Leonard Oser, general manager of the University of Connecticut bookstore, spoke about the changes the bookstore has made in response to COVID-19.
Oser said that the layout and flow of the bookstore needed to be changed. In particular, he referenced the singular set of entrances and the arrows they had to include that dictated where people should walk to limit contact with others.
“We wanted to keep everyone safe and design a store traffic pattern that reduced contact,” Oser said. “We have a single entrance in and out of the store. The stairways are one up and one down. The textbook aisles are closed to the public, and we have counter service upstairs where a bookseller will get your books for you and check out upstairs.”
Oser said students were additionally encouraged to order books online when possible. This has been paired with lowered store capacity as a way to limit contact.
“We have encouraged students to order online and ship home or use the curbside pickup, where you go to a side entrance to get your order without even entering the store. We also limited store capacity,” Oser said.
Oser stated that students have utilized the online ordering system much more this semester. Online ordering and digital books rose significantly in popularity, he said.
“The most significant change in business has been the shift to mostly online orders and the number of digital books sold,” Oser said. “Obviously with only a fraction of the students on campus and most studying remotely, both options increased in popularity.”
The largest challenge the bookstore faced at the beginning of the semester was students who waited until the last minute to order their books. He said that this put a huge strain on the bookstore and was only worsened by UPS delays across the state.
“Our most significant challenge was the fact that most students waited until the weekend before classes or until classes started to order their books,” Oser said. “This was a tremendous strain on our team and our system. We processed a record number of orders in a very short window of time… On top of that UPS was experiencing severe delays across the state due to many schools shifting to remote learning.”
The bookstore also faced the challenge of not being able to hire its typical UConn student workers. To work around this issue, the bookstore worked with E.O. Smith High School and the local community.
“One thing that was a particular issue for us that many may not know is that this semester, we were not able to hire our usual 60-70 fantastic student workers as we have in past semesters,” Oser said. “Students would usually start working here mid-August, but because of the 2-week quarantine and limited number of residential students, that was not an option. We worked with E.O. Smith High School, recruited many of their students, and hired many folks from the community to help us through rush.”
Despite the difficulties the bookstore has faced, Oser still feels that this semester has largely been a success. He attributes this in part to the student body that was willing to cooperate with guidelines and regulations.
“Overall, I feel that it was a successful semester so far,” Oser said. “Our students are the best and were understanding and accepting of the changes, which helped keep us all safe by wearing masks and waiting in lines 6 feet apart for the most part.”
For the future, Oser recommends that students order their books well in advance to limit the surge of orders at the beginning of the semester.
“Our students are the best and were understanding and accepting of the changes, which helped keep us all safe by wearing masks and waiting in lines 6 feet apart for the most part.”