A Barnes & Noble Experience

By | December 10, 2018

This post was contributed by Kerry Leek, Librarian, and Jane Littlefield, Dept. Chair, Librarian, Clackamas Community College. Lori Schmit, Regional Manager, Barnes & Noble College, contributed a response.

Clackamas Community College (CCC) recently transitioned its bookstore from school-run to Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC (B&N) – the first community college in Oregon to do so.

The initial contract under consideration specified limitations to access and dissemination of Open Educational Resources (OER). CCC librarians reached out to Open Oregon Educational Resources (thank you Amy!) and the CCCOER, LibOER, and OTN listservs (thank you colleagues!) for ideas, shared experiences, and advice. This crowd-sourcing resulted in CCC librarians contributing significant recommendations related to OER, library resources, academic freedom, and the LMS to college administrators as they developed the final contract. The contract was moderately revised and adopted in July 2018.

This blog post will share the CCC librarians’ process in working through the contract and reaching out for help; how we took that information and translated it into recommendations for our college; which recommendations were adopted in the contract and which were not; and our remaining questions and concerns. You’ll also find the aggregated listserv responses at the end of this post.

We are grateful to Lori Schmit, Regional Manager, for providing B&N’s response to this post, which follows the listserv responses.

Scope Note

The concerns shared here are specific to OER. We had many other concerns related to advertising/outreach, technical support, Library Course Reserves, and College bookstore employees.

As an example of a problematic outreach practice, we’ve learned that other colleges have experienced situations where faculty who have adopted OER (through OpenStax, for example) are being individually contacted by Barnes & Noble Bookstore General Managers about offering the OER through their monetized platform, LoudCloud. We emailed our VPs asking if this is an outreach strategy planned by B&N at Clackamas, and it is.

However, for the purposes of this blog post, we are focusing narrowly on OER-related issues in our B&N contract.

Why This Matters

We want to highlight three reasons why it’s important to get involved in the contract stage if your institution moves to a third-party bookstore model.

First, if your institution does not have a strong faculty-driven OER presence, B&N will, by default, become the driver of OER efforts on campus. B&N has the website, marketing plan, software systems, staff, and guaranteed access to faculty to, by default, be the perceived college-approved OER innovator. B&N is the first to admit they are not OER experts nor do they provide OER support.

Second, B&N provides a monetized model of OER. Yet it isn’t clear from working with them on the contract process that they understand or put into practice the ethics of the open education movement as described, for example, in the CARE Framework.

Third, and perhaps most important, the college has a relationship with students that is driven by our mission statement: “To serve the people of the college district with high-quality education and training opportunities that are accessible to all students, adaptable to changing needs and accountable to the community we serve” (CCC Purpose, Mission, Core Themes and Code of Ethics). This is not a business-customer relationship. The campus store, though, does have a business-customer relationship with students and can be driven by incentives that are counter to the goals of the college mission. B&N is not driven by the college mission and can take a more extractive approach to students.

We currently have verbal assurances regarding some of our major concerns related to OER and contract interpretation, but there is resistance to opening up the contract to make these mutual understandings concrete. At the end of the day, a contract is enforceable, so it is essential to have one that reflects the values of your institution.

Timeline

  • Fall 2017-Winter 2018. Clackamas Community College (CCC) researched three alternative bookstore models. Why?

    “In order to keep offering bookstore services to our students and retain financial sustainability, the college is exploring contracting with an outside vendor. This has no reflection on our valuable bookstore employees. They work hard with the resources they have been given. The college simply cannot keep up with the competitive marketplace for textbooks, and it would take a considerable investment for us to try to catch up.” Alissa Mahar, Vice President of College Services, 11/21/17

  • May 7, 2018. VP email sent to all staff about College approving Barnes & Noble College (B&N) to take over management of the College Bookstore.
  • May 23. Learning Session with B&N, VPs.
  • May 23. Librarians reach out to OER Community for help.
  • May 30. Librarians view hard copy of contract proposal from B&N (boilerplate agreement provided by B&N, not contract eventually written by CCC). CCC contract not drawn up at this point.
  • June 6. Librarians submit contract recommendations and justifications.
  • June 8. All librarians attended Dept. Chair/Director meeting featuring B&N, VP presentation.
  • June 8. Librarians reach out to OER Community for help again.
  • June 14. Meet with CCC VPs re: contract recommendations.
  • June 15. Faculty are off contract for summer.
  • July 23. Final executed Barnes & Noble Contract signed.
  • July 25. Signed contract shared with interested stakeholders.
  • Week of July 30th, 2018. Barnes & Noble takes over Bookstore operations.
  • October 8.  Librarians send follow up email to VPs with remaining concerns and requests for clarification.
  • October 15. Librarians met with VPs, Bookstore manager, and Barnes & Noble representative to discuss remaining concerns.

Initial Proposal/Contract Concerns

The initial B&N Bookstore proposal included language restricting the discovery and dissemination of Open Education Resources (OER), what could be posted in the LMS, and faculty academic freedom. The proposal did not include language about tracking OER adoptions or the schedule designation requirement in Oregon House Bill 2871.

Taking a step back, the CCC librarians were concerned that these problematic contract provisions were indicative of an overall lack of support for OER at the college. While we haven’t had college-sponsored OER initiatives, faculty champions have successfully leveraged statewide grant opportunities to complete major projects that are gaining wider recognition (for example, The Word on College Reading and Writing and Math Literacy in a Global Context). Yet OER adoption, adaptation, and development have not made it into CCC’s strategic planning to date, and now B&N would be the primary mouthpiece and educator about OER to faculty.

In addition, other community colleges in Oregon have shared that they are looking into alternatives to independent college stores, including Barnes & Noble. Knowing that Clackamas’s contract and negotiation experience would be used as a template and precedent around the state made “getting it right” even more consequential. Clackamas librarians would not just be advocating for their own community; they would be advocating on behalf of all Oregon community college students, faculty, and staff.

Contract Recommendations Advocated by CCC Librarians

We are grateful for the excellent advice that we received via the national OER listservs. We didn’t bring all of it to the negotiation process because we needed to choose our battles, but an aggregated summary of responses is available at the bottom of this post. The points below are the ones that we advocated for.

According to the B&N representatives that we spoke to, CCC’s contract represents more integration with OER than any other B&N contract to date. This is of interest because it still doesn’t fully meet our expectations for OER support.

CCC Librarian RecommendationRecommendation AdoptedRecommendation Not Adopted
1. Remove OER completely from the contract. Only give B&N the exclusive rights to sell NEW (not used) textbooks on campus.B&N is the exclusive seller of new and used textbooks. Language exists in contract stating “B&N College’s exclusive rights do not include merchandise and services currently sold or offered elsewhere within CCC.” Allowed activities include occasional book sales related to CCC events and student-sponsored book swaps (ASG Lending Library & ASG Textbook Rental program).
2. Do not let B&N own/control the OER distribution channels or decisions for the College.Academic Freedom and Access to Course Materials 4.16A. “Course materials adoptions will allow for CCC faculty to include and share language in their syllabi and in their classrooms that educate students about Course Reserves and other low-cost alternative textbook options, including those available through Clackamas Community College Library and the ASG Lending Library.”B&N can control OER distribution channels as the contract is written now. In practice B&N is not implementing this and they say that is not the spirit of the contract.
3. Do not let the bookstore contract dictate what content faculty have to choose for their classes, what content faculty elect to create (including OER) and share on College systems, what content faculty want to print in the bookstore or off-campus (including OER), or faculty rights to use OER—and/or link to it—in courses/degree programs.The final executed contract presents inconsistencies in reference to faculty use of and information sharing regarding OER.
We emailed our VPs asking for clarity (and contract amendments). We met on Oct. 15 with our VPs; response was that the intention of the contract is to limit faculty from sharing e-commerce sites, NOT OER. Acknowledgement was made that the contract language, as written, is misleading. However, they did not want to open the contract for things that are not a problem yet.
4. Do not allow any part of the contract to indicate that using OER is competing with the bookstore business and therefore not allowed under the contract.Language exists in the contract that says “CCC faculty have complete academic freedom to select OER of their choice and inform students about their selected OER” and “CCC faculty have the ability to share required, recommended, or suggested course materials and supplies in their classrooms with students. Classroom and information sharing can occur in the physical environment.” The B&N contract states “…Classroom and information sharing can occur in the physical environment.” Section 4, 4.16C also puts this freedom under the “exclusivity provisions” of Section 1, 1.2 as discussed above, referencing linking in the LMS. The Full Time Faculty Bargaining Agreement states that the “instructors are entitled to freedom in discussing the subject, regardless of delivery method…” (Article 16, A.1.).
We emailed our VPs, asking how can faculty who teach online (i.e., not the physical environment) share required, recommended, or suggested course materials in their classrooms with students if it is not provided through B&N? Does the FTF Bargaining Agreement supersede the B&N Contract, and if it does not, how does the B&N Contract not violate faculty academic freedom?
At Oct. 15 meeting, B&N maintained that there was never any intention to limit what instructors can and cannot put on their course shells. However, they did state that linking to a monetized provider (such as Amazon) would not be acceptable.
Language exists in the contract about an optional  “First Day Program.” Opting into this program, according to the contract, allows B&N to prohibit “all third parties […] and providers of Open Educational Resources from placing direct links within the LMS or soliciting sales directly from Clackamas Community College student and faculty through the LMS.” CCC has 14 classes that opted into the “First Day Program” this fall.
We met on Oct. 15 with our VPs, recommending CCC amend the “First Day Program” section of the contract to address the issue more clearly. Response was that the First Day Program being used did not change the contract, and they did not want to open the contract up for clarifications.
5. Do not allow B&N to influence course design and curriculum. Contract mentioned XanEdu Content Development Specialists and Expert Editors in the OER adoption process. Clarification needed.B&N College and XanEDU do not provide course design support.

6. Beware of vague or undefined language. Examples in the proposal included: “exclusive retail buyer and seller of all required, recommended, or suggested course materials and supplies;” “course materials and supplies;” “classroom;” “OER.”We suggested including additional agreed-upon definitions of several terms in the glossary of the contract. Faculty input is needed in the development of definitions for terms such as Open Educational Resources, classroom, information sharing, and academic freedom.
We met on Oct. 15 with our VPs, recommending definition clarity. Response was that they did not want to open the contract for things that are not a problem yet, and that the future Bookstore Advisory Group could work on developing agreed-upon definitions.
7. Continue having a voice in this process. Info sessions mentioned a Bookstore Advisory Group. How and when will recruitment occur?Bookstore Advisory Group not yet implemented but librarian interest has been acknowledged and space for librarians to serve on the Advisory Group has been promised. The Dean of the Institutional Effectiveness and Planning division, of which the library is a part, volunteered to lead this effort.
8. Bookstore does not have right of first sale for OER.Bookstore does not have right of first sale on OER. Faculty can link to whichever OER sites they want to. Though it seems fuzzy in the contract, we’ve been assured of this verbally.

Paying it Forward: Advice from CCC Librarians

  • Speaking up and asking pointed questions in the public forums worked in so far as the contract was not accepted as originally proposed by B&N.
  • If your college is considering shifting bookstore models, talk to your upper administration about the value of the bookstore as a service. Ask them if the bookstore is worth subsidizing for students, because it does provide needed services and ties into many community college-related goals (thank you to John Schoppert, Columbia Gorge Community College).
  • Involve your unions. Your academic freedom may be at risk which restricts your ability to serve, educate, and help students.
  • Talk to students. Students deserve to know about this change because it impacts them in positive and negative ways. The negative ways will not be shared by the B&N representatives. The CCC student newspaper ran an article on the change: College goes corporate, October 18, 2018.
  • Involve OER advocates and OER-engaged faculty in this process. Librarians live and breathe information sharing; faculty in other disciplines do not have the interest/expertise to recognize some of the red flags the librarians did. Faculty as a whole were not as engaged as we would’ve hoped, but we understand why. It’s not in their wheelhouse, and the timing of sharing this information (end of academic year) also negatively impacted faculty participation.
    • There are other ways to get faculty involved outside of OER! Credit card ads were all over the demo Bookstore site. Faculty did tangibly care about having language in the contract prohibiting those types of advertisements; and that was a win.
  • Use existing frameworks to evaluate proposed contracts. Examples:
    • Evaluating Campus Store Outsourcing Proposals from indiCo (Independent Campus Stores Collaborative, a subsidiary of the National Association of College Stores) provides an Independent vs. Lease Store Contribution Calculator to consider whether the numbers pencil out.
    • The CARE Framework, developed by Lisa Petrides, Douglas Levin, and C. Edward Watson suggests practices that stakeholders can employ in order to be good stewards of the open education movement relating to Contribute, Attribute, Release, and Empower.

Aggregated Listserv Responses

Initial message:

Hi all, I have a question on behalf of a colleague whose college is negotiating to have their bookstore managed by Barnes & Noble. They are looking for things to especially watch out for in the contract.

Ideas so far:

– Share reports of OER adoptions with you

– Label courses as OER and provide links to OER

– Be willing to coordinate on the printing and selling of print OER options

– All adoption data is either owned by the college or shared with the college

Any other thoughts from folks who have already gone this route?

Thanks in advance,

Amy

Responses: fiscal considerations

While it’s more of an internal (college) decision and not necessarily part of the contract, I’d try to start a conversation about how any commission the college makes on textbook sales will be distributed/earmarked.  I’ve been trying to get a conversation started that would earmark a portion of those earnings for open textbook grants or purchasing print copies of high cost texts for library course reserves. Currently our school applies the commission on sales to staff/departmental costs for the financial aid office maintaining the textbook voucher system.

Minimal markup on print OER carried for convenience; links to digital OER files to be provided at no cost to student or institution.

I would also add in general and not specific to B&N College, if you are concerned about outsourcing campus stores, please speak up on campus and at the state level when such discussions are happening. Your colleagues in the institutional/independent stores would really appreciate it!

Responses: noncompete clauses

Watch for B&N wanting sole proprietorship of advertising and linkage from your college LMS.  In other words, they will not allow any other book or materials publisher to be linked or mentioned by faculty on your LMS. This narrows the options that students have to acquire books and materials, including those that are OER as well.

Not specifically OER-related, but I’d advise looking carefully at the language around provision of course materials. At [our college] the B&N contract had electronic content exclusivity language that, depending on interpretation, could have prevented libraries from doing ereserves, depts from doing digital coursepacks, etc. (It was removed and was hopefully vestigial but worth keeping an eye out for in case still in some boilerplate somewhere)

At our institution, B&N “questioned” if we were violating the contract by offering OER material and thus “competing” with them.  We replied that we were not selling OER material – thus not competing, and that if a student wanted printed copies of OpenStax material, or other printed material, the student still had the option of going through B&N.

If they want exclusive rights to sell stuff – I would ONLY give them exclusive rights to sell NEW (not used) textbooks on campus. I would take OER completely off the table.  Faculty may or may not want to work with the bookstore to print or otherwise distribute OER. If students want printed OER – and B&N can provide it at a competitive price – faculty may or may not choose to use them.  But don’t let them own any OER distribution channels or decisions.

Don’t allow any part of the contract to indicate that using OER is competing with the bookstore business and therefore not allowed under the contract

Responses: academic freedom

Don’t give up any of your academic freedom

Don’t let the bookstore contract dictate what content you have to choose for your class, what content you elect to create (including OER) and share on College systems, what content you want to print in the bookstore or off-campus (including OER), or your right to use OER – and/or link to it – in your courses / degree programs.

Responses: labeling OER courses

I’d add a little more specificity to the OER label component. Not only should those courses be marked as OER, that information should be listed in the same area, should clearly note that the digital content is free, and should have the same prominence as other pricing information.

We are B&N too and (while I have not seen our contract) it is my understanding that they will put the direct link to the purchase print OER, like OpenStax from the bookstore website 1st, but not necessarily provide a visible link to the free online download option from within their website platform for students.  This might already be related to what you’ve referenced in your 3rd bullet.

It might also be related to right of first sale for OER, like OpenStax, which offers free online and print – the Bookstore gets the first opportunity of the sale, any other route would not be “in the spirit of the contract.” I put that last part in quotes as that is a phrase I have heard often in relation to our bookstore, but like I said I have not seen the contract. That said, this may also mean they will not link to OER that is only freely available online from within their bookstore website platform. They currently do not do this for us – faculty have options to choose from when they are inputting their course material into the B&N FacultyEnlight ordering platform – go to class first, no textbook required, or enter the ISBN for the print OER for purchase.

Ask about their Day One Access (Inclusive Access) products such as BNED LoudCloud OER Courseware, as well as their relationship with or preference for other Textbook publishers who provide similar products.

Also, I found this online, it is a B&N contract from College of the Sequoias, ‘exclusive bookseller’ language mentioned on page 2 part 7 references OER, I thought it was interesting.

I had one suggestion for what to negotiate (or request) from the store: spreadsheets or lists of all the books being ordered by the store each semester. 

Basically this is the inventory list that reflects what faculty have requested the store to have available for students. We do get this from our store manager and it’s not any extra work for them since B&N already would produce the spreadsheet routinely for the store.

This way the library can, if they wish, develop a sense of what textbooks are already in the library collection as e-books, and then promote those e-books to faculty as alternate resources for students who may not want to buy the book. Of course, this works best if the library has a multi-user license for the book.

We are now, having analyzed several semesters worth of these spreadsheets, purchasing a few targeted, regularly assigned books that we can acquire as e-books with unlimited usage licenses. 

Barnes & Noble College Response

At Barnes & Noble College, our mission is to support student success, and a large part of that is ensuring students have access to affordable course materials and faculty have the flexibility to adopt the content that works best for their syllabi. We do not limit choice of course content in any way, and our Clackamas Community College contract specifically states that CCC faculty have complete academic freedom to select open educational resources (OER) of their choice and inform students about their selected OER.

We understand the demand for OER, which address the needs of both students and faculty and have supported the OER movement for many years, as evidenced by our ongoing partnership with OpenStax, a major OER provider. We encourage faculty on our campuses to adopt OER and, in fact, our store managers can work with faculty to help them discover materials. However, what we also often hear from faculty is that even though they would like to use OER in their classrooms, they lack the time required to curate quality, relevant materials. We created a solution for this too – LoudCloud Courseware™. Built on a foundation of OER, this option gives faculty additional tools to make life in the classroom easier including the ability to personalize a course with a range of materials developed by BNC, including auto-graded practice problems, summative exams, lecture slides and homework activities. This is one option for faculty, but certainly not their only option.

In regards to our contract with CCC and other institutions, there are certain measures that we must put in place to allow us to facilitate healthy bookstore operations that benefit students, faculty and the institution. For example, the bookstore provides the ability for students to pay with financial aid – third party sellers or links through the LMS do not allow students this option. Third party sellers may also open students up to the possibility of purchasing counterfeit materials. Exclusivity clauses ultimately result in a more manageable process for the campus, and ensure students are getting the right materials.

We are proud to have been chosen to serve Clackamas Community College, and do not take the concerns and questions of CCC’s librarians lightly. We are a company committed to serving all who work to elevate their lives through education, and that mission is in line with that of our many college partners, including CCC. Barnes & Noble College will continue to prioritize affordability, accessibility and achievement, and we are grateful to the CCC librarians for the open dialogue they are promoting amongst Oregon institutions. It is through their feedback that we will find ways to work together to provide students with the tools they need for success in the classroom and beyond.

We are happy to answer any further questions about our partnership with CCC, our OER capabilities or the overall work of Barnes & Noble College at campuses nationwide. Please feel free to contact me at:

Lori Schmit
Regional Manager, Barnes & Noble College
lschmit@bncollege.com

Share

One thought on “A Barnes & Noble Experience

  1. Michaela

    Thank you, Kerry, Jane, and Amy, for sharing your thoughtful process in responding to a situation that many institutions may face in the future.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *