Northern Arizona University will issue a “request for proposals” this summer for operation of the NAU Bookstore, which the university anticipates will result in improvements to merchandise selection, closer connections to a national brand and, perhaps, an improved facility.

The university also is exploring additional services for faculty, staff and students both on and off campus.

“The competitive nature of the industry would allow a private bookstore at NAU to respond to customer demand for new products and, perhaps, lower prices on some merchandise,” said David Bousquet vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

Additionally, the growth of Distance Learning programs throughout Arizona may require a new style of bookstore that can increase delivery, sales and service in an online market.

The university has reviewed the operations at the NAU Bookstore over the past several months and determined that it is the appropriate time to consider whether outsourcing operations is in the best interest of the university.

Bookstores are the second-most outsourced university service, behind food services. About 52 percent of university bookstores are outsourced, according to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Kathe Shinham, vice president for Administration and Finance, explained that the university periodically reviews auxiliary operations to ensure operational efficiencies and to assess the feasibility of subcontracting the services. Shinham added that NAU also must evaluate the return to the university.

NAU went out to bid on the bookstore five years ago and decided at the time to retain the in-house operation, she said.

The RFP will be open to any responders and tentatively is scheduled to be issued this summer.

A committee that includes faculty and student representation will evaluate the responses. If the analysis indicates that outsourcing is advantageous to NAU, the successful vendor should have operations in place before the start of the spring semester.

“Timing is critical to minimize any potential disruption during the academic year,” Bousquet said.