Bookstore rethinks policies under fire from frustrated students

Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

The Sarah Lawrence bookstore gets a lot of flack from the students and sometimes it’s actually warranted. When they have books in stock, they overcharge for them, and when they’re back ordered, the books aren’t expected to come in for multiple weeks. This creates a problem, as students then have to start classes without the books they need for completing their assignments.

However it’s not entirely the bookstore’s fault.  There is a decent sized problem surrounding the student body’s consumption of literature. There are students who despite not being in a class, or who get bumped from a class, decide to pursue their interest in the subject by buying the books in the bookstore anyways, leaving none or not enough books for those in the class .  Now, the students in the class have to belatedly order from Amazon or elsewhere, and wait until they arrive.  In the meantime, they now have to find alternative methods to get their hands on the readings. 

In addition to the problem of books bought by students not enrolled in a class, is the fact that the bookstore charges prices often too expensive for students.  While Rent-A-Book seeks to remedy this it isn’t effective: a single margin note in a rented book decreases the number of books available to rent out.  The bookstore also takes longer than online sellers to receive books, why is this? 

SLC Bookstore Store Manager Jorge Arteaga explains that part of the problem the bookstore faces in getting books for students is that they start by ordering a certain number of used copies and, once the school year begins, they order new editions of the books.  But, sometimes, the books that are harder to find, or even out of print, take longer to come in, which creates a back up. 

“The difference between Amazon and us is that Amazon has smaller book holders or smaller companies that hold on to books longer. We have to go directly to the distributors and publishers”, said Arteaga.  

Arteaga continues to explain that, occasionally, the distributors that the SLC bookstore goes through get backed up, as we are not the only school ordering books this time of year.  Arteaga stresses the importance of the “Save the Sale Initiative”; a step the bookstore took to try to help students get books faster by putting a slip of paper on the bookshelves, which allows students to order out-of-stock books on the spot, so when the books arrive, they have a reserved copy.  

“We really want to help the students as much as possible and get them to shop in the store,” Arteaga said.  

The issue seems to be a perfect storm of bookstore/eager-to-learn students/book warehouses.  Arteaga agrees that students purchasing books for classes they are not in is a large part of the problem.  Luckily, Arteaga shared some ideas that the bookstore is mulling over to solve this problem.  One such thought is a clerking system, in which students show a book clerk a list of courses they are in and the clerk goes to the back room and retrieves the books.  Then, after the beginning of the semester, students would be free to purchase whichever books they want, despite their course load.  Another idea is to have students’ courses connected to their OneCards so when the bookstore swipes a student’s OneCard, they can see which classes the student is in, and ensure that students are only purchasing books that correspond with their courses.  Again, this wouldn’t be for the entire semester – just until all students have what they need for their classes.  

Arteaga disclosed, that the overall number of students using the bookstore has declined greatly this past school year.  Many students are relying on Amazon for their books, as the prices are notably lower and it makes for a less stressful experience.  

 “I rely on Amazon unless I need a book for the very next day.  I also would use the bookstore more if it was open more and was better stocked” said Valerie Veldez, ’17. 

Even though these issues are not necessarily the bookstore’s fault, other more efficient services are emerging and the bookstore needs to compete with these, or throw in the towel and stick to sweatshirts, snacks, and assorted school-spirit items.  

by Sarah Simon '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.