For today’s celebration of National Bookstore Day, we hear from Franne Davis, the Assistant Director at Illini Union Bookstore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her 10th year of employment at her alma mater, Franne says she’s got “a dream job for any English major.”
Describe your bookstore.
The Illini Union Bookstore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the largest independent college bookstores in the country and is a continuation of a book exchange organized in the early 1920s by students at the university. The current bookstore occupies 55,000 square feet and combines four major merchandise categories: textbooks; insignia apparel /souvenirs; office/school supplies/electronics; and a trade/general book department with over 40,000 titles in stock. Our General Book department also hosts or facilitates an average of 80-90 book and author events per year.
How did you come to work in the bookselling business?
Well, the book business was, and to a large degree still is, a dream job for any English major. My first job out of college was as a clerk in an independent bookstore and I guess I’ve been hooked on “indies” ever since. I’ve also been a professional buyer in the book business and in related industries. I’ve also tried my hand at a few other things, including teaching, and was lucky enough to land in my current position about a decade ago. I’ve felt wonderfully challenged and yet “at home” in the world of college bookselling ever since.
What is your favorite part of your job?
That’s easy: the people. I meet and learn daily from everyone I encounter—from our wonderful staff of bookstore professionals and our student employees to our customers: the students, faculty, staff, visitors and alums of a world-class university.
What makes the Illini Union Bookstore special?
Our staff and our patrons take pride, I think, in the fact that we are an independent bookstore and a part of a university that values its bookstore as a community center.
Our trade book collection is designed to reflect and anticipate the specific needs of a local clientele. We showcase real authors—from local authors to those who are internationally recognized. And as icing on the cake, our proceeds go to support student programs and activities.
What are you reading right now?
I’m almost finished with The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. Next up is The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches From Lisbon by Philip Graham, one of our many talented faculty authors.
What are your current top-selling books?
Most of the month’s top sellers are reflective of book and author events we’ve had either hosted at the bookstore or locally: Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel; I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin; When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris; For A Girl Becoming by Joy Harjo. And of course, our top sales also reflect the huge impact that Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer have had on buyers of books lately.
What do independent bookstores offer that big-box stores don’t?
As independents, we are not bound by formulae. We are free to create environments that speak to the customers we serve. Our trade book selections, and all our merchandising, is literally built book by book, unit by unit, on what our individual customers tell us they want.
How has the emergence of e-publishing changed your business?
We’re not sure yet although we are studying this new revolution in reading very carefully. Our customers, including our current student patrons, still show a marked preference for “print on paper.”