Bookstore buyout wreaks havoc on rental program

Bookstore manager explains some of the problems surrounding book delivery this semester.

Rikka Bakken, Editor-in-Chief

Bookstore employees were left reeling this summer when they were suddenly told that they were employed by a new company. The change caused a delay in the book ordering process, and so putting together the orders for students enrolled in the IncludED book rental program (previously known as Booksmart) was a bigger challenge this year.

“It was [the change in ownership of the bookstore] definitely a surprise to everyone,” said bookstore manager Melanie Farley.

The Hamline Bookstore was previously owned by the Nebraska Book Company, known as Neebo. This summer, Neebo was bought out by Follett Higher Education Group. Though the change in ownership brought new and better technology and resources for bookstore employees, the shock of the change and the time it took to learn new processes put the bookstore behind schedule.

“I think, looking at it from the corporate standpoint, they thought that they were doing us a favor because they didn’t want people to panic,” said Farley. “We had to learn all our jobs all over again. Everything changed. All our computer equipment changed, our database system changed, our mail order processing changed,  our webiste changed, a lot of our policies changed, both within our team as far as management policies as well as a few policies for pricing structures, rentals, promotions, etc.”

According to Farley, last summer the bookstore was able to begin processing orders July 1 for the book rental program. This gave them two months to put orders together.

“This year, our order release date was August 4, and there were some hiccups on that day, so we actually didn’t start that day,” said Farley. “I would say we probably started truly meeting our daily goals of processing on the sixth of August. So we had less than a month to process almost 1,800 students orders.”

The bookstore was able to meet this deadline in that limited amount of time.

“That says a great deal, not just for the productivity of our team, but also for the new technology that we have and the systems that are in place are now far more efficient,” said Farley.

That being said, the crunched timeline still caused a lot of little problems, particularly in regards to organizing the books for pick up.

“We ideally alphabetize everything by last name,” said Farley, “and there were two challenges this year. One was that expedited timeline.”

Farley said that all the book orders for the book rental program were not fully processed until the day before student pick up began. 

“That final alphabetizing was very rushed and clearly not as thorough as it probably needed to be just due to the fact that we didn’t finish until right up to our deadline,” said Farley.

There was also some initial confusion when recording student’s names.

“Unfortunately we caught onto this too late, [but] sometimes on the packing sheets, the student’s last name would get cut off, and it might only show four letters of a last name that had 10 letters,” said Farley.

The environment in Sorin didn’t help with the confusion.

“It was a sea of red bags,” said Farley. “It was 100 degrees in the building, the lighting was dim, and even I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of bags.”

The Sorin pick up location causes other challenges for the bookstore team as well.

“We don’t have enough space inside the store to house the text books for the term, as well as 1,700 or 1,800 bags of books,” said Farley. “As of yet, we have to do with what we have, which is unfortunately two very disconnected locations. And the Sorin Lobby does not have any access to any of the computer equipment that we need…so that’s our biggest challenge moving forward.”

The distance between Sorin and the bookstore is a disadvantage not only because it’s a logistical nightmare to transport 1,800 books twice, but also because it makes it harder for bookstore employees to arrange an early pick up for a student. Ideally, Farley would like to see the bookstore expand into the area where the Graduate Admissions Office is, so that the book rental program can operate out of that space. But a change like that would require more campus re-organizing.

“Administratively, I think we get a lot of support from the campus,” said Farley. “Everyone is aware of our priorities of space and things like that. I think they’re doing the best they can to support us.”

Despite all of this, Farley believes the bookstore is currently in the best place it could possibly be.

“I love our corner location. There’s something charming about an urban corner bookstore, but more so than that it’s very visible and easy to find,” said Farley. “When we were housed within the Bush Center, we often had to explain to students how to find And now we’ll have people just come in off the street and say ‘oh, my nephew attends here, and I saw your store and I want to grab a sweatshirt,’ or whatever it might be.”

Back ordered books can be source of confusion and anxiety for students, and Farley believes some miscommunication on the part of bookstore employees was a part of that. This year, students received an itemized packing list when they picked up their books. That list would have told the student if any of their books had been back ordered. The book in question would have been missing from the student’s bag, but this didn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t in stock at the bookstore. It just meant that the book was not delivered to the bookstore soon enough for it to be physically placed in the bag and brought to Sorin for student pick up.

“Probably by the time they [the student] picked up their order, that book was already in stock in the bookstore,” said Farley.

“We just copied our pick up hours from last year. But the dynamic now is changing so much… and students I think are being more accountable for their books, so they’re wanting to pick up earlier and so we need to adjust our hours for earlier pick ups.”

Overall, Farley feels that a lot was learned this semester and that the bookstore is in a good position to solve most issues.

“We now know the processes, we now have a team that’s more experienced with them.”