Textbooks On Reserve Program at Miami University

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At the Academic Library Association of Ohio meeting last week, I saw a presentation by John Burke, director of the library at Miami University – Middletown, and Krista McDonald, director of the library Miami University – Hamilton called "You Can't Do That! Library-Initiated Textbooks on Reserve Programs." It was an introduction to their program to provide access to textbooks through the library's course reserve service. It was such a great session that I felt compelled to write it up and share it with a larger audience.

The Problems with Textbooks

Libraries have traditionally not purchased textbooks for a number of reasons. First, the expectation that the textbooks would be hoarded by a small subset of students. Secondly, the textbooks would be prone to "damage" by being marked up for note-taking and highlighting. Third, editions change too often to stay current and libraries don't make an expensive investment in these kinds of "peripheral" items. Fourth, that the acquisition of the textbook should be the responsibility of the student — to the point where some say it is part of the college experience. And lastly, the libraries do not want to be in competition with campus bookstores or off-campus affiliate bookstores.

Yet it is commonly agreed that there are problems with financial model for textbooks. For starters, they are too expensive. Pekow says that students spend $940 annually on textbooks and supplies ((Pekow, C. (2007). Did you know? Textbooks join tuition on list of rising costs for students. Grants for Libraries Hotline. 7,7.)) The average cost of a textbook purchased by the Hamilton branch was $103, for the Middletown branch it was $85. (It could be said that libraries would have the same issue!) In addition, the late arrival of financial aid awards can keep students from purchasing textbooks in time for the start of class. Students wonder if textbooks will be used enough in class to justify the cost of purchase.

The Genesis of Textbooks on Reserve

If there are these issues and the opportunity for students to get help from the library, John and Krista ask themselves why something is not being done. "Isn't it part of the library's mission to make materials for learning as widely available as possible?" They learned that Ohio State University had started a program to put textbooks on reserve for General Education classes. And their own experience included helping students request earlier editions of texts from other OhioLINK libraries. So they asked themselves what would happen if the library bought some textbooks and kept them on reserve?

That was the beginning of the Textbooks on Reserve program. The core elements of their "pitch," as they called it, were to purchase textbooks for a select number and type of courses, to invest a small amount of library funds but to also encourage donations of current texts from faculty and students, to provide reasonable and broad access to the text;,and to keep track of statistics to see if the investment was paying off in usage.

Having the criteria is important in controlling the scope of the pilot project when faculty and students hear about it and want to expand the program. Courses were selected based on the nature of the course -- it must be one of the general education requirements or some other introductory-level course, a significant projected student enrollment, the use of a single textbook for all or most sections offered in the course, the non-consumable nature of the material, and that publication of a new edition was not imminent. Inherent in this selection criteria is the fact that courses that had multiple instructors for multiple sections that used different textbooks were excluded from the pilot, although textbook donations from faculty, if they came in, helped offset this criteria. In addition, the library would purchase only the required texts -- no study guides, workbooks, lab manuals, or other related (consumable) materials. Lastly, they worked with the bookstore to determine if a new edition was coming so as to maximize the investment of the first batch of books in the pilot.

Both campuses held a "textbook summit" of sorts, attended by representatives from the campus bookstore, department of learning assistance, student services department, academic advising and retention, financial aid department, faculty, and the student government association. The outcome from the summits differed on each campus. In Middletown, the participants were on-board, but there was initially not a strong feeling of commitment. In particular, there was no interest from the other parties to help fund it. The bookstore helped with the logistics and the John had the general backing of the administration. On the Hamilton campus, however, the response was much more positive. Or, as Krista put it, they were "stunned" and asking questions like "why hasn't this been done already?" The support was so strong that a committee was created, lead by the head of the library and the head of the bookstore, to manage the program.

Making it Happen

John and Krista set boundaries on the program. First, they committed to buying textbooks for courses that met the selection criteria; they will not by a copy of a textbook for every class. They also made a decision to encourage donations of current textbooks, particularly spare copies from faculty. From the beginning, the goal was to provide reasonable and broad access to the texts, which meant focussing on the high-enrollment courses. Finally, they wanted to keep track of usage statistics to see if the experiment was paying off. The program does not seek to replace the need for students to purchase the textbooks. In their vision, students will still need to buy the textbook to be successful in the course. The program, however, is useful for students who are waiting for financial aid awards to come in at the start of the course to have access to the textbook. Since the Hamilton and Middletown branches of Miami University are also primarily commuter campus, the textbook-on-reserve program is useful for students while they are around the library but don't have their own copy of the book.

Textbooks are placed on 2-hour in-house reserve at each of the branches. The Middletown library has also experimented with overnight loans. (If the item is checked out within two hours of closing it can be brought back in the morning.) Hamilton had problems with items walking out and not coming back, so they have stuck with the 2-hour reserves. Only one copy of each text is available. In some cases due to donations or other existing copies, there might be more than one. This fall Middletown is trying to add additional copies based on demand. The textbooks are intermingled with regular reserve items on reserve shelves, but labeled to show their "Textbooks on Reserve" status. The physical processing is done by the reserves coordinator as part of existing duties. Middletown adds the items to their ILS using brief "on-the-fly" records as John doesn't see the need to formally catalog items that are going to be withdrawn in a few years. Hamilton performs full copy cataloging on the textbooks. Both campuses will add a book plate to donated items if the donor desires it.

The program is marketed on the library web pages and blogs of each campus, and e-mail was sent out to various campus-wide mailing lists. Posters were distributed across campus, the Middletown branch used a banner at the library entrance, and bookmarks were distributed with each checkout and to all attendees at library instruction sessions. John and Krista attended various campus committee meetings to promote the program, and word spread among students and faculty by word-of-mouth. In particular, faculty appreciated knowing about the program in cases where they encounter students early in the course that are having problems with financial aid awards.

Within the course reserve system, all of the textbooks are grouped into a single course reserve section. For statistical purposes, an accounting of transactions are gathered weekly along with a count of items that come onto the textbook program and those that leave. There might come a point where the stats wouldn't be tracked in detail; the program just becomes a part of the library service offerings.

Whether the program is allowed under copyright law is unclear in cases. In terms of the items purchased by the library, it seems pretty clear -- the first sale doctrine means that the library can lend what it owns. This doctrine may not apply to donated desk copies. More thought on the issue is warranted.

Results so far

Based on projected enrollment figures for the two campuses, the targeted courses serve around 3,800 students each semester. So far, Middletown has spent $3,600 on the program (including $500 from student government plus allocation of library funds to departments to buy textbooks instead of out of general funds) on textbooks for 63 courses; they have recorded 361 circulation transactions since September 2006. Hamilton has spent $1,400 for 37 courses and have counted 305 circulation transactions since January 2007. The program has received positive PR and gained broad support from faculty. There may also be a correlation between the textbooks-on-reserve program and an increased use of the traditional course reserves service. The program has generated discussion among other Ohio regional and two-year campuses, and inspired main campus of Miami University to start a similar program.

Both libraries are continuing to build the textbook-on-reserve collections with new courses and additional copies. Both are seeking additional funding from their campuses to support the program. Hamilton, in particular, is considering the option of holding an annual book sale hosted by the student government to fund the textbook program. The textbook on reserve program is also one response to the growing issue of the cost to students of texts. Other activities that bear watching are the state-wide e-textbook pilot projects underway by the Collective Action group, and the return of a proposed bill in state government that would mandate libraries to purchase all required texts and make them available.

The presentation included a handout with questions to consider when planning a similar service and a bibliography of helpful resources. Errors in transcribing and digesting the talk into the description above are my own; the presenters have not reviewed this summary. Kudos to Krista and John for bringing their experience to the ALAO meeting.