By Nicole Kobie
Two weeks into class, some students are already behind on their readings–not because they slack off, but because their texts are unavailable.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worse than usual,” said Wayne Borgstrom, Supervisor of Textbooks and Custom Course Materials at the U of C Bookstore. “I think it’s better than most years.”
According to Borgstrom, as of the first day of classes about 98 per cent of textbooks were available.
“Come in and look at the shelves. Still, the only books that count–and quite rightly–are the ones that aren’t in there,” Borgstrom explained. “Percentages [of missing books] may be low, but the impact is still high.”
The impact isn’t so high, however, to cause revolution, anger or even curiosity in students.
“I haven’t had any students approach me about missing books,” explained Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh. “But my personal experience was that my book wasn’t there, though it is now.”
Books can be unavailable at the Bookstore for many reasons. The fault can lie with the Bookstore, the distributor, the publisher, or even faculty.
“It’s not a perfect system,” said Borgstrom. “Some of it is our fault, sometimes it’s them. They have their own problems.”
One hold-up is the bankruptcy proceedings against the textbook distributor General Publishing/General Distribution Services.
“General Publishing tied up a lot of stock,” said Borgstrom. Because of the proceedings, large volumes of stock sat in warehouses, unable to be returned to the publishers or sent on to stores until the courts made a few crucial rulings concerning creditors.
Sometimes, however, books simply get lost. Some books aren’t available because they’re in the wrong place, such as when a publisher ships to the wrong location–something Raincoast Publishers did in July.
“We’ve had one book sitting at customs since the tenth of September,” said Brent Beatty, Bookstore Operations Supervisor. The publisher neglected to send enough invoices for the shipment, meaning Customs wouldn’t let the book through.
“We still use primitive mechanisms telling where books are–it’s hard to make it an exact science,” explained Borgstrom. “Maybe there’s some magician out there who has it mastered, but not us.”
In addition to losing books, publishers sometimes do not meet their publication dates–a problem mostly affecting new editions. To help with this problem, the bookstore got permission to have the first few chapters of select missing texts printed.
“This way, students can have the first two chapters, or whatever they need for September, until the book comes in,” said Beatty, adding that when the full text comes in, students can return the chapters with their receipt.
It’s not just the industry that’s at fault, however. Overloaded classes, increased enrollment, and people from other classes, schools or the general public buying texts can lead to empty shelves.
“With the Sopranos on the Couch book, there was this huge media run the week before classes,” said Beatty. “People are buying it for general reading,” leading the bookstore to order more for the Film Studies class using the text.
Faculty is to blame in some instances when they don’t always meet the April 15 deadline for requests, or change texts once the deadline is passed. Recommended texts may not be as well stocked, but if a professor really pushes it, students may take copies intended for other classes.
As well, students’ penchant for buying used books, borrowing from friends or not buying the text means the bookstore tends to order less copies than students in a class; especially for older books.
“We have to take into account how many used books are out there,” Borgstrom said. “Students are looking for on-line stores as well as at the SU’s consignment store.”
Such stores may help fill the missing text book void, Stambaugh notes. Students, who absolutely can’t find their course materials, but have a professor who insists on pressing on, should make use of the SU.
“Bring to us any issues with professors making demands about getting readings done when your texts aren’t in,” Stambaugh said.