Price often a secondary concern for professors in choosing class texts

By Amy Ledig

It’s getting to be that time of year again—the Salvation Army bell ringer is set up outside Breadsmith, snowflake lights adorn the lamp posts along Grand Ave. and students are buried under mountains of books and notes as they study for final exams. A new semester is almost upon us, and that means the campus textbook store is bracing to get much busier in the coming month.As a new semester approaches, faculty members are choosing the books they will use in classes. For some, price is a concern, while for others it is less so.

“I look for books that are clear, readable and accurate,” Biology professor Lin Aanonsen said.

“I try to reuse the same textbooks from year to year,” she said of her approach to taking price into consideration. “It helps students who want to sell them back, and new students can buy them used.”

Aanonsen said that the biology department tries to keep students’ finances in mind when selecting textbooks.

“In the department, we’ve been trying to use the same book for the general biology classes so students can reuse the same book,” Aanonsen said.

Religious Studies professor Jim Laine said that price was a secondary consideration for choosing class texts.

“In most of my religion classes, I’m trying to balance two things,” Laine said. “I’m trying to make sure students are being introduced to the cutting edge of scholarship, but I also have to make sure they are getting things that are accessible. There are books that are more accessible, but I tend to err on the side of cutting edge.”

While he tries to keep overall price down, Laine said, he chooses books that he thinks his classes need, regardless of price.

Katie Longwell ’08 said that she had seen a range of approaches during her time at Macalester.

“One of my professors isn’t making us buy a book we’re only going to read for a week, she’s making copies,” she said.

Textbook store manager Carey Starr said that the store does what it can to keep prices down.

“What we try to do here is get as many used books as possible. That’s how we try to keep books affordable,” Starr said.

“We monitor it anecdotally,” she said of the amount students pay for books per semester. “It’s of course higher in the fall than in the spring. It’s higher for first-years than seniors.”

First-year students have more textbook based classes, such as math, sciences and languages, which require pricey books. The trend of high prices holds true for most science and language classes, while book prices for humanities classes vary in price more. Starr estimated that an incoming first-year student with standard set of classes—one science course, one math course, one humanities course and one language course—probably spends about $300-$400 in the fall.

Spring semester proves kinder to wallets.

“A lot of the books they used in the fall they can use in the spring,” Starr said, referring especially to language books.

“I’m really happy I don’t have to buy a new Spanish book, especially because they cost $153,” Cecily Castle ’10 said.

Students could be going elsewhere to purchase their books in the near future. While no plans have yet been specified, Starr said, it seems increasingly likely that the textbook store in the Lampert Building will combine with the Highlander store in the basement of the Campus Center.

“We’re definitely here through the end of the school year,” Starr said of the Lampert location.

The college must resolve multiple issues before combining the two operations.

“There’s no space existing on campus that can accommodate both of us,” Starr said. “If we move to the basement [of the Campus Center], we need to take the space from somewhere.”

Starr said that another possible location would be the first floor of the Lampert building. That space would also have be rearranged.

Some students are already getting a jump on the textbook buying process. Elena Slavin ’10 has worked out a deal to buy the textbook for her Principles of Economics course next semester from her friend.

“I’m excited that I found another way besides the bookstore so I don’t have to spend as much money,” she said.