Illini Union Bookstore Assistant Manager Shirley Barnhart says she has loved every minute of her time at Illinois since she began as an employee in 1965. She’s been in her current position with the bookstore – textbook manager – since 1987. Here, she gives her insight about her job and why book rush never gets old.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
“It’s different every day,” Barnhart said.
She’s got a big job: making sure students on campus have the books they need for the semester. Getting ready for the semester’s book orders begins several months in advance.
“Since October, we’ve been gearing up for the start of classes,” she said.
The store began ordering this semester’s books in November.
Although the store aisles are always bustling the first few weeks of the fall semester, the end of “book rush” – that intense period when thousands of Illinois students are buying or ordering their textbooks – doesn’t mean Barnhart and her staff can relax.
In between book rush, in the fall and spring, there’s plenty to do.
“During this period, we get book inventories we can use for the upcoming term, so we buy back books from the fall term that are going to be used for the spring.”
WHAT’S NEW AT THE BOOKSTORE?
The 2009 spring semester brought with it a new initiative at the bookstore that gave Barnhart another set of responsibilities: the book rental program.
Barnhart says the additional option for obtaining textbooks has gained popularity, as well as a new e-book option.
“We now have 52 titles that are available as an e-book,” she said.
The paperwork involved in deciding which books to offer in e-book format can be daunting: It begins with reading through 11 pages of single-spaced titles.
“It’s labor-intensive at first, but once we get everything set up it pretty much manages itself,” she said.
IN YOUR TIME AT THE BOOKSTORE, WHAT HAS CHANGED THE MOST? WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES?
“I think the biggest change is the computer,” she said. “And we strive really hard to get as many used books as we can for students – we hold off on generating a purchase order. We have always joked that whenever we press the button for purchase orders we should have done it a day ago,” she said.
“I think the other big thing is moving into this bookstore – we moved here in 1994.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO FOR FUN?
Barnhart concedes she doesn’t do much reading of her own books at the beginning of a semester but when it calms down she does enjoy turning the pages.
“I read a great deal; not at this time of year, though,” she said.
She loves fiction, especially the work of Jodi Picoult.
She also loves reading cookbooks.
“I like cooking; the problem is I never make any of the recipes I read about,” she said.
Barnhart also has two grandchildren who live nearby – they also keep her busy.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
“Sterling, Ill., about 170 miles northwest. My mother is from this area, so I grew up in both places,” she said.
WHY DO YOU LIKE WORKING AT THE UI?
“I’ve loved every job I’ve ever done. I started at the information desk. I was an information person,” she said.
Back then, the information desk workers answered most incoming calls to the university. “We directed it to the correct department,” she said.
Before the bookstore consolidated, textbooks were sold in the Arcade Building, where the Career Center is now, and trade books were sold in the Illini Union, in the area of the computer lab and Quad Shop. Later, when she began working in the bookstore, she began in the paperback section before the whole store was under one roof.
WHAT’S BEST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
“For me, it sounds crazy, but I love fall book rush. I love having all the kids come back to campus. I enjoy working with them and their parents as they come in to buy books. It invigorates me,” she said.
“I like the second book rush just as well – getting everything done and organized so that it runs smoothly without problems.”