Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Textbooks in the News

There is no doubt about it: textbooks are giving lots of people headaches lately.  Concordia’s student newspaper, the Sword, recently featured a thoughtful piece by Kristi Loobeek: “I Want My Money Back: Buying Books You Never Use” (more on this article below). 

I’m quite confident that students have been voicing complaints about having to purchase under-utilized textbooks for a long time.  That said, perhaps because of what we now know about the possibilities that the internet presents, these negative feelings have been exacerbated.

Interestingly, there have been a few recent stories of note in the major media about textbook issues: 
  • This article notes how paying for textbooks has become a large burden for students in these financially-strapped times, and so “the University of Minnesota is launching an online project to hunt down free textbooks to replace the pricey ink-and-paper versions… [They] will review open-source textbooks and collect the ones that pass muster in an online catalog… [and] faculty will be paid $500 to write a review of an open-source textbook.” (also note the U of MN. already has a used and rental program).  To see some free online textbooks, go here.
  • Many students buy and sell their textbooks online, using sites like Amazon.com and eBay.com.  However, note that foreign students who buy textbooks produced overseas have been sued by the publishers for then selling them in the United States!  This article talks about how Supreme Court recently took up a case in which this happened.
               (both of the above stories were found here:  http://www.tk421.net/librarylink/ )
  •  Finally, Apple is getting into the game.  This article notes how some Chicago-area school districts are turning to iPads to cut textbook costs.  Textbooks through Apple, the article notes, can be purchased cheaply, and these tablets can “embed video and audio, provide interactive materials that prompt students to answer questions”.  Many districts are allowing students to take the iPads home as well.  The article about the U. of MN above also states that “Apple is expected to enter the college market soon… where publishers create multimedia textbooks for the iPad”
So there is a lot of textbook-stuff going on!

In the Sword article, Loobeek talks about being required to by books that she says “turned out to be completely excessive”, wasting hundreds of dollars.  She makes a convincing case that she really did not get a good bang for her buck.  Near the end of her article, she mentions how the library at UW-Stout rents out textbooks from the library every year.  I went to UW-La Crosse, and there they also rented out all the textbooks – but through the bookstore, not the library.

Currently, Concordia’s library accepts textbooks as donations, but has a policy of not spending book budget funds on textbooks.  The reason for this is primarily because it is not the best stewardship of our limited resources: textbooks are expensive and new editions are constantly being released.  Even if we bought just one for each class, only one person from the class would be able to use it at once.

In any case, I for one commend Loobeek on a thoughtful article that will hopefully get a larger conversation going.  Hopefully, better solutions can be found for the students at Concordia.