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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Books for classes: Less is more

Published: August 28, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

By now, most of you have probably gone to at least the majority of your classes. You’ve been handed your syllabi, scoured them for what torture your professors have in store for you and looked over the book lists. Some of you have already bought all of your books; some of you might be waiting until the end of the shopping period to do so.

Book buying is a reality that all college students face and can sympathize with. Every semester you pay tons of money for books that, in reality, you’re never going to read again. And if we’re completely honest, some of you probably won’t even read them for class, but that will be our little secret, right?

There are, of course, many ways to get your books – buy them online; borrow them from a friend in a class; get them on reserve in the library; or, most people’s last resort, buy them from the very convenient, yet extremely expensive university bookstore.

Now before you think this is an attack on the bookstore, it’s not. It’s not only our bookstore that’s notorious for being too expensive; it’s all college bookstores. And I’ve encountered some very friendly employees in the bookstore, so this isn’t an attack on them.

What it is instead is a study of book buying habits and how we can improve them, because in case it isn’t quite obvious, college students have a lot on their plates – both work-wise and money-wise – without having to worry about paying for books. For students paying so much money for tuition, it doesn’t seem right that they should pay hundreds of extra dollars for their books too. Add a bad economy to this reality, and the monetary strain only gets worse.

Thus, following are three major annoyances of book buying and some suggestions for how our university can improve on them.

I don’t know about all of you, but I usually go to the bookstore’s website before the start of the semester and look up the book lists for my classes. More often than not, I sigh as I read all of the books I need to buy. Ten books for one class? Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I love reading and realize that the books we read are important to the subjects we study. It’s the amount of books, and thus the monetary total, that often seems unfair. And this is the first annoyance of book buying.

Personally, I’ve been lucky so far with my book buying. I look ahead and find the titles of the books I need, and then I see if they have it in a library somewhere. If I think the book will be a good investment or the type of reference book I’ll use in the future, I’ll certainly buy it. As a last resort, and for those obscure titles I can’t find anywhere else, I’ll buy it in the bookstore.

Because unless I hope to start my own used bookstore with my dusty collection of partially used books, it’s not worth buying every book. Realistically, I’m not ever going to use most of these books again, and it seems like a waste of money to buy them all, especially when most classes only discuss them for a few days, then move on to the next one.

So perhaps professors should really consider if they need all of those books, or if one or two fewer would suffice. After all, won’t students absorb more information if they read a few fewer books and focus more on them rather than speed racing through a packed syllabus?

Moving on to the next major annoyance of book buying, let’s consider books on reserve. Fortunately, some professors help us in our quest to find all of our required books. Many Brandeis professors are considerate and put their books on reserve in the library, realizing that students can’t buy several books per class and hope to have any money left afterward.

But some classes simply don’t have books posted to reserves, or the class is so big that it’s like a little kid in a large family hoping for some one-on-one time with their parents – you can’t hope to get it. To solve this little dilemma, it should be a requirement for all professors to put books on reserve for students who don’t want to or can’t purchase all of their textbooks.

Last, but not least, there are those rare instances when a class says it requires no textbook. When I’m researching my books, sometimes I find myself smiling at the screen when the site tells me that my course requires no books. You see, many classes I’ve taken at Brandeis post readings/articles on LATTE, so I think that maybe this particular class is going the LATTE route.

But then there’s always that annoyance when I go to the first class and the professor announces that we all have to buy a course packet. Ah, the dreaded course packet. This, to me, is one of the most annoying aspects of book-buying.

Sure, they’re convenient. And yes, these course packets might help you to save money for a certain class in one way. Rather than having to buy 20-30 books, the professor has consolidated the best of each author into a comprehensive course packet. However, course packets are often an attempt to fundraise for a particular department at the cost of the students.

In an ideal world, professors wouldn’t require so many books, or would at least make sure to put the books on reserve in the library for those students who don’t want to buy them. In an ideal world, professors wouldn’t compile department-made course packets then sell them off to students at spiked prices they wouldn’t pay online. In an ideal world, we would all value the books we read even more because we didn’t have to buy so many of them.

Surely there are several more pressing problems facing the university at this time and books are by far the least important. But it’s often the least important problems that linger for a long time and never get fixed because we become too complacent.

Maybe I’m just waxing lyrical,;maybe what should be a reality will always be a flawed reality. But maybe, just maybe, it makes a little sense. And maybe when it comes to books for classes, less can really be more.