Textbook trials and tribulations: There needs to be a better way

Every student knows the Great Textbook Struggle. It happens at the beginning of each semester. You’ll look through your syllabus to see that you have a couple of readings to complete for the next class. But wait: today was the first day! How can you be expected to have all your books already?

I promise I didn’t wait until the last minute to get my books. Before the semester started, I was on three different textbook rental websites to try to find the lowest possible prices on the eleven (!) books I needed for this semester. I was planning to order my books after I’d had one day of each class.

You may be wondering why I didn’t just buy my books before the first day of class. Well, the “Shop Textbooks” link on My Denison can be confusing, and sometimes inaccurate. Last semester, I had several books listed as “Optional,” but my professors had to correct this and tell us that those books were actually required. I also bought the wrong edition of one of my books, due to another error on the textbook website.

Another reason to wait to buy books is an obvious one: what if you want to drop the class? Are we really expected to spend a gross amount of money on textbooks before we’ve had even one day of class?

When I discovered that my textbook rentals would arrive too late, I was forced to turn to the campus bookstore. In a perfect world, the college would offer the lowest prices on textbooks, since we’re buying these books for their classes. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I would even go as far as to suggest it’s a kind of capitalist conspiracy. Denison tells its professors to assign copious amounts of reading for the first week of class, and students struggling to complete their work will eventually have to purchase overpriced at the campus bookstore.

This past week, I had one book that I needed for class, so I ran to the campus bookstore to discover they were all sold out of that particular book. First of all, how does that happen? They know exactly how many students are taking each class, so how could they not have ordered enough books? My cashier helpfully pointed out that I could purchase the eBook…for $35. I was appalled; I’d been planning to rent a paper copy of the book for less than half of that price.  

I said I would think about it and left the bookstore. I’m glad I did because later that night my professor emailed to let us know that the book was free through Denison’s online library. That’s right: even though Denison claims the library’s databases and resources are included in our tuition, they won’t hesitate to charge us again for the same content.

But I’m not just here to complain without offering a couple solutions.

Professors could upload PDFs of our first week of readings to Notebowl. The bookstore could offer better prices and be honest about which books the library already has available for free.

However, I think the best solution would be students receiving their syllabi before the first day of class. This way, students would know for sure which books they need. Seeing a syllabus in advance would have the added bonus of giving students more information about the content and workload of a class.

Thus, students would know if they want to drop a class before the semester has officially begun. I think this would be beneficial for professors as well, and would allow them to give lectures or lead discussions on the first day, instead of spending class time reading us the syllabus.

Starting a semester is stressful enough already. No student needs the added pressure of worrying if they’ll be able to get their books cheaply and on time for their new classes.