Bookstore begins new chapter

St. Olaf College announced via email that “Barnes & Noble College Booksellers will assume operations of the St. Olaf Bookstore” in a move that will “provide more comprehensive and cost-effective retail services.” However, for some of the bookstore’s student workers, Barnes & Noble’s assumption of operations has evoked anxiety rather than excitement. On Feb. 12, student workers were informed they must apply for private employment with Barnes & Noble by March 9 if they wish to keep working. They also learned their work awards will no longer apply at the bookstore.

This has put some students into a precarious financial situation, as student workers have no guarantee that they will work the same number of hours or earn the equivalent value of their work awards under Barnes & Noble.

“I have no idea how flexible they are going to be with hours, but it’s giving me a lot of anxiety. I am on full work study, and rely on it heavily to help me pay for school,” student worker and manager’s assistant Alden Bostwick ’20 said.

Some student workers are frustrated that they were only given a month to assess their employment options.

“I can’t speak for others, but I feel pressed for time in delivering the application,” student worker Matthew Dufresne ’20 said.

The Feb. 12 email from Student Accounts to bookstore employees outlining the employment changes encouraged students who do not want to work for Barnes & Noble to visit the St. Olaf Student Employment website and attend the Student Employment Fair that was held on Feb. 13.

“In terms of students finding other jobs, I think that it may be kind of short notice, especially for freshmen, because they may not be aware of all the opportunities available to them,” student worker Norman Buruchara ’20 said.

“I have no idea how flexible they are going to be with hours, but it’s giving me a lot of anxiety. I am on full work study, and rely on it heavily to help me pay for school,” – Alden Bostwick ’20

Assistant Vice President of Budget and Auxiliary Operations Angie Matthews explained that student workers didn’t hear about employment changes at the bookstore until Feb. 12 due to legal issues related to employment law.

“It took us a few days to pull together the formal legalities of getting the postings prepared and communicated to the students,” Matthews said. “Posting and applying for the position is a Barnes & Noble requirement to ensure compliance with employment law, which was the same practice used to hire non-student employees … It is the intent of Barnes & Noble to hire the current student employees, as their schedules permit.”

There is also the possibility of layoffs facing full-time managers at the bookstore. According to Dufresne and Buruchara, at least one long-time manager is being laid off.

Textbook Manager Chalee Follansbee was reached for comment but said that she “was not at liberty to manke any comments at this time.”

While some student workers expressed frustration over their employment situation, many who plan to apply expressed optimism about Barnes & Noble’s assumption of operations.

“I’ve gotten a chance to talk to a few employees, a lot of them are pretty open to change,” Buruchara said. “Barnes & Noble has said they’re willing to respect a lot of the traditions the bookstore has kept, for example during Christmas Fest, so I guess for the most part they’re pretty open-minded … as far as I know it’s been a pretty smooth transition so far.”

“I think the bookstore will remain similar to what it has been, just backed by a different company,” Dufresne said.

However, some aesthetic changes are possible. “There’s going to be redecorating from what I believe,” Dufresne said. “I don’t know about a full-blown remodeling.”

The decision to have Barnes & Noble assume operations of the bookstore is part of the College’s wider efforts to cut costs and increase revenue through the Strategic Resource Allocation Project (SRAP).

“While SRAP has certainly provided a good opportunity to take a close look at the operations of the bookstore, the change likely would have happened irrespective of SRAP, due to the changing bookstore industry,” Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jan Hanson said. “Textbook sales have been declining in recent years, due to competition from online retailers, making it more difficult to maintain profit margins as a self-operated bookstore.”

St. Olaf anticipates partnering with Barnes & Noble will reverse the bookstore’s financial troubles.

“A large operation like Barnes & Noble can bring many efficiencies to the table. As such, we anticipate bookstore revenues will increase by approximately $150,000 per year,” Hanson said.

Hanson expects that this increased revenue will not only rectify the bookstore’s financial difficulties, but will also help shore up the college’s general operating budget. Indeed, one of the primary goals of SRAP is to “explore opportunities to increase revenues” in light of the College’s rising costs, falling net revenue and projected budget shortfalls.

However, the College administration isn’t making the decision based on financial reasons alone. According to Hanson, Barnes & Noble has the “largest selection of rental, digital and used textbooks in the market,” and will offer students more options at lower prices.

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