Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How UMass is making textbooks more affordable, and how students can access them

The Open Resource initiative, library loans, eCampus and more
Collegian File Photo

As the spring semester begins, so does the scramble to find cheap textbooks. Online retailers, local bookshops and even students with books left over from the past semester all compete to offer the lowest prices to buyers.

Aside from purchasing textbooks, a coalition of various members around the UMass community is working to create free education options for students. The W.E.B. DuBois Library also offers a free supply of textbooks available for loan.

“The cost of textbooks has a huge impact on whether a student is successful in a class and is the one college cost that faculty have control over,” said Jeremy Smith, digital projects manager and leader of the Open Educational Initiative. “Research on student success supports the fact that students with full access to all course materials on day one perform better in class…the cost of textbooks has forced students to not purchase a textbook, take a different class, not take a class or make different decisions about their major.”

The Open Education Initiative works with the library and Provost’s Office to allocate funding to faculty who wish to implement open education resources into their curriculum. OERs are “openly licensed teaching materials such as videos, textbooks, lesson plans, slides, etc. that are able to be freely shared with the world,” Smith said.

The initiative has collaborated with a number of groups, including the Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development Academic Innovation, the Student Government Association, MassPIRG, administrators, students and faculty.

During the new campus textbook retailer selection procession last year, Smith said the initiative “inserted language into the request for proposals that encouraged the vendor to offer ways for faculty to easily offer OERs or free library digital materials.” The newly selected textbook vendor, eCampus, has agreed to commit to this effort — CEO and President Matt Montgomery says they will “offer a large catalog of OERs.”

eCampus, who is working with roughly 250 other universities around the country, is an online seller that offers new and used books for students to purchase. They also provide more textbook rentals than any other retailers.

“UMass has been a great partner to work with. They really had the students in mind through the selection process and they still have the students in mind in the implementation process,” Montgomery said.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski explained the switch to eCampus as its new provider, saying that, “the campus is committed to increasing textbook affordability. To that end, three of the criteria for selection included… creating and implementing effective strategies to improve affordability to UMass Amherst students, improv[ing]/maintain[ing] customer satisfaction through the use of state-of-the-art and emerging technologies, [and the] ability to integrate the UMass Library as a resource option.”

eCampus claims that their textbooks are almost always going to be the cheapest option for students, which Montgomery said they assure by screening “most major competitors several times a day” and adjusting their prices accordingly.

To make shopping easier, the company is offering free two-day shipping to either of the new pick up centers around campus, one in the Campus Center and the other in Hampden in the Southwest Residential Area. At the end of the semester, students can also return rentals or sell back their books at these locations. More about how eCampus operates can be found here.

Future plans with eCampus include integrating the UCard to allow students to purchase books through their debit account and collaborating with the library to make sure that there are more copies of textbooks available for loan.

The Course Materials Affordability Working Group is an on-campus group that has been working with eCampus to make this possible. Smith explained the group “gather data about the material that professors assign in the top 100 highest-enrolled classes so that the library can purchase copies of physical textbooks to put on reserve for anyone to use.”

“In the future, we are also hoping to create a page on the library website that will list all of the course reserves by class for each semester,” Smith said.

Gabe Stetson, coordinator of digital curriculum, reserve and media and co-chair of the Work Group explained the library loaning program, explaining the library loans textbooks  “for a period of three hours at a time on a first come… Book scanners and photocopiers are available on the lower level if students need to make limited excerpts while they have the books… on average, we supply reserve material for over 400 instructors, encompassing over 3000 physical and digital items, per semester.

“Current issues include a lack of awareness about our services.  For instance, some students think we have a copy of every required book on reserve in the library, which we currently don’t. Also, not every instructor is aware of and takes advantage of our services.” 

Shopping locally is also a great option for students and comes with the added benefit of helping out the local Amherst economy.

Amherst Books has an easy-to-navigate website where students can search for their classes and instantly find their required textbooks. Purchasing cannot be done online, so students are encouraged to call the store or walk in.

Amherst Books did not reply to attempts of contact, but their website claims “low prices, great service, long hours, short lines, fair returns policy, [and] semester-long buybacks.”

The buyback program at Amherst Books, which does not require that students bought textbooks from the shop, offers a 50 percent payment on books that professors say they will be using for next semester.

Students looking for other shopping options can also check out the “Umass Used books- buy/ sell” Facebook group. Books, iClickers and sometimes other technology can be found here for discounted and negotiable prices.

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.

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    Shannon, UM class of 2008Jan 24, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    The file photo at the top of the article is a photograph from the inside of FOOD FOR THOUGHT books, formerly on North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst. They shuttered its doors years ago due in large part to UMass using for course books. Can anyone else smell the irony????

  • P

    peteJan 23, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    This sounds like a propoganda article. Umass acts all compassionate presumbly for the PR while undercutting dining services, censoring anti neo-nazi signs and charging one of the highest tuitions of any pubilc college in the country.

    Why isn’t the Collegian ever critical? Maybe this is why umass tried to walk all over them by kicking them out of their cement basement office, they see the DC as a lapdog.