On September 13th, 2019 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., the UASU will be hosting an interactive Be Book Smart Fair in the Students’ Union Building Atrium, where students and faculty will be able to interact with affordability in the classroom.

But you might be wondering, how can I be book smart?

At the University of Alberta, students can be expected to spend $1750 per year on academic materials which are one of the largest expenses after tuition, rent and food. The Students’ Union collected data for the first time in 1995 indicating that over 90% of students were dissatisfied with the cost of textbooks. Lobbying efforts increased in the next few years for customizable coursepacks, which are used now in many courses printed through SUBPrint. In 2008, the first Be Book Smart Campaign launched where the Students’ Union aimed to better educate students on textbook options. Last year this campaign was rebranded with over 400 students, staff and faculty engage in the various booths.

If you are considering alternatives to buying new textbooks, here are some options:

  • Buy used
  • Ask about older editions
  • Shop around
  • Share with a friend
  • Buy from a classmate
  • Try an eBook
  • Search online
  • Talk to your Professor about an OER
  • Borrow from the library

Buy Used

Buying and selling used books is a great way to keep costs low and give money back to other students. Try our Used Book Registry, the U of A Bookstore, local used book stores, or online retailers like Amazon, AbeBooks and Kijiji. Check prices if you're required to purchase access codes separately, though, as sometimes publishers bundle them with new textbooks to reduce the value of used books.

Ask About Older Editions

There may not be a substantial difference between previous editions and the one you’re supposed to buy. Ask your professor if you can use an old edition and if they can provide you with page numbers or required content from the newer edition. Publishers have a financial incentive to constantly produce new editions, as it helps limit used textbook sales, but constantly revised textbooks may not be necessary for all your classes. This website actually compares different textbook editions that you can check out.

Shop Around

The Bookstore at the U of A isn’t the only place you can buy your textbooks. Check out the websites and prices of a few competitors first. Online retailers like Amazon and eBay often have lower prices thanks to their online-only business model. You can also try Indigo / Chapters / Coles, or even a bookstore at another University in the city. When you’re spending up to $1750, isn’t it worth taking a few minutes to look around?

Share with a Friend

Why not buy your book and share it with a friend in the same section? It cuts your costs in half, and gives you someone to study with. If you both need the book at the same time, you can make photocopies of the sections you need.

Buy from a Classmate

It’s likely that a U of A student has already taken your class, and is selling the book that you need at a low price. Check the campus bulletin boards, the Used Book Registry, the UAlberta Used Books Facebook page, Books2Go, or Faculty Association used book sales. Or put a call out on Facebook or Twitter to see if anyone has an old copy they don’t want any more.

Try an eBook

Save on paper! Check Campus eBookstore, Amazon, Google Books, Google Play, CourseSmart, or Kobo for eBooks. Be careful, though, eBooks may not always be cheaper, and some rentals may expire before your course is over.

Search Online

Search the net for free options. Open Access materials, books in the public domain, and other online resources are widely available at no cost. Try the Guttenberg project, or your favourite search engine. 

Talk to your Professor about an OER

Professors are the primary decision-makers when it comes to your textbooks. Ask them if they have recommendations for alternative materials, customized course packs, or electronic materials. An OER is an online, free resource for students and faculty. Most importantly, ask them how often you’re likely to use the book throughout the course and the rest of your career. (You can always let your profs know about OER options they might not know about!)

Borrow from the Library

University of Alberta Libraries has many required course textbooks available for short term loan, and they also have books on every academic subject out there. Check out their online resources. And if they don’t have it, submit a request to add a textbook to the collection. Another option is to try the Edmonton Public Library.

There are numerous resources available to use, and I would encourage you on September 13th, 2019 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to stop by SUB Atrium to learn more about Open Education and grab some free snacks! If you would like more resources feel free to check out: bebooksmart.ca.

Joel Agarwal is the 2019-2020 Vice President Academic for the University of Alberta Students' Union (UASU). He is passionate about undergraduate research, open education resources, and ensuring students have the resources available to reach academic excellence. Having been involved in student governance for the past two years, he has served the University of Alberta Students' Union as a Faculty of Science Councillor as well as on the General Faculties Council (GFC) which is the primary academic decision making legislative body at the University of Alberta. Within these roles, he actively sat on various committees and developed his passion for student governance, and student academics. In his spare time, Joel is an avid nature photographer, loves jazz, and plays the piano and trombone.