Behind the scenes at Textbook Services
October 13, 2022
This article won second place in the feature story category in the 2022 Collegiate Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation. Read more
For students at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, a trip to Textbook Services is a part of every semester. Textbook Services, previously located at Hagestad Hall and now at Chalmer Davee Library, is UW-River Falls’ textbook rental service, which provides students with the textbooks they need each semester.
The cost of these textbooks for each student is around $90 per semester; this is included in student fees. Daniel Rivera, the manager of Textbook Services, said that the service currently has 83,000 books in its collection, 49,000 of which are being rented out to students for the 2022 fall semester.
This collection contains 2,164 different titles, with 120 new titles added this fall. According to Rivera, the university spent “$400,000 on textbooks this past fiscal year, 2022.”
Besides renting textbooks, Textbook Services is also responsible for ordering the books and ensuring they are in stock, which keeps them busy even after the semester starts.
“We're continuing to reach out to professors confirming textbook needs or reaching out to publishers and trying to find out when one of [the] books is arriving, [and] really just trying to make sure we have everything available,” Rivera said.
Rivera described the process by which Textbook Services orders its textbooks and distributes them to students. First, professors select the textbooks they need for their classes via a collection system, and that information is stored in Textbook Service’s inventory system, which uses the program Alma. “[We] put in the date, the ISBN number, the publisher, that type of information, to find out the cost of the book,” Rivera said.
“From there it's a matter of reaching out to the publisher or secondary markets to find the books that our professors are requesting. We do our best to look at used options, and part of it is trying to be more sustainable…. Like even on Amazon, we purchase used books from them as well, or even new books,” said Rivera.
When purchasing books, Textbook Services checks enrollment numbers and orders 10% more textbooks than are needed, to account for unexpected demand as well as damage or attrition.
“We can spend up to 100 grand here, 50 grand there, another ten here, depending on where traditionally our books are coming from. And if we just look at the little caps we place on, that's over 400,000 [dollars] of standing orders,” Rivera said.
Rivera mentioned how the textbook market can often be unpredictable, which leads to fluctuating textbook prices. He recalled how one textbook cost $40, but, when he ordered more copies a few weeks later, they had skyrocketed to $700.
“It's a crazy market and you have to be aware of when you're buying books and hope that you have enough textbooks in those times to carry you over,” Rivera said. Finally, Textbook Service’s inventory is sent to eSIS, UW-River Falls’ student information system, to provide students a list of the books they need.
“[If] for some reason we don't have the textbook available, we have [students] sign up on a little shortage list, and then we'll get that textbook to them as soon as it's ordered or as soon as it comes in,” Rivera said.
The process, however, doesn’t end there. When textbooks are no longer needed, they are discontinued from Textbook Services’ system, and the copies are sold on the secondary market. The money from these sales is returned to Textbook Services’ fund, to purchase more books in the future.
Textbook Services also has a shelf in Chalmer Davee Library where students can purchase discontinued textbooks for as low as $1 or $2. “On occasion we do have books that no one wants,” Rivera said, “And so we will reach out to some companies such as Better World Books who will sometimes take our used books…[and] donate them elsewhere.”
Textbook Services also rents digital books, and works with a few companies, such as McGraw Hill and Red Shelf, to supply digital items to Canvas.
Currently, Textbook Services is taking textbook requests from professors for J-term and the 2022 spring semester. From there, the cycle will continue, as Textbook Services works to meet all the textbook needs of UW-River Falls.