CHAMPAIGN — Whether it’s industrial chemicals and electronics, Amazon shipments or in-store holiday-shopping purchases, global supply-chain disruptions are touching nearly every corner of global commerce.
Including, potentially, the University of Illinois’ main outlet for student textbooks and supplies.
That’s why UI academic departments were asked — firmly — to submit their lists of required course materials to the Illini Union Bookstore as soon as possible in an email sent Wednesday afternoon.
“There are concerns that supply-chain, staffing and trucking issues may pose challenges to receiving instructional materials for this upcoming semester,” wrote Lisa Monda-Amaya, interim vice provost for undergraduate education. “Please submit your materials as soon as possible (even if you are using your own materials), so we can ensure they are available for students at the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester.”
By Wednesday, UI academic departments had only informed the bookstore of about 30 percent of the needed course materials for the spring term. The deadline for departments to submit the information was Oct. 7.
According to bookstore manager Tod Petrie, late submissions are “typical.”
“But what’s not typical is the supply-chain challenges,” he said.
Delays in faculty communication can come from a number of understandable causes; curriculum changes to the course, pending hires for specific classes, “so many different reasons,” Petrie said.
“Usually, our team can turn it around pretty quickly, but it’s not going to happen this year, for a multitude of reasons, if it’s a print book,” he said.
A shortage of lumber used to make paper means publishers are not printing as many books.
Combined with shortages among truckers and staffs in nearly every sector — publishers, paper sources, even the bookstore — a late start could be far more consequential this season.
The bookstore requires info on the publishers and editions of books, the estimated enrollment for each class, and whether the texts are required or recommended, along with necessary supplies for each course, like I Clickers or lab coats and goggles.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” Petrie said.
Beyond getting the books in the store, early notice of next semester’s course materials can bring a number of benefits for the bookstore and the students.
“Getting materials in now means we’ll be able to shop with wholesalers to get more used copies of the books,” said Alroy Scott, the bookstore’s senior assistant director of course materials. “If they come later, we’re competing against X amount of schools across the country to get used copies of books, and it’s a limited supply because this year, a lot of students held onto their books.”
The pandemic offered fewer opportunities for students to resell their textbooks to campus outlets. Earlier notice of next semester’s course materials could mean better offers for students looking to resell their textbooks, if the materials will be used in spring courses.
“If we have this info early from the faculty, we could potentially pay students half-price for books,” Scott said.
UI departments have designated book coordinators who usually send the full list of required texts and materials to the bookstore.
But individual faculty members can also enter textbook information into the third-party collection tool, Petrie said.
“We’ll take them any way we can get them,” he said.
Is this a disaster yet? Petrie said no. Several weeks remain before the bookstore needs to place orders. But still, the earlier the better.
“We’ve got time, but we didn’t want to wait,” he said. “If we waited until Dec. 1, we’re not going to get it. Hopefully we can get a lot more information before we leave for Thanksgiving break.”
After Wednesday’s email, the bookstore received a “couple hundred” more orders on Thursday, Scott said.
“We did see an uptick, and I’m sure it’s going to be like this for the next week, 10 days or whatever, as more people respond to the email that went out,” he said.