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Reserves: A Librarian’s Plea for Back To School

August 25, 2010

We start the fall semester early at UGA, so we’re halfway through the second week of classes already.  In my desk shifts – both in person at the Main library, and my “virtual” desk shift via chat – the number one question is “How do I get the GALILEO password?”   But that’s not the subject of my plea.  The second most common question at the start of the semester is, “Do you have my textbook in the library?”

Generally, we do not (despite what a bunch of students say in comments to this Times piece).  Libraries don’t automatically purchase textbooks.  We may have an older edition, whether “older” means 2006 or 1973.  If we do, it’s almost always already checked out by the time Student Y comes to the desk, having been nabbed by an especially quick classmate.  And that demonstrates why we don’t buy textbooks – we can’t possibly buy enough copies for even a graduate seminar, let alone a lecture of 300 people (remember, UGA has 36,000 students).  And no, you cannot get a copy by Interlibrary Loan.  In fact, our ILL policy explicitly states that we will not borrow textbooks (and in any case, we couldn’t get anybody to loan them to us – they are in the same boat).

What’s my plea, then?  My plea is to the faculty.  Yes, at UGA a large percentage of the students receive the HOPE scholarship, which includes a textbook allowance (although a small one), and some of the students come from affluent backgrounds, such that black SUVs driven by college students are referred to as HOPE cars (because parents spent the money saved on tuition on wheels for Junior).  But there are students at UGA who are supporting themselves, and for whom every penny counts.

If you assign a textbook for your class, and the library owns a recent or current edition, please place it on print reserve, so as many students can have access to it as possible (in 3 hour increments, at UGA).  If the library doesn’t own a copy, and you’ve got a spare, consider placing your own copy on reserve.  If a publisher gave you a free copy to entice you to use the textbook, consider donating your copy to the library AND placing it on reserve, rather than selling it for half price at Amazon.  (If you’re receiving adjunct pay, go ahead and sell the book – you need the money more, my friend.)

And while we’re on the topic of reserves, if you assign a paper on a single topic to a class of 20, and all the students are going to want the same 10 library books, get ahead of them, and put those on reserve, too!  Often the most motivated student checks out all the relevant books early on, and the last-minute-Charlies throw themselves on the mercy of a librarian (or resort to Wikipedia, or plagiarism.)  You will receive much better papers if you make sure all your students have access to key works from the library, and better papers are so much more fun to grade, aren’t they?

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