College official denies textbook delays as shipping issues persist


Diana Bravo

A student walks past the Emerson College Barnes & Noble.

By Alec Klusza, Assistant News Editor

As excessive textbook shipment delays from Emerson’s bookstore persist, the college official responsible for overseeing the store has repeatedly insisted orders are being filled on time, despite acknowledging the delays in private emails.  

Several students and faculty have reported extended wait times on orders from the bookstore since the beginning of the semester. Some community members said their orders were canceled after a month of waiting. Others are waiting for codes to access online books. Many more are frustrated with the lack of response from the bookstore, rather than with the delays.

Director of Business Services Karen Dickinson, who oversees the bookstore, maintains orders are being filled on time. 

When presented with two examples of evidence and testimonials regarding the issue, Dickinson said any delays are not representative of a systemic problem.

“You order [the textbooks], and it takes three to five business days to get onto campus,” she said in an interview on Sept. 18.

On September 24, The Beacon published an article detailing some students’ experiences with the delays. In a later interview on Oct. 16, Dickinson reasserted her claim that orders are being filled on time. 

“Not much has changed since the last time we spoke,” she said.

But emails from Dickinson to faculty show she has been aware of the delays since at least Sept. 29.

“There have been delays with textbooks arriving in time for classes this year,” Dickinson said in an email to graduate student and undergraduate professor Bruce Kilstein. “Most of them are due to late orders from faculty, many of whom did not know what classes they would be teaching until the last minute.”

The source of any delays, she told faculty members, is professors who failed to turn in their book lists on time.

“Textbook rentals continue to be the most popular choice for students followed by used books,” Dickinson said in an email to faculty on Sept. 30. “When faculty submit their adoptions on-time, it allows us to shop our used book distributors early, as well as transferring titles from other campuses, providing the largest selection of rental and used titles.”

Communications professor Joshua Way, who has been teaching Fundamentals of Speech Communication for nearly a decade, uses the same digital book every year. His classes were waiting for several weeks on a physical slip with request codes that would allow them to access the online material.

“It’s not like some obscure book that we sprung upon the bookstore,” Way said in a Zoom interview. “We’ve been using it for years—this is a class everybody takes.”

The process of requesting and receiving a digital textbook seemed redundant, he said.

“That was the most frustrating thing,” Way said. “It’s just the most anachronistic thing I can imagine, waiting for a physical slip of paper for a digital thing.”

Way saw his students struggling to deal with the stresses from the delays and bookstore, most of whom are first-year students.

“Your first year, your first few weeks as a freshman on campus… I think they were a little stressed,” Way said. “I know a few students physically tried to go [to the bookstore] a few times. I know they were trying to call them and were never getting calls back.”

Kilstein, who teaches classes in the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing said he received an email from the bookstore notifying him that his order for his poetry class was canceled after waiting nearly a month for his books to arrive. When he reached out to Emerson for help, the college told him via email they were not responsible for the delay and subsequent cancellation.

Kilstein said it is the college’s responsibility to keep faculty and students informed.

“Even if [faculty] got those lists in late, that doesn’t excuse the bookstore from their obligation to let students know that,” Kilstein said in an interview. “There has to be some kind of responsibility that the bookstore and Emerson itself has to get the materials people need for their education. You’re paying tuition, right, so how come there’s no way to know where your books are?”

Currently, he said, there is no way to track an order from the bookstore website, as it will only display “in process” or “complete.”

“Somebody between the bookstore and Karen should be saying, ‘Oh right, this is a problem, so we need to get information out to everybody to know that this order is going to be delayed.” Kilstein said.

Kilstein said the college has largely ignored the issue.

“It’s just sad that Emerson, rather than reaching out to students and being proactive and saying, ‘Oh, here’s a problem, this is what we’re going to do, or this is what you should be doing, we’ll deny there’s a problem,” Kilstein said. “‘We’ll blame the professors for some reason, and everybody’s on their own, go try to figure out what to do as an alternative.'”

Dickinson said the college plans to revert to its typical process of purchasing books directly in the store for the spring semester. 

“We are definitely having books on campus in the spring and going back to the old ways of doing things,” Dickinson said.

The college shifted the book ordering process entirely online this semester after shuttering the textbook annex and converting it into a dining space. 

“We tried [a virtual process] this semester and it didn’t work as well as we wanted it to,” Dickinson said. “So we’re going back, but books will be in the main bookstore. The textbook annex is still going to be used for dining.”