By Nicolle Schorchit
As I believe most of you know, our beloved little bookstore at Germantown is making dramatic changes because of the outsourcing of Montgomery College’s bookstores.
One of the changes is the number of administrative and managerial employees. Seven main employees have stayed on, some of which are familiar faces on Germantown: Philip Zanga, Ann McCalla, and Tom Pollins, but that is not the only thing that is going to change with the new company taking over.
Many bids were submitted for the outsourcing. Yet, the college decided that Follett Higher Education Group, Inc. would best serve Montgomery College. As said in a recent MC email, Follett is the largest college store operator in North America, operating more than 1,200 campus stores and 1,600 virtual stores throughout the US. Follett is dedicated to the development of flexible technologies that streamline the processes to enhance student success.
They will bring to Montgomery College a huge selection of course material with a focus in course material affordability, but that is not all.
First, Follett is going to bring a new integration tool called Follett Discover. It is a tool that is going to integrate with our Student Information System (SIS), which is Banner and our Learning Management System (LMS), which is Blackboard.
For faculty, Follett Discover will allow professors to discover course material that is outside of what they may typically have access to. So, when faculty sign on through the LMS, and click on Follett Discover, the courses they are teaching will pull over from the Banner system and is going to show all the courses they are teaching.
They can choose to keep with the same course material, but with Follett Discover open content repository if there is something out on the internet they would like to use Follett Discover will make it available for them. On the student side of Follett Discover, it will function similarly to what they are used to before. They can see what they are going to be using, and there is the ability to pay.
Follett will also continue with the system of new and used books, rentals (new and used), and digital (purchase and rent). Almost all books will be four to five dollars cheaper.
Used books will be 25% cheaper than new books, but the rentals are Follett’s best course material affordability option. Students save at least 50% on rentals.
If the book is not on the national rental database, Follett will set up a local rental program and make it available for the College. If students rent a book, but really wish they bought it, they can convert to purchase with no additional fee. They just pay the difference price and the rental fee.
As far as other products and services in the store, if you walk by the bookstore and you love that candy bar, Follett will bring you that candy bar. Follett has no intention of cutting off products that are sold now in the bookstore, yet they really hope that their 1,200 store experience brings in a group of products that our bookstore staff has not seen before.
We may be seeing a change in our student bookstore staff though. With Follett there will be no more work study for students at the bookstore. Follett says it encourages students to apply because just like their other stores they would like to run as a part-time student operation. Follett reassures that they will give preference to students.
Our current well-liked and helpful student staff will have to reapply if they wish to continue working at the bookstore. For now, Follett has said they will hire more people than they have to, then they will see who and what works best for the bookstore.
The biggest change is the major renovation plans Follett has for our little bookstore. They say they want the bookstore to have a stronger Montgomery College identity. For example, they would like more banners at the front entrance saying Montgomery College or the like.
Although there will be a design layout plan of the bookstore approved by the end of this month, Follett is discussing with the College about moving the store’s location to the other side of the hall. The back storage room and room HS 001 would be joined together to create a new bigger bookstore.
Plans for the use of the old bookstore space is also in discussion, but most likely it will become a club meeting space and the like. Construction should take place more throughout the summer, but no point in construction will the bookstores be closed.
This week in the bookstore, with the shelves all bare and lots of busying about by Follett staff, I wandered in and asked what some of the student employees thought of this outsourcing or how it was going for them.
I immediately was confronted with a certain antipathy, not for the fact of the outsourcing, but for the company Follett itself. The students felt very affronted by the people of Follett who have been coming over. One of Follett’s employees who seems to be in charge of the transition is said to act very snobbish like and always talks to the students in a condescending tone.
I asked if they knew if they were going to keep their jobs at the bookstore. I personally very much like our student staff, and was a bit saddened to hear how confused and worried they were about whether they were going to keep their jobs or not.
One student said that throughout this whole process Follett had not really reached out or connected with the student employees. Only very recently have they been told by their managers that Follett will keep them on if they just apply to work for the company.
All in all, I like what I hear about slightly lower cost of course material, but I do not know if the students’ best interest is really kept in mind in this outsourcing situation. Right now all is experiment. The fourth of April is the first official day of Follett’s bookstore management.
The first six months is really where we will see if outsourcing to Follett was the best choice for the Montgomery College. I cannot wait to see how everything will turn out, and I really hope it is all for the best.