Rewriting the Textbook Saga, One Course at a Time

    ON CAMPUS — At the beginning of each new quarter, you the dutiful student take that dreaded trip down to Price Center’s textbook dungeon, grab whatever’s available for your new set of courses — usually not much, seeing that for every hour that passes, a dozen more over-prepared UCSD nerds will raid the emptying shelves and buy at least two copies of everything you need — scrawl out a check to UC Regents and file the cost somewhere in the back of your mind with all those other bothers to be dealt with once the loan opportunities stop flowing like wine.

    Like all other collegiate fees we grudgingly but so often do cave to — if only to rid ourselves of nagging university bill notices — textbook prices are generally presented and accepted as one more mandatory cost in the student budget. But unlike random activity fees or campus health insurance, the hundreds of dollars we drop on books every quarter is contributing to the larger American dilemma that is created by acquiring what quickly becomes junk. After a quick bout of consumption directly before finals, we toss the book aside — either in a pile of crap to go through around the same time those loans start needing to be repayed or, worse, in the landfill — trashing not only our own hard-earned dollars but all the energy and resources it took to produce the book in the first place.

    Sure, used books are bought back and resold through the university, but at such low and high values respectively that the process is largely disregarded by we the busy students, who always seem to have something better to do. Plus, since professors constantly insist on requiring updated versions of their textbooks for the sake of no more than a couple pages of new material — which could be easily photocopied and distributed in class — all old editions of the book are rendered instantly undesirable and hold an unlikely chance of ever again being redistributed to incoming students.

    There’s no single individual to blame for the inefficiency of the textbook cycle — self-interest along every step of the way hinders an effective circle of reuse from being possible on a large scale. The text publishers and UC Regents first hope to make money off the sales; students are then either too impatient or apathetic to pursue their texts outside of the bookstore; after a course has finished, neither professors nor students pay attention to what happens to its required reading; and so on and so forth until a student’s four- or five-year academic course has been run and dealing effectively with old textbooks seems nothing but a waste of time.

    But there are some resources available that make it at least more possible, with only a small effort on our part, to avoid perpetuating such wasteful practice. With our level of online communication having reached such epic proportions, it seems a shame not to milk the instant connection we have to almost everyone in the UC community for all it’s worth — Web sites like Half.com, Craiglist and even Facebook offer services in which to buy and sell our textbooks at fractions of the price. Similarly, UC networks like WebCT and just simple listservs can be utilized by professors and TAs to post electronic editions of the required material, saving an entirely unnecessary process of high-energy production and inefficient consumption.

    If you do find yourself at the very last minute without a textbook crucial to your class, there are a variety of other locations at which to acquire the material — like the General Store Co-op or Groundwork Books, both located conveniently on campus. Purchasing used books from nonprofit vendors such as these also assists in somewhat removing the main flow of book traffic from UCSD’s superstore, shifting the cycle into a more balanced and evenly distributed process.

    The university — which functions like any other corporation, abeit one with a higher-minded purpose — can’t always be expected to have our best interests in mind, especially when those interests involve us conserving perfectly good money that could easily be cared for by the regents. But if only for the small part it could play in the worldwide struggle to cut down excessive resource consumption, the university system might consider bowing its great head to at least consider the array of simple alternatives to high textbook production, year after year.

    General education classes that a majority of UCSD undergraduates must take at some point in their college career — say, BILD 1 — are major culprits, filled with freshmen for whom buying new, shiny textbooks still carries an air of excitement. If the regents purchased even a hundred books to put on reserve in Geisel Library, thousands of dollars in soon-to-be-pointless textbook transactions could be saved. After all, the library’s looking pretty shiny at that point, too.

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