Faculty express concerns over new bookstore

Since the Williams Bookstore’s opening in August, many students and faculty have expressed concerns over the internal management and trade book section of the store.

Currently, the College has a contract with Follett, the campus bookstore chain that previously operated Water Street Books, until 2025, but both parties have the option to exit early with sufficient notice. Though Follett operates the Bookstore, the College intends to play a significant role in overseeing the Bookstore, primarily through the Bookstore Committee, which, according to the College’s website, “reviews and recommends operating policies and procedures, and provides guidance to both the bookstore and the College on bookstore matters.”

In last week’s faculty meeting, the Bookstore Committee and other faculty members expressed concerns about the Bookstore’s reductions in books and Follett’s recent hiring decisions. In particular, the linear shelf space for trade books from the old store was cut in half and the children’s book section was cut by 80 percent.

“I think it’s safe to say that all or nearly all of [the Bookstore Committee members] believe the trade books side of the store needs enormous improvement,” said Karen Shepard ’87, chair of the Bookstore Committee and professor of English. “A great bookstore understands who its customers are and offers an exceptionally well-curated assortment of books that encourages serendipitous discovery and browsing. Based on these standards, I think I would have to say that the trade section of the new Williams Bookstore, at least, is far from a success.”

Follett also told the committee that it would be consulted regarding additional hiring decisions, repeatedly stating over several years that it would hire a full-time trade books manager. Now, Follett indicates that it will not be consulting the committee regarding the decision to the extent the committee had understood, and the position will be part-time.

“The committee feels very strongly that [the trade books manager] is a key position, responsible for overseeing the area of the store that is most inadequate at the moment,” Shepard said. “The committee believes that the strongest candidates can only be attracted if the job description is revised to include the particulars of working in this community and if the position is full-time. We worry that Follett’s resistance to these things indicates a lack of interest on their part when it comes to doing what is necessary to create a vibrant, first-class bookstore, one that represents the College’s and the community’s values.”

In a meeting on Monday, the committee discussed potential courses of action to address these issues with Follett. “There will be a meeting between College representatives and Follett representatives this week to discuss several issues, including the issues that came up at the faculty meeting, as well as the trade position and the committee’s input for that hire,” Shepard said.

Still, Shepard emphasized that the College’s collaboration with Follett is on-going and that this is still very early on in the Bookstore’s process. What is clear thus far, Shepard said, is the displeasure among faculty members with the trade book portion of the store.