Do We Need to Buy the Book?

— Jeanne M. Slattery


Jeanne Slattery with some of last year’s students.

My second chapter post-test was due Wednesday of the third week of class, my third on that Friday. To take the tests my students have to purchase access to the publisher’s site ($84 for the e-book and these and other resources). When I made the decision to use these resources, I thought it was a good one. This package is less expensive than a hard copy of the text and, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) was just introduced, almost any book needs to be new (and will be expensive).

Earlier this semester, a student approached me and said that he couldn’t even afford food right now, so buying a book was out of the question. I lent him my copy of the text and moved the first chapter post-test to D2L — and felt good about my decision. The following Monday another student came up to me and said that she couldn’t buy the book and package until Friday (she’d miss at least the second post-test). Was there another option? “Really? I allow you to drop one post-test, so no big deal, but you NEED to have a book to be successful in this course. I’m not putting this post-test on D2L.”

Then a colleague contacted me about yet another student who can’t afford to get the book until Friday: “Is there something you can do?” So, I posted the second post-test on D2L, then contacted my students to let them know that there was another option for taking this test.

I want to be fair to all of my students, yet I fear that the book and resources are outside the price range of a small but important minority. I chose this book because it would meet the needs of all my students: the book and its resources are relatively inexpensive and include many study supports, including the capacity to read some or all of the book aloud to students. This makes my book more accessible to people who cannot otherwise afford a text, who have learning disabilities or visual impairments, and to those, like one of my students, who have recently had a concussion. And, yet another reason I chose this text is that my course will be offered online next Spring and I want to offer those students a lot of support throughout the course — both from me and the publisher.

I believe in books. I believe that students must read and write extensively to be successful in college and beyond. Arum and Roksa (2011), for example, concluded that students who were required to read more than 40 pages a week and write more than 20 pages a semester gained more on measures of critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills than students in less demanding classes. We need to have our students buy the books and read the books; however, we also need to choose books that our students can afford. If we have to assign a book that is more than they can afford, our university must put supports into place that help our students get books in a timely manner at the very beginning of the semester. We need book loans students can use on the first day of class, not the fourth week.

In some courses (but not this one), these competing goals can be met by using a series of outside readings — in fact, I don’t require a text in my capstone for this very reason. Randy Potter is approaching a similar dilemma by spending his sabbatical writing an e-book for at least one and perhaps two of his courses, then making it/them available for free (or a nominal price). Sometimes, however, you just need a regular textbook (and you don’t always get sabbaticals).

I’d like to move some of the text’s resources to D2L; then students might be able to buy used texts or share books. Not even considering issues of copyright — which concern me — I worry that in doing so I will have only hidden the problem. If I move my exams to D2L, I won’t recognize how many students have and use texts and how many don’t — just as I haven’t known in the past.

At this point in a blog I would typically offer a solution, and maybe I will in the future. Instead, I’m asking you. What would you do?


Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

As always, I am grateful to Melissa Downes for her help in sharpening my thinking and language in this piece.

Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at


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5 Responses to Do We Need to Buy the Book?

  1. Dan Clark says:

    I also struggle to understand the hardships that certain people have; however, it breaks my heart to see them undertake the expenditures of living, tuition, etc. then stop short with a cheap and required resource! We also forget that folks who live not less than 20 minutes from here are still on dial-up internet. While I was in VA, a textbook legislation was introduced where the university libraries were mandated to have on-reserve copies of all required texts. I did think that was a good-sense option for these types of cases- but I don’t know where that ended up.


  2. Terry Latour says:

    Dan and others:

    Over the years I have had substantive discussions on this topic with a number of faculty and several student groups. Unfortunately the Clarion libraries do not have the funding to purchase even one copy of every book assigned in classes. Some years ago we looked into it and found (if I remember correctly) that it would cost more than $30,000 for the hardcopy editions and publishers would not permit us to acquire the electronic editions because of fraud and copyright concerns. Now that so many more courses are online or use electronic resources, it is more problematic. I don’t have any good solutions on how to solve this problem other than the long term efforts to develop open source resources or to better utilize the wealth of journal literature and e-books (with the publisher limitations we are currently living with) that the libraries already provides access to.


  3. jslattery22 says:

    In my case, I could routinely put a copy of the text on reserve–but that doesn’t address the issue of accessing the mandatory resource site. It seems that for an open access university like ours, these are questions we need to consider.


  4. Tony Marchewka says:

    I thought I would take this oppotunity to quickly share what the Neebo Clarion University is doing to help keep textbook prices at a mininum. First are book loans. Students may borrow upto $350 from the store/university through their student accounts financial aid, 10 days before the start of class through 2 weeks after classes begin. Secondly we rent every book. Depending on the title and type of material, students may save upto 80% renting textbooks. Traditional book only, current edition and some older edition titles offer the lowest rental prices. Custom books or books bundled with other books and/or online access codes to ebook or other learning material offer lower rental price savings. Another savings is offfering used textbooks. If students are not interested in renting we offer used copies. Having the instuctor’s course book information in a timely basis will allow the store time to search for used copies. Also, students may sell their books back to the store at the end of the semester for cash. In addition students may join our store loyalty membersship program, where they receive $5 credit fo every $150 spent in the store.


  5. jslattery22 says:

    From Jerry Belloit (with his permission):

    The big problem with the costs of textbooks is the resale market killing marketplace. Publishers are forced to charge much more for a textbook because after the initial sales, the marketplace dries up. That is why people have gone to paperbacks, tear-out assignments, etc. to try to limit the resale market.

    One of the things I am currently working on is an iText through Apple. I find that I can do much more with the text than I can with print (many more photos, embedded videos, and interactive features), the resale market is largely eliminated, and the costs are very affordable for the students. In addition, once the student has purchased the iBook, they can receive updated versions at little to no cost. It makes more sense to develop a professional library like this.

    To illustrate the value of this form of text, I will use a psychology example. Imagine how valuable an abnormal psych iText would be if the student could click a video link that showed the autistic behavior spectrum or showed paranoid or schizophrenic behavior. Or imagine a counseling textbook that had a video link of a counselor using reflective questioning.

    I think that print media is probably dead and just has not realized it yet. I know that the royalties for my print textbook were never that great even though I had reasonable adoption and several editions. I am hoping to get my last textbook done as an iText before I retire.

    By the way, one more point in favor of the iText mode. Some people are visual learners, some are audio learners, and some are experiential learners. The iText has the possibility to reach them all.



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