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CMU bookstore should update hours to better match student schedules

CMU bookstore should update hours to better match student schedules (credit: Christa Hester/Co-Publisher) CMU bookstore should update hours to better match student schedules (credit: Christa Hester/Co-Publisher)

The bookstore’s normal closing times for the Spring 2012 semester are 6 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays. These times seem reasonable for most of the semester.

However, the times are unreasonable for the first week of classes. Many students start the semester without knowing which textbooks they will buy or even which courses they will take.

Students often do not get out of class until 4:30 p.m. or later. By the time they get a chance to buy textbooks, the bookstore has already closed.

Campus bookstores are in danger. They face threats from online markets like Amazon and half.com, as well as digital textbooks and online rental services.

Bookstores are caught between providing an important service to students and competing in a market in which they no longer have a monopoly.

In this environment, one would expect the Carnegie Mellon bookstore to take advantage of its inherent strengths: convenience, availability, and personal service. In some ways it has done this — the bookstore now offers rental services and direct price comparisons to Amazon and other websites. However, the bookstore’s restrictive hours are inconvenient to students trying to purchase textbooks in the evening.

Instead of its current practices, the bookstore should follow the model of the university libraries and adjust its operating hours based on the current stage of the semester. During the first few weeks of classes the bookstore should be open until at least 8 p.m.

After the rush dies down, it can change its hours to reflect the lower demand. This alteration is only necessary for the lower level of the store — the upstairs merchandise section has a different customer base and should continue to set its special hours based on alumni, parents, and prospective students.

Traditional campus bookstores serve an important purpose. A bookstore with student-centered policies is more convenient, and sometimes cheaper, than buying books online. Carnegie Mellon’s bookstore should continue to improve its policies to better serve students.