Editorial: Textbooks: Preserving the communal ideal

The College’s decision to award grants to financial aid students for all of their course book purchases places it in a league of its own, but it is possible that the policy change may lead to the loss of the communal ideals of the 1914 Library: sharing and reusing books. In the midst of budget cuts throughout the College and lingering worries that financial aid grants might be next, the College has loudly and clearly reaffirmed its commitment to keeping Williams affordable for all students, and we commend that effort. However, some tweaks to the policy could ensure that students keep the seminal texts of their Williams education and also give back to the community those books that they have no need to own.

The new financial aid grants will be cost-neutral since they merely reallocate aid dollars, but they also place a fresh responsibility on the students receiving them. Students are sometimes indifferent to keeping books for posterity after the semester ends, and the new policy should make them more mindful of passing along books they don’t want. Under the new policy, students could hypothetically make money by reselling their texts back to Water Street Books – an act that would let both students and the bookstore turn the College’s generosity into their own profit.

However, if there were an incentive and a central location where students could donate the books that they don’t want to hold onto, then the College wouldn’t have to continue spending financial aid dollars on the same texts. The spirit of a textbook library would foster community and a less wasteful attitude about book-buying and finances. Additionally, instead of selling her Astronomy 101 book, if a history major passed it on then she wouldn’t be profiting on the College’s dollars.

Maintaining the 1914 Library or something like it, as well as opening up the library’s resources to all students, would expand the possibilities of community-based book-sharing without undermining the excellent academic model of being able to own your own texts that the new policy champions.