Posted November 1, 2012 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Not Enough Books to Go ‘Round

Book Shortages

There have been several complaints of book shortages by students and professors this quarter that have impacted students’ ability to keep up with classwork. The existing book-buying policy at the Greener bookstore is to order half the number of books than the number of students in the program – half of which the bookstore attempts to get used copies to save students money.

This policy is in place because many students turn to cheaper, alternative sources such as used bookstores, eBooks, and PDFs. According to Regina Pendergrass, the newly appointed manager, it’s rare that the campus bookstore sells all of the books it orders for a class.

Forced Alternatives

“I was unable to get the book I needed this quarter by week 4,” said Rudyard Cashman, a junior in the Audio Recording program. “They said they had just gotten a shipment of books the day I asked – they didn’t say if it was for my program specifically, but that they still needed to be put on the shelves and that I should check back later. When I did to no success, I bought it on Amazon instead.”

According to Pendergrass, more students have been buying books from the bookstore this quarter than past quarters. The sales figures however, are on a class-by-class basis, which she said would be too time-consuming with their current workload for any of the bookstore staff to compile and provide for further analysis.

“If you come and look at the bookstore right now, for some of the classes, students didn’t purchase many books, so it’s kind of a gambling game – will they purchase here, will they purchase online. What I want to make sure is that no one is struggling. I’d rather lose some money in shipping costs and restocking fees to maintain the customer service aspect of making sure students have books,” said Pendergrass. “About 20 of the 235 classes for fall enrollment ran into problems [with book availability].”

Prospective Solutions

“Judging by trends only is not what I want to do,” Pendergrass continued, “the bookstore is owned by the college, and I want to make the bookstore something that is a good source for students – we’ll never be able to do it all right – problems on the publishing end filling orders persist, and we are working on ordering early enough. I have been making the call [this quarter] for how many books to order based on how hard the book is to find. A lot of the time faculty will pick a book that is either really hard to find or out of print.”

This means that Pendergrass has to either negotiate with publishers to get those printed, try to find a vendor that will provide used copies, or use a service like XanEdu, which Pendergrass said she discovered this quarter and is interested in using next quarter. XanEdu buys the rights to out-of-print books that college faculty desire to teach and prints them. They also offer faculty the ability to take sections from multiple books and build their own compilation out of them for much cheaper than the cost of the original whole book, which is extremely useful for faculty that don’t use all of the chapters of a book, but are forced to make students buy it anyway.

The Digital Era

The problems that persist on the end of the book publishers is that of declining demand as the digital medium encompasses more of the textbook market.

“Five years ago, I could say I want six of this title, and they’d have a thousand in print,” said Pendergrass. “Now if they don’t get enough orders building up for a title, they won’t print it; they only print as many copies as they think they might use. [The bookstore has] asked faculty to turn in book orders early and on time – this doesn’t mean all will, we get late orders – but the more we can work together to get these books, the better the chance [they will be printed on time for class].”

Future Plans

Pendergrass mentioned that she plans to order more than half of the number of books to students enrolled in the book’s program following the shortages this quarter. “Instead of ordering 25 for a class of 50, I would order 40,” she said. That still leaves room for ten students to buy from alternative sources and doesn’t risk a shortage as much. “It’s all about finding that happy medium,” she said.

In addition, Pendergrass mentioned that she is hoping to make changes in the bookstore to promote the bookstore’s presence and wants to provide space for student events such as open mics. She is interested in strengthening the communication between the bookstore and faculty, as well as students, so that in turn communication with the publishers will be strengthened and the books students need can be available as soon as possible.

By Tyler Jones