The Brooklyn College bookstore will close its doors for the final time on the first of July, after fifty years of service, to be immediately replaced with Akademos, an online-only bookseller, in what will be a major shift of how students obtain their course material.
“We’re going to miss this place,” begins bookstore manager, Michael D’Acierno. “It’s sad for us to go.” With downcast eyes behind his rimless glasses, he gazed upwards, shook his head, and continued. “We’ve been here for 21 years. We would stay here another 21 years if we could. We didn’t want to go! We wanted to stay! The college decided they want to go online.”
Like many online book-purchasing platforms, Akademos provides books in the form of new, used, rental or digital. It also comes with a peer-to-peer marketplace that claims to save students “an average of 60 percent off the list-price.” The new platform will face competition from other online providers, such as Amazon, Chegg, Barnes and Noble and even the Brooklyn College Textbook Marketplace.
With a 2015 Student Watch report detailing that college students spent an average of $563 per year on course materials, compared to $662 two years prior, news of Akademos, a company founded in 1999, could be welcoming for some. As an online bookstore, it claims to be “the leader in marketplace services for educational institutions,” with an option for partner institutions to “reduce costs and enjoy greater operating efficiency.”
“Most students do shop online,” D’Acierno admitted. “But you can’t get everything online. There’re a lot of custom books here that are hard to find. Then there’s the customer service and the convenience, like running to get a pen. You can’t run to get a pen anymore. You’ll have to go to Target across the street. It’s going to be very difficult for some students.”
The selection decision of the college’s new book vendor was announced by Akademos itself in the early part of February this year. The new online service will launch, according to D’Acierno, at the beginning of the second summer academic session. If implemented as it was last year in Queens College, the online bookselling service will be integrated through a single sign-on with CUNYFirst.
The Knight News, a Queens College publication, reported last October that some of the college’s students were experiencing problems with their new service. One student is quoted as saying that “It’s terrible; I would not recommend it to anyone. My book took forever to arrive,” while another student said that “sometimes you don’t have the ability to wait” for a book to arrive.
Yet unlike Akademos or even Queens College, Brooklyn College has yet to officially announce the change in service. After multiple attempts to interview Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs William Tramontano, who is in charge of the academic units of the college, a request for comment about the decision was declined.
It was in CUNY’s Board of Trustees meeting during the summer of last year that the proposal for the replacement of campus bookstores with a single digital service was resolved. Part of a university plan in “creating greater efficiencies, freeing up campus space and maximizing funds for the colleges,” the new five-year agreement, the proposal states, would be “chosen on the basis of best value.”
“With the rise of new technologies,” the proposal read further, “fewer students are purchasing their textbooks and other course materials at the traditional college bookstore. Consequently, the University would like to replace the current brick and mortar arrangements with a user-friendly virtual platform.” Last year, Publisher’s Weekly revealed that “preliminary figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau [show that] total bookstore sales in 2015 hit $11.17 billion, up from $10.89 billion in 2014.”
It is understood that Brooklyn College will be joining 11 other CUNY schools who currently or will, over the next year, use Akademos as their primary bookseller. Although their announcement stated that “colleges may select and utilize Akademos’ services if they wish,” Brooklyn College was part of the set of schools who opted to immediately replace the traditional bookstore.
The construction of the Brooklyn College bookstore was part of a $33 million expansion plan announced in 1967, according to a New York Times article written at the time. According to the 2011 Brooklyn College Facilities Master Plan Update, the fate of the bookstore had been foretold. Although the plan states that it doesn’t necessarily “dictate change,” a proposed future rendering of Boylan Hall shows that the space occupied by the current bookstore, which is operated by Barnes and Noble, is to be replaced with Administration Services.
But for professor Michael Menser, president of the Participatory Budgeting Project, the vacant space could have a far greater impact on student life. “I would love a space dedicated to sustainability projects on campus where students, faculty, and staff could meet and collaborate,” said Menser. “There are so many students who are interested in sustainability across the campus. If there was a dedicated space, not only could it be a place for meetings, events and collaboration, but also one for trying out or running projects. And I can tell you that there are many faculty and staff that would participate as well.”
With many ideas to consider, the true fate of the space is yet to be known. What we know is that the closing of the bookstore would further deny students the opportunity for human interaction. “I’m going to miss this place,” said D’Acierno, who will retire with the bookstore after a career spanning over the course of 44 years. “I’m going to miss the students, the customer service, the commencement – you see the students come in, graduating, they’re happy; they’re buying their gowns. I’m going to miss that part. We will miss Brooklyn College and its students.”
For the bookstore as we know it, this is the final chapter.
Correction: March 7, Queens bookstore has not reopened.