It’s easy to say college students spend too much money, from room and board for a dorm that’s too small, to a Sodexo meal plan where the salads sometimes have caterpillars and razor blades in them. Textbooks are some of the most regular and expensive purchases a student will make. Sometimes it’s for a class that will serve no purpose to them after the semester, or even better, sometimes the teacher will use a third-party site like Cengage where students pay close to $175 for the teacher to barely teach them. Then there are the students who are taking a class they are passionate about and need the information from the textbooks that the teachers give out but can’t afford the cost. The Textbooks on Reserve Program serves those students’ needs while they are in a college financial system that seems to keep making obstacles with rising costs.
The Textbooks on Reserve Program offers students 100 and 200 level textbooks for no cost. As part of Libraries & Learning, the program gives students the chance to borrow a textbook for two hours per day and photocopy the specific pages and chapters they need for class that day or week. The Textbook Reserve also offers Ares E-Reserve, with online versions of 100 and 200 level textbooks that students can download specific chapters or pages from at no cost.
The service is partially funded by the Student Government Association and the Student Body President’s Office each year in order for the Reserve to keep up with new editions of textbooks and to allow them to keep a large stock of books and items on file. According to Access Services and Technology Support Coordinator William Sargent, who has worked with the program since it began, with a yearly budget ranging from $5,000 – $10,000, the program has spent around $2,500 per semester towards those new editions and versions. Between the Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston-Auburn campuses there are approximately 2,100 items on the physical reserve with the possibility of having 2,500 items due to the space available, according to Sargent.
Although the Textbooks on Reserve Program is not widely publicized, it does get regularly used by the students who are aware of its existence. According to Sargent, by mid-March of this semester, the Portland campus had recorded 234 items checked out, and the Gorham campus had recorded 122 items checked out. The numbers represent the checkouts of the individual reserve item, not the amount of students who checked out an item since some of the items get checked out multiple times per day/week while others only get checked out a few times per semester.
The Ares E-Reserve side of the program does have a different set of stipulations that students must adhere to but most items on the E-Reserve can be accessed by an unlimited number of students at one time, according to Sargent. When purchasing online textbooks, the goal of the Reserve Program is to buy them with the unlimited-access feature in order for any number of students to access it, but there are some cases where it is only possible to purchase a single or three-user license textbook which limits how many students can access the textbook at one time.
“Textbooks are expensive,” according to the Dean of Libraries & Learning Zach Newell. “We make sure students can check the books and know that it will be available for other students to use too. We feel like we have an obligation to help defray the expense of textbooks because they are so expensive for students.” With this in mind, Newell and his colleagues go through the process of purchasing as many textbooks as possible in order to help cut the costs some students will pay during their time in college.
According to Newell, it’s historically been a part of the libraries’ nature to give students these forms of services. “Honestly, the library has played a role in really pushing for more equitable services,” said Newell. “Equitable access to technology with checkouts for laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, webcams, and this [Textbook Reserve Program] is just an extension or add-on to try and build more equity for students.”
The decision as to which books the Reserve should purchase is made by figuring out which classes have a large student enrollment along with how expensive the textbooks are. According to Carrie Bell-Hoerth, the Coordinator of the Gorham Library & Learning Commons, “when we’re looking at purchasing books that are assigned to different courses, the way we’ve been trying to do it is for example, this Math 101 book costs ‘this-hundred’ amount of dollars, and we know that a ton of students take that course. That seems like an important one to purchase because we’re weighing how many students will this be helpful for, how much are students being asked to pay for it and using that to determine what we’re purchasing first.” There are also different ways the Reserve figures out which textbooks the students need the most. “We try to accommodate student requests and hear what students need,” said Bell-Hoerth. “If I’m working at the desk and I have several students say, ‘I’m looking for the ESP 200 book,’ and we don’t have that book but there have been several requests for it; that’s a sign to us that we should probably find the money to purchase it.” This kind of attention to students’ needs has allowed the Reserve Program to grow a vast collection of books in order for students of different majors to be able to use the Reserve’s services.
Aside from 100 to 200 level physical and online textbooks, the Reserve also offers an array of different items that could be useful to students. According to Library Collections Manager Shiloh Parker, “any course text or material can be made available for the Reserve. We have textbooks, academic non-fiction, novels, biographies, graphic novels. Then we have a bunch of interesting items that are not books. For example, we have an anatomy skeleton, a crate full of bones. We also have compasses, a collection of rocks for the geology courses, and the Lewiston-Auburn Campus’s Library Reserve has a ton of sports equipment you can go and check out.” Even if the three USM campuses don’t have what you are looking for, the Reserve Program will work with you. “If we don’t have it here, usually we can arrange to get it for you through our inter-library system,” said Parker. “Now if it’s a book related to a course, we generally have it or know where you can find it in the University of Maine system. But, if you need a book and no-one has it we can still order it for you.”
Bill Loveridge and Samantha Aho are two USM Student Library Advisory Board members who advocate for students to use the Reserve Program and understand the responsibility of working with their fellow students’ ability to learn and keep up with their rigorous course schedules.
Loveridge, a graduate student in the Education department, found out about the program through the Glickman Library staff when he was looking for textbooks to borrow. Since then, he has used the Reserve Program for almost all of his textbooks. He shared that if a professor notifies the library of their course texts and asks for them to be put on reserve, the library will stock it, but they will only stock it at the library in the town in which you take your class. So if your class meets in Portland, your textbook will be on reserve in Portland. He also stated that he wishes the Reserve could extend the 2-hour time limit a student is allowed to borrow a textbook so that they won’t rush and possibly not retain the information.
Aho, an English major, found out about the Reserve Program while she waited for the textbooks that she had ordered to arrive when a professor said that the textbook she needed was available in the Textbook Reserve. She stated that she is in favor of the program and hopes that more textbooks and items can become available for students to use. Aho herself has helped students borrow textbooks and understands that some students who are on tight budgets could benefit from this program. She noted however that a lot of people don’t know about the program and hopes that professors could be more proactive in telling their students if their textbook is available on reserve and how to use it.
That’s where the issue lies: Not a lot of people know about this program’s existence. Two anonymous USM students who were interviewed for this article stated that if they had known about the Textbook Reserve Program, they would’ve used it at the start of the semester. They stand behind the mission of the Reserve Program and believe that it is extremely helpful in more ways than one, but they didn’t know of its existence before the interview.
A program like the Textbook Reserves may get lost in the mix of all the other clubs, groups, organizations, and programs that are offered at USM. Some of these clubs are just around in order for students to establish themselves in some kind of social clique with no real benefit to their financial and educational well-being. When a program like the Textbook Reserves is going under the radar, something needs to change, and it may need to start with the teachers. If a higher number of teachers were willing to work with the Textbooks on Reserve Program, then word should spread about this program. Nonetheless, the fact that USM, and more specifically USM’s Library of Learning, is looking out for their own students by having this program in a financial climate that keeps bearing down on us with no exit strategy is appreciated more than they know.
If you don’t want to make the same mistake I made by never using this program during my whole expensive time here, go to any of the libraries on the three USM campuses and ask at the front desk for the Textbooks on Reserve Program.