Pilot project offers textbook rentals by the hour

It may be hard to fathom, but some students don’t buy textbooks for their classes. The reasons vary. Friends in the same class may share one book. Some students take a “wait and see” approach—waiting to see how much their professors refer to textbook material in class and seeing whether textbook material turns up on exams—before buying books.

The average student pays $700 to $1,000 a year for textbooks, and some students simply don’t have the cash to cover the costs.Those students may get by with just attending class and taking notes.

Jeff Nelson, director of the University Bookstore, admits that he, too, experiences “sticker shock” when the prices of some course materials make them difficult to sell and, from the perspective of students and their parents, difficult to afford.

“Textbooks are a major problem because of their expense,” agrees Thomas Atwood, the new dean of University Libraries.

According to Atwood, some students hesitate to buy books when only one chapter may be required reading. Past experience leads them to think that the textbook is actually considered “additional reading” by faculty. “They decide that because the reading is optional, they will not spend the money (to buy it).”

Last spring, representatives of BGSU were among the librarians, bookstore managers and IT personnel who met at a conference in Oberlin to discuss providing course-related materials and services to help both higher education institutions and students through better control of costs.

Those discussions have led to the University Bookstore and University Libraries teaming up this fall on a pilot Rental-Reserve Project to enable some students to rent textbooks on an hourly basis.

According to both Atwood and Nelson, the pilot program is not an alternative to the traditional sale of textbooks, nor should it be viewed as a trend for libraries to charge for services.

“This is an alternative for students who may need to use the book for only a short period of time,” Nelson explained.

“We’re just testing the waters,” added Atwood, who said, “Textbook rental may not be the ultimate solution, but it’s important for faculty and staff to look at this from the students’ perspective. We need to look for ways to find solutions that enable students to have access to course textbooks.”

This semester, 10 titles used in 100- and 200- level courses were chosen for testing based on the cost of the books and the receptiveness of faculty to take part in the pilot project.

The books include Physical Geology, which retails for $122.70; Principles of Microeconomics ($120); Extraordinary Chemistry of Ordinary Things ($106) and Introduction to Criminal Justice ($101.70). Others include books for classes in music history, medical technology, sociology and journalism. None come packaged with CDs or DVDs.

Around 2,500 students are enrolled in the courses that use the chosen books.

Two copies of each title are available through the Rental-Reserve program. The library charges the student a flat rate of $2 for three hours for each title. Students may rent the book for three hours at a time. The fee is collected through the Jerome Library Circulation Desk, and books are available during all hours the library is open. If the textbook rental time extends beyond library hours, the textbook may be taken out of the building overnight and will be due at opening the next day.  Overdue charges are $2 an hour.

Mary Beth Zachary, head of access services at Jerome Library, said she thinks the program could be particularly helpful at the start of the semester when students are faced with many bills at once.

“By renting a book, students can better cope with a cash shortfall and postpone purchasing the book until later in the semester,” she suggested.

Usage, program costs and revenues for the pilot project will be closely monitored and evaluated at the end of the semester.

September 17, 2007