Barnes & Noble, the company that operates the UConn Bookstore, recently announced plans to renovate their main Storrs location to create a more “exciting and engaging bookstore.” In overseeing the project, UConn must make sure these renovations actually expand the usability of the space for students, and are not simply designed to make the space more profitable without clear benefit.
Leonard Oser, manager of the UConn Bookstore, told The Daily Campus additions and renovations will provide the ability for students “to plug in their device and hang out for the day.” Renovations to former office space will also be complimented by a new Starbucks location.
While these changes ostensibly aim to better the student experience within the bookstore, UConn, who has final say over the financing of the project (though UConn is not funding the renovations), must insist that an improved student experience is kept as the primary goal. Importantly, this does not simply mean offering students more reasons to spend time in the bookstore with more options to spend money.
The addition of a full-service Starbucks is welcome, but means that the affordability of the UConn Cafés, last seen in the space when it remained a co-op, is long gone. Again, Barnes & Noble is running a business and cannot be faulted for keeping business interests in mind. However, when running a university bookstore, some prioritization must be given to student needs, including affordability.
It comes as some surprise that the university was able to gain final say over financing on projects per their contract with Barnes and Noble. This is a welcome feature and check on the new operators. The university cannot hesitate to intervene if plans deviate from the original goal of creating a more inviting and engaging bookstore for the UConn community.
Barnes & Noble has been given access to a tremendous resource in the UConn student population. In overseeing the finances of this project, UConn must remember that reality. Students have fewer reasons to visit the bookstore as digital and online alternatives offer less expensive and more convenient options. Offering a more inviting and engaging space will go a long way toward getting UConn students in the door. So long as the renovations genuinely focus on student needs, this should be a welcome change.