It’s a popular misconception that after graduation, the college campus descends into a sleepy summer lull, with lecture halls and dormitories hushed and deserted until move-in day. Yet on the modern university campus, nothing could be further from the truth. “Summer break used to be just that,” says Joe Rushworth, Manager of the Providence College Bookstore. “Now, there’s always a level of activity on campus.” Between college orientation and preparatory programs, five-week undergraduate courses, continuing education, summer school, and extensive preparations for the start of the new school year, the bookstore continues to be a hub of college activity throughout the summer break, with store managers and booksellers reaching out in support of the campus community regardless of type of student or time of year.
“Right now, we’re very busy,” Rushworth admits. “We have two weeks of accepted freshmen coming on campus for Academic Advisement Day, and we’ll typically get 100 to 150 students coming through the store daily,” he says. Despite those kinds of numbers, Rushworth and his team see the visits as an opportunity to hand out information, introduce new students to the store and talk to them about the services offered. “We’ll get the most questions about our textbook rental options, which is still new enough to some students to require a deeper explanation,” he says. At Providence College, it’s a compelling story; with 3,800 students on campus, last year, 43,000 books were rented from the store. “And with good reason, it saves them money and it’s convenient,” Rushworth points out. “They can also conveniently pick up and drop off the books right here at the store.”
For those students, and their parents, who are experiencing college life for the first time, the summer orientation programs that colleges host across the country are the perfect opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new home, pick up school emblematic sweatshirts and other items to celebrate their new college life — and gain a better understanding of what the next four years might bring. “The University of Delaware has a pretty unique orientation,” explains Jennifer Galt, General Manager of the Barnes & Noble at University of Delaware Bookstore. “For 22 days, students and parents visit our campus — and the bookstore plays a huge role,” she adds.
Providing a mid-morning coffee break where the store hosts some 300 family members of students attending new student orientation, it’s another opportunity for presentations — many given by Galt’s student booksellers — and another opportunity to help answer questions and allay concerns. “I always tell my staff that although they’ll get the same question asked 22 times a day, for that student or parent, it’s the first time they’ve asked it, and that’s our first opportunity to win that customer for life,” she says.
But it’s not only new students and their parents who are on campus during the summer. “Reunion Weekend is a very big event for the bookstore,” Providence’s Rushworth explains. “Our alumni tend to be pretty loyal and still want that connection to the Providence College community, so it turns out to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for us.”
That continual, year-round support of students, parents, faculty and alumni has contributed to Barnes & Noble College’s 35-year partnership with Providence College. “It’s not just a business relationship, it’s a partnership,” Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of Providence College, said of Barnes and Noble College when it was recognized with the College’s first-ever Black and White Corporate Partner Award. “And I’d like to think that they care as much about the education of our students as we do. Most people feel that [the bookstore] is part of Providence College. You don’t think like you’re going into some alien culture. It’s as if Barnes & Noble and P.C. have just been together forever.”
The activities keeping the campus alive may be overshadowed by the looming return of a new school year, but the summer break is still a key opportunity for the bookstore to reach out to customers, and whether they are new students, adult students, high schoolers or alumni, the need for information, support and connection are the same. “Our continuing education students are often combining their school studies with parenting, or with one or two other jobs,” Rushworth says, “so although it may account for a small part of our business, it’s important that we support these students throughout the year — including the summer.”