COUNCIL 2004-2005 Year-end Committee Report
Also see the Community Relations and Facilities Year-end Committe Reports.
The two specific charges assigned to the Committee for 2004 were (i) to investigate the pricing of textbooks as well as the price and type of merchandise carried by the University Bookstore and (ii) monitor the state and future of independent bookstores.
On the first charge the Committee reviewed both the result of a survey undertaken by the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) and another, more extensive survey, conducted for the University Business Services: the Committee opted to use the latter rather than undertake one of their own, and were grateful to Chris Bradie, director of Business Services, for making this confidential document available to it. It comprised both statistical tables and several pages of transcribed comments (these tended inevitably to be impressionistic, and predictably they ran the gamut of enthusiastic to downright jaded and disillusioned).
We noted with satisfaction the larger numbers of responses to this 2003 questionnaire (1,630) than to that undertaken a year previously (653); the bulk of these respondents were undergraduates (841), staff (441) and graduate students (333), with a disappointingly small number of faculty (14). A predominance of customers patronized the Bookstore for books, school supplies, insignia and textbooks, with half of them paying 1-3 visits per month. Overall, the impression of the Bookstore was very favorable or favorable (82%), and its atmosphere, neatness and cleanliness were rated even higher. There was a modestly less favorable rating of the overall layout and of employee friendliness, helpfulness and professionalism; there was less enthusiasm for the availability of employees (61%) and their ability to answer questions (69%).
Judgments on merchandise (other than books and textbooks) were much less enthusiastic, with student opinion being slightly less favorable than the overall responses. Most harshly criticized was pricing, as were the selection and availability of different sizes of clothing (as well as their accessibility on display).
As a result of their discussions of matters raised by the survey, the Committee makes the following recommendations:
• that the Bookstore review its allocations of space to different categories of merchandise in the light of their understanding of community needs and report to the Committee in the spring semester. This request is made in the light of reservations expressed by the Committee on the inadequate supply of school and art materials (see below), on the justification for the “newly expanded Golf section” (see University Square News, Spring 2004) and on the space allocated to the café in the light of both other nearby outlets and the pressures of space within the Bookstore for other merchandise; spatial distributions of merchandise in the old bookstore were thought often to have been more satisfactory.
• that the Bookstore pursue energetically an increase in its provision of used textbooks; while the Committee were pleased that there had been a 35% increase in the availability of these over the last year, it felt that further improvement was needed and possible, especially if faculty could be encouraged to identify titles that would be re-used and could therefore be gathered for resale.
• that, given the patchy availability of customer service, terminals be installed in the store on which customers may conduct their own searches on the availability of titles.
• that discount opportunities already in existence be extended and put on a regular basis.
• that the Barnes & Noble membership card with 10% discount be applied to textbooks in the Bookstore.
• that, given that Dolbey’s cannot cope with all demands in the medical field, the Bookstore improve its seemingly erratic handling of medical textbooks, in particular addressing the fact that medical students start new courses every four weeks;
• that a greater effort be made to ensure that new books, including those reviewed in the New York Times—arrive more speedily in the store.
• that opening hours on Family Weekend be extended (with earlier opening).
• that the provision school supplies and art materials be expanded.
• noting that the Bookstore’s website seemed to be either unknown or little visited and that, in addition, only 49% of respondents had a favorable opinion of it, that the Bookstore address ways of improving its website and its facilities (e.g. to allow customers to check online for the availability of books and merchandise).
The second charge was accomplished by interviews with the owners of Penn Book Center, The House of Our Own (both undertaken by the chair) and the manager of Dolbey’s Health Science book store (undertaken by Peter Dodson). It was agreed by all three that relations with the University Bookstore were now working well and amicably.
The Independents compete, as does the University Bookstore, with students’ online textbook purchases; the two (non-medical) stores noted that they relied heavily on textbook sales to maintain general stock, so the discount purchasing elsewhere certainly handicaps them. The earlier availability of course lists, urged rightly on all sides, also means that while students have the chance of shopping around, the Independents who stock texts for courses experience lower sales as a result.
Independents define themselves, in large measure, by their owners’ choice and stocking of titles beyond the textbook range, and they are greatly valued for that; however, one Independent noted a significance trend in fewer and fewer walk-ins for browsing [“a canary in the mine,” was how it was expressed]. If students are less likely to visit the Independents for textbook purchases, there are likely to be fewer sales of other books.
Independents are now further disadvantaged by a new process at the Penn Bookstore whereby students are able to make online purchases for those textbooks that faculty have identified as available from the University Bookstore. One way in which this situation could be eased for the Independents would be for the University to extend to them the option of students charging purchase against bursar bills.
One minor glitch, easily remedied, is that the University Bookstore’s phone number is not listed in the White or Yellow Pages as is that of the Penn Book Center, with the result that the latter receives in error many calls which they are at pains to re-direct. This confusion also stems in part from their name change (from the Pennsylvania Book Center to one similar to the Penn Bookstore) which was required by the University at the time of their relocation to 34th and Sansom Streets.
Note: The Committee took shape only in April 2004 and met once in that Spring Semester and otherwise did some business via e-mail; in the 2004 Fall Semester it met three times. In late October it was asked to extend its activity beyond the calendar year to the summer 2005 (completing an academic year); while it had already completed the business assigned to it (as reported here), it now intends during the Spring Semester 2005 to revisit the issues outlined in the first of its recommendations above and, if appropriate, make a further report.
2004-2005 Committee Members
Chair: John Dixon Hunt (landscape architecture); Faculty: Norma Cueller (nursing), Peter Dodson (vet medicine), Peter Fader (Wharton), Ian Frank (infectious diseases/med), Melanie Green (psych), John Dixon Hunt (landscape architecture); Graduate Students: Christopher Nyren (Wharton), Cay Bradley (SSW); Undergraduate Student: Allison Floam (Wh ’05); PPSA: Jeff Barta (sales & marketing conference services), Emily Batista (Van Pelt Library), Leslie Delauter (college houses & academic services); WPSA: Felicia Bing (psych); Ex-Officio: Chris Bradie (business services).
Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 24, March 15, 2005