In that strange twilight period between registration and finals, between shopping for new classes like Christmas presents and fighting the desire to burn books while studying for exams, our bookshelves become sources of anxiety — for many reasons.
We’ve made good use of many of the books we so willingly lugged out of the bookstore this semester. Our Western Heritage readers and copies of Beowulf are well-creased and well-loved.
But too many of our assigned texts are no more than expensive bookends.
After spending an average of $100 per class for course materials, students found out that they didn’t use their books in class. Hefty math textbooks (price tag: $25 to $150) were shunted aside for handouts and in-class notes. Supplementary music materials (want a new edition? That’ll be $200) can be found on YouTube. We know the drill: “required” course materials are not always required.
In time, we come to expect this course material inflation. We purchase used textbooks or rent them from Amazon or the bookstore. But despite this attempt at thrift, these well-meaning students’ bank accounts drown in the sunk costs: The college bookstore pays for only half the original price of new and used books at the end of the semester. And that’s if the texts will be reused; if the course’s syllabus has changed, here’s hoping the wholesaler needs it for his warehouse.
But beneath these financial concerns lies an academic one: an unused textbook suggests an intellectual waste. What knowledge have we missed in those untouched textbooks?
Of course, there are times when we could ask that question of our assigned reading, as well. But Hillsdale students have a reputation for diligence. We want to be prepared. We want to read, study, and learn.
But we also want to make use of the knowledge that is given to us. An unused textbook is knowledge — and money — gone to waste.
Our bookshelves, littered with texts for upcoming exams and weighted with too many untouched texts, are disturbing reminders of the state of our academic lives right now. When making room for all the texts we’ll have to cram into our heads next semester, it’s disturbing how many of this semester’s books have served as mere bookends.
Professors, assign the books we’ll actually study in Spring 2016. We’ll read them — eventually. And that financial and academic discipline will really pay off.