Many students at Mount Allison have expressed frustration with the delayed opening of the online campus bookstore as a result of renovations to the physical store.
Michelle Strain, director of administrative services, explained in an email that during renovations, new shipments of books were stored offsite. Without access to the shipments’ packing slips, the bookstore could not verify prices and availabilities of new and used books. Because of this, it was not possible to open the online bookstore on time.
The university bookstore typically posts required reading lists for new courses online midway through the winter break. While the bookstore’s website claimed that it would be operating by Jan. 4, it was not available to students until the first day of classes on Jan. 9.
Some students said this delay made it difficult to find more affordable textbook options, such as used books through Facebook pages, Enactus’ Textbook Osmosis program, or online retailers.
First-year student Laren Bedgood believes the university should have made alternative arrangements for students to be able to access their required reading lists.
“Whether or not I want to buy them [from the bookstore], I think the option should be there,” she said. “I look for books elsewhere first just to be cost-effective, but I wasn’t able to do that this semester.”
The bookstore has a non-compete agreement with the university, which gives it a virtual monopoly over the sale of textbooks on campus. Other than a direct email from a professor, the bookstore is students’ only source of information on required readings.
Bedgood also found it difficult to sell her used textbooks from the previous semester, as many students on Facebook groups such as Textbooks Mt. A were hesitant to purchase without a listed title or edition number.
According to an email from Cindy Allan, manager of the campus store and support services, “staff worked very hard to ensure the impact [of renovations] on students was minimal.”
Strain wrote that “the renovation work was scheduled for four weeks. To lessen the impact on students, we started the project at the end of the exam period.” She wrote that the renovations, mainly to the ventilation system, were time-sensitive and could not wait until the summer.
Strain wrote that the website was up and running for the first week of classes, and that students were able to access the information they required. “Students with questions about books emailed the bookstore and staff helped them with the information they needed.”
Bedgood said she called the bookstore on the break during business hours to inquire about the necessary readings for her courses, but was told they could not help.
While for many students the closure was an inconvenience, low-income students have been disproportionately left in an adverse situation.
According to Tom Hammond, a fourth-year honours economics student, this could compromise the education of low-income students.
“Not knowing which books you [needed], not knowing how much they [were] going to cost, and having no time to figure out cheaper alternatives meant that some students were forced to make the hard choice of forking out $500+ to the bookstore, or else risk not buying the textbook,” he said. “Unfortunately, not buying required textbooks is an accepted reality for [low-income] students.”
As a result of the delayed bookstore opening, some students were left without adequate time or options to purchase more affordable course texts.
According to a 2015 report, post-secondary students from New Brunswick face the highest debt load in Canada upon graduation.