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Textbook rental returns this year

Nicole Toczauer and Anna Boarini | Friday, August 19, 2011

For the second year in a row, both the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and the Saint Mary’s Shaheen Bookstore will offer rentable textbooks during the fall semester.

Notre Dame sophomore Neal Ravindra, academic affairs committee chair, said the program is a convenient option for students.

“You can rent through the bookstore, pick up your texts and return them at the end of the semester,” Ravindra said. “(You) can highlight the books and take notes in the margins of the books. Of course, students must keep in mind the rented books will be used again.”

Last fall, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s student governments launched the Rent-A-Text program through their schools’ bookstores. Rent-A-Text provides students with the option of renting a textbook for a semester at a lower fee than the cost of purchasing the book. Rentals can be completed online through the bookstores’ websites.

The Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore said 36 percent of their textbooks are rentable this semester, and students can save up to 50 percent by renting books instead of buying them.

Titles are only available to rent, however, if faculty members actively participate in the program.

“Dissatisfaction with Rent-A-Text stemmed primarily from the low availability of texts eligible for renting,” Ravindra said. “The availability of rentable texts depends on the compliance rate among faculty for textbook adoption and their timeliness.”

The bookstores must provide Rent-A-Text with information about the specific books used by each class every semester. Ravindra said this requirement means many books are not available to rent if professors do not submit their required texts for rental.

“The low participation rate among the faculty for textbook adoption was the leading factor that limited the availability of rentable texts,” Ravindra said. “Greater participation is needed.”

Despite challenges in kicking off the program, Saint Mary’s student body president Nicole Gans said the rental system is advantageous to students.

“[Textbook rental] is a benefit that most small schools don’t have,” Gans said.

Mike Hicks, manager of the Shaheen Bookstore, said both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s partner with Follett Corporation for their Rent-A-Text programs.

“[Establishing Rent-A-Text for all the company’s clients] was a $130 million investment from Follett,” Hicks said. “But [Follett] believed it was a necessary task and an opportunity to make a large-scale impact on overall affordability in higher education.”

Notre Dame students also have the option of using digital textbooks for certain classes. The Shaheen Bookstore hopes to provide e-texts in future semesters as well, Hicks said.

“We’re very prepared for an increased demand in digital,” he said.

Follett works with the digital textbook platform CafeScribe.com. Hicks said students could try this service for a few days for free to see if they liked the digital format.

“It features the same pagination as the printed text, one-click summarizing of notes and highlights, and can save you 40 to 60 percent over buying a new book,” he said.

The Shaheen bookstore will continue to expand the rental program. Hicks said faculty must be prepared to use a book for multiple years to participate in the rentals.

“Rental only works with the anticipated re-use of a book, so we work hand-in-hand with faculty to maximize availability,” Hicks said.

Kristen Blitch, Notre Dame Retail Operations marketing manager, said the Hammes Bookstore will continue to expand Rent-A-Text for Notre Dame students in the program’s second year.

“We’re continually working to increase the number of rentable titles in the store,” Blitch said. “The more we have, the happier we can make the students.”

Student feedback was mostly positive after one year of the textbook rentals, she said.

“There really are more choices than ever for students. In the long run we hope to increase the number of books available for rental. This isn’t something we can make happen easily, but with everyone’s help, it’s certainly achievable,” Blitch said.