Barnes and Noble causes textbook disruption at start of semester
As the 2023-2024 school year began, students eagerly went to the bookstore to pick up their textbooks required for classes. However, due to backordering issues with Willamette University’s supplier Barnes and Noble, many students were unable to receive their textbooks. This ultimately resulted in them having to wait for their textbooks to come without some sort of timeline or estimation of when they would arrive. Barnes and Noble is the parent company of Barnes and Noble College, which manages Willamette’s bookstore.
Anne Gallagher, associate vice president of Budget and Facilities and the representative for administration when speaking to Barnes and Noble about the university’s textbook emergency, said that the “root cause of the issue is due to ordering.” She went on to add that, “We entrusted Barnes and Noble to oversee bookstore operations at Willamette and to manage the bookstore, and the fact of the matter is they had significant ordering issues.” Mira Karthik (‘24), president of the Associated Students of Willamette University, affirmed Gallagher’s statements, saying, “Barnes and Nobles quite literally just did not place the order for textbooks. This was a complete oversight on Barnes and Noble. This was not something that was completely university related at all. It was corporation related.”
In terms of combating these issues as they occurred, administration communicated to students that they were striving to make sure that at least a few shipments would arrive at the bookstore every day. Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Ruth Feingold stated in a community email at the beginning of the emergency on Sept. 21, 2023, “We have been assured that the store is getting more deliveries on Monday and Tuesday, and they expect a majority of the missing books to be on the shelves no later than Wednesday.” However, there were still reports of students having to wait another week after that. Gallagher reiterated these sentiments, stating Barnes and Noble “did make a number of requests for expedited shipments to get the books that we needed. I would say that in the meantime they've reacted to solve it as best they could.” Bill Smaldone, professor of history, added that the bookstore has been using a new ordering form introduced by Barnes and Noble, where instead of sending it to a known person, it was sent to “the ether.”
Despite administrators communicating via two emails with students in regards to the textbook shortage, faculty weren’t initially given any definitive explanation for why the shortage was happening. Smaldone said the textbook emergency left professors “scrambling and reworking [their] syllabi. Others had to make PDFs for assignments which cost time and money. It was also difficult to know how long this was going to go on—classes without books.” He went on, stating, “There wasn't an official announcement to us about the problem; it became clear there was a problem when students couldn’t get the books.” Later on, Feingold contacted faculty about the bookstore emergency, iterating that Gallagher would do her best to combat the issues.
Additionally, Smaldone mentioned how this is the first time a textbook emergency has happened in the 32 years he has been working at the university. Without any precedent or procedures to follow, administration, faculty and students were put in a completely unfamiliar situation. However, Smaldone did acknowledge that “the people who Barnes and Noble have sent to remedy the situation were put in a really difficult position, and they’ve done the best they can to provide the books to us,” emphasizing how important he believes an on-campus bookstore is.
Karthik said that to supplement the lack of textbooks at the bookstore, she and Feingold have been working on a sheet of resources and alternative places to get textbooks. “Typically the demographics of students ordering from the bookstore are underclassmen, so a lot of times they don't really learn about the other resources they have for ordering textbooks.” She mentioned the usefulness of the website Bookfinder.com, which is a resource where you can search for textbooks from the lowest to highest price by searching up the ISBN number.
In an email sent out on Sept. 19, 2023, Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Dan Valles addressed the continuous lack of textbooks at the bookstore, stating Barnes and Noble “has acknowledged the mistakes they made during the ordering process and is working hard to ensure that all textbooks are available as soon as possible.” This includes additional staff to process books, extending their hours to ensure they are available and continuously updating impacted students. Valles’ email assured that Barnes and Noble has created a plan in order to prevent these issues from occurring again in the spring and that Willamette “will be monitoring their work closely.”
When reaching out to Barnes and Noble for a statement, there was no response. However, if students haven’t been able to pick up their textbooks due to backordering issues, the bookstore will uphold their return policy.