The end of every semester finds students scrambling to prepare for new classes. For many students, purchasing textbooks leaves a huge dent in hard-earned summer or winter break savings. Textbooks range from $15 to $230, and for students who have to pay out of pocket, affording the appropriate materials can be a stressful challenge.
Previously, the campus was fitted with a bookstore to assist students with new semester preparations. However, the bookstore closed, leaving students to their own resources to salvage for books. Principia also used to provide access to Follett, a major textbook distributor. Now that, too, has been abandoned.
There are many different ways to find books. Amazon is the most popular resource for finding used book bargains. Rental companies such as Chegg and Neebo also provide more affordable deals. Some resourceful students even locate the books they need on I-Share, a free interlibrary loan service.
In the chaos of book shopping, it is often easy to get caught up with the price and forget about the content. But for professors, when it comes to selecting books for their classes, content is the number one priority. French professor Helene Brown said, “I select the textbooks that will best allow me as a teacher to help the students learn the language, all language skills — oral, comprehension, reading and writing — and to get an authentic approach and understanding of French culture and of the French-speaking world.”
Most professors look for the material that they think would work best with their classes. This means that their book lists update as they gain new insights about the material they may need. Some professors consult with students to gauge the effectiveness of a book. Chemistry professor Jeff Cornelius said, “I change books when I find a book goes out of print, [or] if students give feedback that a book is not meeting their needs … I find a better book.”
Some professors have also experimented with electronic textbooks. Cornelius added, “The last two years in one course sequence, I have been using online homework. This would, in theory, allow a student to use different editions, but the new texts come with access to the online homework.” Electronic books may cut down on paper, but students have mixed feelings on this alternative. Junior Nathalie Parker has positive feelings about them, and finds electronic textbooks quite convenient for some classes, particularly “the fact that you can search for keywords when reviewing and taking notes.” Going electronic has many benefits, including being less expensive, lighter and more accessible than printed textbooks.
Yet another option for students is the Give Back Library, initiated by Diego John. The idea started from a revelation made from his experience with book buying in his home country of Ghana. John, like many other students, had to provide his own books for classes, but the expenses were sometimes too much. Wanting to care for his fellow students, John took initiative last year to set up a library completely fed by students to be shared by students.
Marina Byquist, the International Student Program manager, has volunteered to host the library in her Student Life office. Byquist has followed the progress of the library from the first inception of the idea to the first donated books. The library, which relies on the honor system, was originally opened just to international students. However, there was such widespread support that John expanded the library’s reach to all Principia students. The sense of community resonated with Byquist. “Instead of trying to sell back books for a couple dollars, students make the choice to donate,” she said. “We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other.”
This effort has been immensely successful. Byquist recalls having meetings with students who looked up and recognized that certain books they needed for class were right in front of them.
The library is still expanding. At the end of spring semester in 2014, John and enrichment student Aaron Dokodzo counted well over 100 books. John hopes the idea of a shared library for students will continue to spread. “I look forward to the day when every student in the world will have equal opportunity to access information in textbooks,” he said. “I hope to see this idea replicated in every classroom around the planet.”