Is there a bigger racket in publishing than textbooks? They cost a ridiculous amount, they are updated regularly so professors often assign the newest (and most expensive) version, and they’re often required so you don’t have a choice about spending $100 on something you’re going to use for four or five months and then maybe never again.
Or do you?
It may be easiest just to buy that list of textbooks directly from the university bookstore, since they’re likely to be in stock and you can get all of them at once, right away, but if you’re willing to work at it, and start the hunt early, there are cheaper ways to get your textbooks for the semester. Students can buy textbooks used off Amazon, bid for them on eBay, trade or purchase them on Craigslist or other swap sites, or network with other students who took the same class last year and might be willing to sell their textbook if they still have it. Barnes & Noble also sells used textbooks, although their stock is often cross-listed on Amazon.
Renting textbooks is also an option – you pay less for the book, but you have to give it back at the end of the semester, and some vendors will fine you if the book is damaged when it gets back to them. Chegg is a popular textbook rental site. Big online sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble also rent out textbooks. In a 2014 article, The U.S. News and World Report also recommended TextbookRush, Skyo, and eCampus.com. And there are dozens more: BookRenter, Textbooks.com, Campus Books, Bookbyte, Bigwords.com, Direct Textbooks, Textbook Recycling, and the person-to-person trading site Student Book Trades are only a few of the options available online for tracking down affordable textbooks.
Here at the library, we often encourage students to get TexShare cards (which give you access to other Texas academic, public, and medical libraries for free) or use the Interlibrary Loan service, which brings books, media, and journal articles directly to you through email and the postal service. Yes, we can get that book mailed to the library for you! But what about textbooks? It might seem that these services would be a great way to get a textbook for free, but this is actually not a good solution.
Most public libraries do not buy textbooks. They are in high demand, they are expensive, they are at a high risk for being stolen, and they do not stay current for long – in short, the same reasons you don’t want to buy a textbook outright. Libraries participating in TexShare or Interlibrary Loan may not have the title. If they do, they may choose to not lend it out. Also, checkout times for both services are limited: even if the textbook did come through, you would only have it for two to three weeks before needing to return it, even if your exam over those chemistry equations is a month away.
There’s also a way to get access to some textbooks without having to buy them, right here in the library. The Downs-Jones Library’s own textbook collection (course reserves) is limited. We too do not buy textbooks. Our textbook collection is stocked by generous professors who bring in their own copies of the required texts and allow us to lend them out to students on a restricted/reserved basis. These textbooks can only be used in the library for two hours at a time – the system starts adding fines when books come back late, and they set off the alarms if they go outside. And we often have only one copy at a time, so if it’s checked out, you’ll have to wait until your classmate brings the book back.
Wondering if the Downs-Jones Library has your textbook available? Check out this branch of the online catalog at http://voyager.htu.edu/vwebv/enterCourseReserve.do. Dropdown menus allow you to search by professor’s name, subject department, and class title to quickly determine whether the library can save you the need to buy a textbook, or cover for you until the book you just rented from TextbookRush arrives.