Campus Frustrated After Bookstore Turnover

Photo by Laura Luengas

With changes in service providers and to the store itself, officials at the campus bookstore at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz said they’re looking to better their reputation with students and faculty members left frustrated by obstacles associated with book orders for the fall semester.

Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS), which contracts with SUNY New Paltz to provide for the bookstore, food services, vending machines, on-campus laundry machines, cablevision, ID cards and other services, signed on with Validis Resources in June after research and discussion of college bookstore management companies among CAS board members. Validis, which serves colleges like Michigan State University and Regent University, was chosen over the former provider, eFollet, and others.

CAS Director Steve Deutsch said working with Validis has been a positive experience with the exception of the textbook ordering process.
“It has really been a huge pothole,” he said. “The difficulties we’ve faced have caused us to really suffer in terms of our sales and reputation on campus.”

Deutsch said some of the issues associated with textbook sales were related to the remodeling of the store. With the construction of the $13.4 million addition to the Student Union adjacent to the bookstore on the basement level, portions of walls were removed and an 8-10 foot space was added along with new glass frontage.

As the renovation process continued over the summer, texts needed to be placed in storage. Deutsch said this led to confusion as to where books were, and the staff had difficulties locating and moving books from the service building to the shelves.

Kelly Junkins, the store’s new manager, also said that orders were delayed while the store was being renovated due to a lack of available space.

“Space is always an issue when a store is being worked on,” she said. “We are still trying to utilize the space in the best way possible and the transition went as smoothly as we could possibly make it.”

However, faculty members said order delays have set their students behind early in the semester.

Serpil Atamaz-Hazar, a new assistant professor in the history department, said she placed an order three weeks in advance for the texts for her classes. When she found out some of the books were still not in stock two weeks after classes began, she said she visited the store and found that tags with her course number and information were not placed on the shelves.

According to Deutsch, the bookstore staff had no way of knowing what was on the shelves unless they were to physically check them because of the technological problems that the entire company was facing. The Validis software system was damaged, inhibiting store managers and others from using a database to track availability of textbooks.

Although she said renovations and new management may have caused certain issues, Atamaz-Hazar said it may have been difficult for her students to find the books that were in stock and catch up on assignments related to textbooks that hadn’t arrived.

“I don’t want to be very critical at this point,” she said. “But I think it was more frustrating for the students who were not able to do their readings.”

Some students said they are still waiting for required texts to come into the store over a month into the semester.

Chelsea Feil, a fourth-year radio and television production major, said she ordered a book for class from the campus store, and was notified two weeks later that it was not in stock.

Although Junkins said she was not aware of there being any problems with e-mail notifications, Feil said the message she received had a link for checking the status of her order that was dead.

Still without her textbook, Feil said she wished she had turned to another outlet to get her books in a “more normal” time frame.
“It’s obnoxious when you come into the store and see one person behind a computer and no one knows where your book is,” said Feil. “It’s irritating that I haven’t gotten my book because I could have bought it from another source.”

Local retailers who carry textbooks assigned by SUNY New Paltz professors have also made a push to reach out to the students and faculty, which Deutsch said has caused more confusion.

Representatives from Mando Books, located on Main Street, reached out to faculty via e-mail about their store. Deutsch said this may have led professors to believe that they were an official book supplier for the school, which could have also negatively impacted the new campus store’s sales.

But store manager Andrew Polin said representatives from Mando Books said they were an off-campus alternative and not the official bookstore of the school. Polin said he hopes messages sent to faculty did not cause confusion, as they were meant to offer the campus community a means for comparison shopping.

“We wanted to let everyone know that we’re here, and that we offer the cheapest prices,” he said. “We have had a lot of professors and students come in and express their lack of enthusiasm about the campus store, so we will continue to work hard and pick up any slack.”
Deutsch said the switch to Validis has been generally positive aside from issues regarding textbooks; he said the remodeling went well and the corporate team has been responsive to campus officials.

Junkins said that the store is seeking to expand their offerings to students by looking out for fresh products. A new textbook rental program was also put in place, which allows students to rent required titles for one semester for half of the price. Junkins also said the staff will be looking to improve the store by adding signage and providing special offers and give-aways.

Although she said the beginning of the first semester was challenging in ways, Junkins said she and the entire staff at the bookstore will continue to try to do the best job possible.

“Our company strives to supply superior service to the students and faculty,” she said. “Now that we are settled, our goal is to provide the community with all that it needs.”

To address the textbook ordering issues, Deutsch said an advisory committee was formed. The group, which he said will include some of the more disgruntled members of the faculty, has met and has given direct feedback to Validis management.
“We have a lot of damage control to do to win the faculty back,” he said. “We’re through the hard part.”