Putting the books back in ‘bookstore’: Making the College bookstore a community space

While the Williams Bookstore has its upsides, including a friendly and helpful sales staff, we believe that the bookstore’s corporate management fails to cater to the needs of the community and students for whom it was intended.

While the new bookstore is closer to the center of campus than Water Street Books and is therefore more convenient for purchasing or renting textbooks, it does not use its space efficiently. The space that the textbooks occupied at the beginning of the semester is currently empty. Instead, this space could be used to fill the lack of seating and working space throughout the rest of the bookstore. The bookstore was marketed as a place for students to work and collaborate, yet there is minimal space for such activities; the tables that are present are not conducive to group work. The bookstore also sells a large amount of College gear, which seems like an inefficient use of space, given the proximity of the better selection of gear at the Williams Shop up the street.

Additionally, the design of the bookstore was altered from original expectations. The children’s section, which was meant to help integrate the community with the College, was cut by 80 percent from the original planning phase. The general books section, which many feel is also insufficient for a bookstore, was cut by 50 percent, and is noticeably smaller than what was previously at the Water Street location. Importantly, the position of trade books manager position, which would supervise these areas, was never filled, leaving no one in particular responsible for solving these problems.

While the coffee shop at the bookstore is a Tunnel City offshoot, the original Tunnel location is directly across the street and has better facilities, in addition to a wider selection. The community expected the new coffee shop to have a different selection of lunch foods, like sandwiches, and beverages, yet instead got a watered-down version of the coffee shop across the street. Having additional food and beverage options would encourage people to spend more time at the bookstore, as they would not need to leave to eat a meal.

While the Tunnel City across from the bookstore closes at 6 p.m., its offshoot in the Williams Bookstore is open until 10 p.m. However, Tunnel City is not obligated to continue these extended hours after one year of operation. Therefore, the bookstore coffee shop could potentially close at an earlier hour in the future, as a result of decreased business during late night hours. The College should do everything within its power to ensure that the store and the coffee shop continue to remain open late.

The College Bookstore committee had plans to further integrate the bookstore with the student body, yet these ideas were not implemented. The committee suggested that work study be available to students in the bookstore, a proposition which was denied by Follett, the contractor that runs the bookstore. The committee also suggested that an internship at the bookstore be incorporated into the SPEC 21 program offered during Winter Study, but Follett postponed consideration of this idea.

For the bookstore to cater more towards the students and the College community it was intended to serve, we suggest that it fill the position of trade books manager so that the general books section can be overseen and improved. The College gear section should be replaced with books, new study spaces or other merchandise, such as what one would find at a convenience store. We commend the bookstore for selling simple toiletries, but argue that it would be beneficial for the bookstore to have a larger variety of affordable goods, especially since there is no longer a store that sells an adequate selection of items like this within walking distance of the College. The space that is used for textbooks for a small fraction of the year could also be replaced in the rest of the year with more study spaces that are more suited for work. The bookstore could also support local businesses by replacing the Tunnel portion of the store with a different company that would increase the number of food and beverage options available on Spring Street for students and the community. There are many opportunities to improve the space, and the College and Follett must collaborate to make the most of them.