Originally published in the Manchester Journal Dec. 27, 2017. 

MANCHESTER — As you approach the Northshire Bookstore, a sculpture bearing the face of Thomas Jefferson waits to greet you. Surrounding the symbolic hodge-podge of artistic elements are 45 of Jefferson’s quotations, carried by wheels representing a constantly changing nation, with arms bearing a church and a courthouse bobbing in the wind.

The statue was taken in by the Bookstore after the closure of its prior home, the Jelly Mill. In its design, the creation represents the framework for freedom laid out in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Over time, the mixed-metal masterpiece has become emblematic of the independent bookstores mission: to provide “ideas as diverse as the world in which we live” within its shelves.

Recently, that mission has become more controversial according to Co-Owner Chris Morrow. As American politics have become increasingly partisan, visitors from across the political spectrum have taken issue with books espousing views contrary to their own.

“We’ve gotten feedback from many different spectra of people’s political and ideological beliefs, opposing books that we carry of the alternate belief,” Morrow said. “This isn’t isolated to republicans or democrats, it’s all over the place.”

Building on the foundation laid by Jefferson, Morrow has worked to turn these complaints into opportunity. Recently, radio ads have begun to air with Morrow’s voice marketing the bookstore as a repository for all ideologies and beliefs. This month, Northshire announced the formation of a new college scholarship award, “The Open Mind Scholarship.”

“I’ve been wanting to do a scholarship program for a few years, and in the last year or two the need for people to see what we have here with open minds has become more apparent,” Morrow said. “The core value of an independent bookstore is to be unbiased in what we present, and to give the community access to all kinds of ideas and information and entertainment.”

The scholarship is designed to honor the diversity of thought, feelings, information, and perspectives found in books, while emphasizing the power that books have to inspire change. Each year Northshire will award two college-bound seniors, one from New York and one from Vermont — reflecting the store’s two locations in Manchester and Saratoga Springs — with $1,000 to help pay for college. To enter the contest, students are required to write up to one page on how a book has exposed them to something new, and how that has impacted their lives.

“The scholarship process is not meant to be onerous; what we’re really looking for is something that’s thoughtful and targeted to the open mind aspect of what we’re talking about,” Morrow said. “When I was trying to craft the scholarship in order to figure out what the kids would be writing about, this came to the fore as an important ideal.”

As students grapple with the subject through the scholarship process, Morrow hopes that they can come to recognize the importance of the diversity of thought in the world.

“When you look at how this country was created, it was formed with very diverse viewpoints, although not nearly the diversity we have in the world today,” Morrow said. “The First Amendment is there for a reason, and that’s something that we value a lot. Hopefully the students will come to value that even more through the writing process.”

While the scholarship is fairly new, Morrow says that he’s heard some positive feedback from the radio advertisement. Though he admits that the subject is sensitive, Morrow asserts that his message is vital to the Bookstore’s mission.

“We live in a day and age where I feel like open, unbiased analysis and access to ideas and information is challenged,” he said. “That’s not the direction we want to go as a society. We’re just doing our tiny part to make sure that people know that we can, and do, sell any book that’s been published.”

To enter the scholarship contest, students must submit their essay by Feb. 28, 2018. Submissions can be sent to contest@northshire.com.

Reach Cherise Madigan at cmadigan@manchesterjournal.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.

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