A pile of colourful books, each sayin "in the library" on the spine
Credit: Ciara McAlinden

Transparency required around essential texts

By Ciara McAlinden

Views Editor Ciara McAlinden believes that lectures owe it to students to signpost affordable access to required reading

“Now,” says the course convenor in an authoritative tone, “it is essential that you buy these six books, and you must take note of the exact edition that you’re required to buy.” Naive 18-year-old Ciara, with no idea how to use the library and a deep fear of messing up the first week of university, rushed out to buy all of her books right away. 

I already owned two of them, but apparently, it was absolutely necessary to get the newest edition of the texts. The other purchases seemed fair enough, anthologies mainly – anthologies that contain works that I could find online, I later realised. I also realised a couple of weeks in that one of my pricey books was written by a lecturer on my course; and was available in the library. In retrospect, only one of the six books I was asked to buy was needed for the course and still helps me today.

“…buying a pricey book after paying for rent, bills and food is perhaps not viable to everyone in the class.”

Now let’s skip a couple of years to honours. My other subject, one that has always only required online reading, now has a suggested text that is available to buy. The man that teaches this course, and indeed wrote the book, tells us to just access it online if we can’t afford to purchase it; he provides the class with a PDF of his book after explaining that it’s a helpful text for the entirety of the course. He details that he does gain income from student purchases of his work, but understands that buying a pricey book after paying for rent, bills and food is perhaps not viable to everyone in the class.

I’d like to preface how I feel about this by saying that I entirely understand and respect that writing provides a portion of income to lecturers. This being said, I feel that there comes a point when a lecturer should acknowledge the financial limitations of students. For a lot of people, SAAS is not meant to cover over £100 book purchases; it’s meant to cover living costs that we wouldn’t otherwise meet without a full-time job. The difference between these two situations that I’ve detailed is that one course understands this, and the other either doesn’t (or simply doesn’t care). What annoyed me in particular about the first scenario was the entire lack of acknowledgement that almost all of our texts were available online or in the library for free. As a student of literature, I fully expected to need to buy books at some point due to the nature of the course, but I also assumed that these could be borrowed, or second-hand from a charity shop. 

“SAAS is not meant to cover over £100 book purchases; it’s meant to cover living costs that we wouldn’t otherwise meet without a full-time job.”

I have since learned that my initial assumption was correct, and in fact, the lecturer of this subject seemed to just be trying to milk money out of new students that didn’t know exactly how necessary a brand new copy of an old book is. In my (skint) opinion, I prefer the way that my subsequent teacher dealt with the situation; just as I recognise that book purchases form an element of his income, he recognised that we didn’t necessarily have that money to give, and provided us a way around it. In the end, I bought his book because it was a very interesting read that I’d like to keep beyond my days of Moodle and JSTOR accessibility. In scenario one, I don’t think the lecturer gave enough credit to students for their love of learning, and assumed that books would only be bought if it was a necessity.

Now, I know it may sound cheap, but the fact is that we already pay so much in tuition and living expenses that purchasing books should be optional, and all necessary books should be kept in the library. Better yet, when they are available in the library, first years who aren’t yet familiar with the university should be told this. It should be in the interest of those who teach us to be understanding and transparent. Trust me when I say that the work will be read, and even bought, but only when it’s viable to do so. So, lecturers – please be a bit more transparent with students, and especially first years. They’re nervous and naive, so just cut a bit of slack. 


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