideas being considered was dedicating half of its retail stock in books towards the library’s collection as well as using the new space to conduct talks on books and musical performances.
While conceding the change may not be accepted by everyone, Mr Fiyalko said the charity had “tried to do it in a way that accommodates the needs of ourselves but the community as well”.
His remarks come as more than 4000 people have signed an online petition claiming the library and bookshop were “under threat of closure” and called for the “reinstatement or compensation” of staff who were laid off.
But Mr Fiyalko was quick to reassure that neither the library nor bookshop were closing, instead it was downsizing and changing its current format as well as recruiting staff.
He said those critical of the changes had his full sympathy but any suggestion that both services would ever close was “misinformation”.
“We’re making a proactive decision to try to reduce the losses that we’re having so we can maintain it indefinitely and put the savings into something more productive.” •
Caption: Stephen Fiyalko, honorary secretary of the Melbourne Theosophical Society, said a restructure of its organisation to save costs will see its library better promoted.