Council 2004-2005 Year-End Committee Reports
Supplement to the Bookstores Committee Report
March 31, 2005
While producing the committee’s report last semester (see Almanac Volume 51, No. 24, March 15, 2005), the topic of allocation of space within the Penn Bookstore was frequently raised; members therefore agreed to address this specific topic during the extended life of the committee into the spring semester 2005.
The Committee members studied floor plans provided by the Bookstore and paid their own visits to it. A few central issues emerged from a general discussion:
• the main entry into the Bookstore seemed cramped, overstocked and very neutral (no real sense of its being the Penn store); it was further noted that the plans supplied and studied did not represent the actual clutter of tables down the main entry aisle.
• the amount of space allocated to the café, music and magazines sections was questioned.
• the variety of merchandise is unsatisfactory.
It was generally agreed that the Bookstore’s obvious aim was to be a “jack of all trades” with the result that it was inevitably “master of none,” and that this appeal to a wide and “general” clientele clearly determined the spatial allocations and the presentation of material within them (i.e. multiple copies of popular or saleable items rather than a wider range of stock). However, while accepting the logic of this desire to serve more than just an academic community, it was felt that the Bookstore could present a better face/space to its customers.
In particular the clogged aisle that faces clients as they enter from Walnut, the need to maneuver past a series of tables of new fiction, cookbooks, etc., was off-putting in itself (particularly for students with backpacks) and did not, moreover, declare any special Penn identity. Nor does this threshold experience provide much sense of the range of items beyond (notably the apparel section, but also such sections as greeting cards which have been moved further back into the store from the entrance); while there is a list of sections at the entry, an annotated floor plan of the store would be welcome, especially since the Information Desk has been occasionally found without staff.
The Committee was divided on the issue of space allocation to the music section and the café (enlarged over the years) at the expense of other materials. The café was strongly welcomed by a majority of members for having natural light and for its provision of tables and chairs, while for a minority it was—given the alternatives nearby—space that could be better used (though we were unable to make precise suggestions as to what such alternatives might be). Most people were strongly for keeping it.
By contrast, the music section, especially in the light of the availability of music on the Internet, the volatile nature of the music industry and the seeming mass-market selection of music, appears to be a questionable use of space. A majority of us were for getting rid of this department. We were advised that the Bookstore was attempting to determine its relevance to clients, as for many members it has not satisfied their musical needs.
Finally, members queried the extent and rationale of the huge magazine section, and wanted to know what drove this particular scale and location. We had mixed reactions to this, but were hard pressed to find a reason for the retention of such a wide space and large provision.
Discussions of space necessarily drew the Committee yet again into discussions of the store’s ability to satisfy in different areas: among the deficiencies noted were a less than adequate art supply section than had been available in the old store, diminished stock of greeting cards, inadequate range of apparel sizes and styles, and unsatisfactory selection in the music section. Again, the point was made that the Store had a wholly generic character, and that a stronger Penn profile would be welcomed.
Finally, the Committee expressed the desire that their successors in 2005-2006 return to the various recommendations of this supplement and the main report and review what the Bookstore had done in response to them.
John Dixon Hunt, Chair, Bookstores Committee
Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 2, September 6, 2005
September 6, 2005
Volume 52 Number 2