Monday, September 12, 2011

Bookstore Blues

It's Week 4 of our 16 week semester. Nearly a quarter of the semester has passed. Do your students have their books yet? One can only hope.

Rebel Girl can tell you that trying to teach a literature class without textbooks is sort of like trying to make an omelet without eggs: a hot pan with butter, some burnt cheese, smoke.

Possible explanations:

Backorder: students report that the books were sold out at the bookstore – and that textbooks are on “backorder.” These “backordered” textbooks will arrive tomorrow, the next day or next week.

Instructor Fail: numerous students report to their instructors that the bookstore claims the instructors had failed to order textbooks. Some instructors insist they had ordered the textbooks, as early as last spring. They print out their emails attesting to this. Still the information posted by the bookstore suggests otherwise, resulting in resentful students and the erosion from day one of the perceived competency of the instructor.

Enrollment Numbers Discrepancy: the number given to the bookstore by the college differs from the number of students actually enrolled – and apparently has no relation to the number of students given by the instructor when the original paperwork was filled out – let alone the number of students shown enrolled online.

For example, Rebel Girl’s literature class had been “full” and “closed” for at least two weeks before the first day of class – she checked its status online. She was not surprised. Last year the same class had filled. When she put in an order for her textbook, she estimated the enrollment at 45.

Come the first day of classes, less than half of the 45 students had the single required textbook, a first edition of a brand new long-awaited Norton anthology. Upon inquiry, Rebel Girl was told that the bookstore had ordered enough for the number of students enrolled in the class, a number given to them by the college.

What number was that, asked Rebel Girl, ever curious.

13, was the reply.

How can that be? asked Rebel Girl.

No one seems to know. There seems to be some kind of problem with a system that asks instructors for a number, then seems to ignore it; a system which also allows all to view the actual number of students enrolled in classes – but then ignores that and instead relies upon a different figure.

The Amazon Estimate: Some instructors have been told that the campus bookstore estimates that a certain number of students will do their shopping online. Students do testify to this, complaining about the inflated prices for textbooks at the college store. The inflated textbook prices are often defended as necessary and even a boon for the coffers of student government.

One wonders whether or not the majority of students would choose cheaper textbook prices over various student government events funded by the inflated prices from Follett Higher Education Group.

That aside, an estimate like this can also result in unavailable textbooks, since it is, of course, an estimate – thus forcing the students to delay purchase until the “backordered” textbooks arrive (see above) OR inspiring them to seek out other options, such as online textbooks purchase.

The Communication Factor: One wonders about a system that also seems weak in terms of communication, communication that could, if put in effect, address some problems before the first day of class.

Why can’t the bookstore send a confirmation message to the instructor that announces they have ordered a certain number of textbooks? (Thus, if there is any discrepancy the instructor and the bookstore can act before the first day of class.)

Why can’t the bookstore send an email to an instructor noting they have yet to receive an order for textbooks at all? (Thus perhaps setting into motion the discovery of a lost order or the placement of a late order.)

Why can’t the bookstore send an announcement to an instructor that they have run out of requested textbooks and have put them on backorder with an estimate of an arrival date? (Thus avoiding that awkward scene in class when it becomes obvious that students, many students, have yet to purchase books.)

OF COURSE, this comes as no surprise as it seems that management of the bookstore changes nearly annually and what institutional memory there is appears lost with each departure.

Still, considering how essential books are to instruction and considering how essential instruction is to fulfilling the mission of the college, some reform is needed. One imagines that everyone is trying very hard to make sure the first week of classes goes as smoothly as possible – you know, classrooms, parking spaces, syllabi, BOOKS.


Anonymous said...

You would think that having enough textbooks would be a priority. They can always return any unsold.

Anonymous said...

The bookstore ordered a newer textbook for my class without informing me. The students have the newer textbook (and paid much more for it); I do not. All the material I prepared for class refers to the textbook I have.

Anonymous said...

I have used the same textbook for years in a class that always fills. They never order enough. Never.

Anonymous said...

It's hard enough to motivate some students without the added challenge of missing textbooks.

This year it felt like we lost two weeks - taking into account the shortened Labor Day week.

How do you hold students accountable for material they can't read yet?

Anonymous said...

I always walk over the week before classes start and make sure my texts are on the shelf. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't.

The staff who work there seem to be doing what they can but in circumstances and under conditions that make it difficult. Please notice that the college has grown but our bookstore has not. Still the little trailer in the parking lot.

Yes, somehow the bookstore should get accurate numbers of enrollment - that seems like a no-brainer. Yes, they should send confirmation emails to staff. Yes.

Isn't there a bookstore committee?

Anonymous said...

This blog has become unusable because its loaded up with so much stuff, it takes forever to load. Perhaps you should work on simplfying it?

Anonymous said...

Once again, Rebel Girl, muckraker, has elegantly done her gentle tossing of bombage. Thanks. Now the administration will investigate and blame somebody else, and somebody else will try to fix the problem. Meanwhile, somebody needs to credit Reb with a new literary-journalistic grammatical construction. Why not me? Dig it: Instead of the "passive voice," She seems to have invented the third person passive-aggressive. Go, Reb, go!

Anonymous said...

I email my students a week before class begins advising them that if they wish to order their books online, they will need to do so now. I think a college bookstore will become a thing of the past. Everyone will need to order their books online. May as well gear up for it now.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of classes that require a new textbook with an online access code. The access code can't be purchased separately, so students have to buy the bundle in the bookstore. I write in huge letters, DO NOT UNDERORDER. I email them with the course nubers (always 45) and still they will only order about half that number. I've asked the publisher to let me know what they order, so I can contact the bookstore and ask that they rush more books. After about 3 years of this, I worked out a deal with the publisher so my students can just order the book with the access code online directly. I wonder how many students we lose because they can't get the book and drop out?

Anonymous said...

If Glenn is serious about improving the student success rate by 5% this year, the bookstore issues will need to be resolved.

Anonymous said...

No parking, no books, administrators jumping out of airplanes for no good reason. What's next? Bolshevism in A100.

Anonymous said...

Here is an idea. I see that S. Craig Justice's Econ book is on sale at Amazon for 30 cents. That would save the students some money.

Anonymous said...

Do you know anything about an airplane that was used as a classroom at Saddleback at one time?

(I was told that I HAD to direct students to the college bookstore - even when there were no books to be had.)

Anonymous said...

I love my students and my job but it would help to have books in stock in sufficent numbers on the first day of classes or before. I don't understand why it can't be done. When it atkes 2-3 weeks to get the books it is a real problem.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder whether more students would prefer lower textbook prices instead of balloon day celebrations. I think the kickback Follett gives student government ultimately benefits a few. Granted, those few really do like the benefits.

Anonymous said...

Ventura College has a lending library for textbooks - it's GREAT!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the bookstore prices are inflated. Yes, the ASIVC and ASG at Saddleback both use the bookstore to generate revenue for student related activities and such. There is a reason why campus life and student involvement in such activities are important. Students who are actively involved in extracurriculars or even just attend one event show higher rates of success throughout their education at a particular institution. These funds are used and allocated for this specific purpose and most events..etc do have a benefit on most students who are willing to participate. The problem isn't that student governments at both colleges hold events that benefit a few students. The problem is that a lot of students are apathetic especially when it comes to commuter and community colleges. Regardless of the difficulty of the task of getting students involved, I think both student governments do an exceptional job at holding events while keeping how important campus life is to student success in mind.

Anonymous said...

Also, I'm not sure about IVC but Saddleback College ASG started 2 different programs that focus on helping students get/use textbooks for free or at a lower cost.
There is a) a rental program (again started by ASG)
b)Book loan program.

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