Although university traditions can be fun, they are ‘not just for fun’. Moving beyond the visual quaint imagery of university traditions, this study explores the workings of institutional traditions during the everyday consumption of pedagogic innovation. The study employs a Reader-Response Theory, a prominent school of literary criticism, of two textbook innovations within a university establishment which had a distinct tradition to research beginning in the early 1960s. The findings suggest that the temporary institutional breakdown provides a powerful medium to understand the work of university traditions in the consumption of innovative textbooks. We show that in the consumption of pedagogic innovation, the recipients are not passive but are co-constructors of university tradition defence, via the articulation of values, boundary containment and identity work. We identify, moreover, four types of readings of the pedagogic innovation – interpretative, instrumental, inversive and reflexive. The findings also reveal three distinct forms of tradition vocabularies employed in the university administration of pedagogic innovation – breach concerns, redress articulation and reintegration epistemology. Overall, the findings contribute to a more sophisticated understanding of the ‘past in the present’ in the workings of university traditions in the everyday consumption of pedagogic innovation.