To Follet’s: New Technology more Hindrance than Benefit

Jenn Lee, writer

As near as I can tell, Follett’s is categorizing their books entirely by author or editor surname. I prefaced that sentence with “as near as I can tell,” because after entering Follett’s this semester, I spent about fifteen minutes inside (being as confused and as lost as I have ever been in any bookstore) before retreating to the safe haven of online shopping to procure my required texts.

Most college bookstores arrange their selections by class, section, and instructor. Follett’s at NEIU decided to buck that long-standing trend this year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to having attended six colleges and universities, including my current term at NEIU. To date, Follett’s is the only university bookstore I have encountered, as a student or otherwise, that groups their offerings in any manner other than that of class, section, and instructor.

While I may not be an expert, I have no qualms about declaring my expert-level knowledge of bookstores. From shiny, big-name corporations to quirky, adorably niche indie operations, I have worked in and frequented (and planned vacations) around bookstores for most of my more-than-the-typical-college-student’s years. Follett’s is the first bookstore, of any type that I have confronted, that organizes their stock solely by author or editor surname.

The most mazy used bookstore makes at least a cursory effort at sorting their books into the broadest of genres such as fiction, non-fiction, and those horrifying dystopias. If it’s important for standard consumers to have some idea of what might be found where, it is clearly even more important for students who go to their bookstores (often with very limited amount of time) to be able to quickly and easily find the books they need.

Even if every student that walked through Follett’s doors had their class syllabi in hand, it would still take far too long for them to find the books they need. Scanning shelves exclusively by author surname makes no sense when you’re browsing for bestsellers, let alone on the hunt for biology texts and Norton anthologies.

Follett’s does provide a system called KIOS, where students use a tablet found near the right side of the bookstore. Students enter their identification number in the tablet, and it pulls up all the books needed for a given semester, organized by author and title.

“KIOS helps students find their books quickly,” Hope Tsurutani, an employee at Follett’s, said. “There are not enough employees to help every single person that walks in.”

Tsurutani mentioned that before KIOS, she was constantly pulled from helping with the cashiers, to helping maintain Follett’s organization, to helping several students find their books. She said the benefit of KIOS is it provides each student with their own personalized list of books that helps them find their texts based on the author’s last name.

“This way, every student receives help finding their books quickly,” Tsurutani said.

Yet senior student Brianna Carter did not feel like Follett’s new layout is helpful. “It’s confusing,” Carter said, as she ran her hand through her hair in frustration. “I’m just walking up and down the aisles, trying to find every single one of my books.”

In talking to Tsurutani and Carter, I’ve realized that while Follett’s idea to make their employees’ jobs easier by introducing technology to assist students in finding their books is appreciated, the execution falls short due to tablet malfunctions. Even when the technology works as intended, it doesn’t seem to provide much benefit to the students searching for their books. It makes it more difficult, confusing, and time-consuming.

In the current day and age, there are more than enough roadblocks in place for our students. We do not need our university bookstore throwing further obstacles in our paths. Sort our books by class, section, and instructor. Sometimes a standard practice is standard for a reason.