Olivia Mathieu â17 spearheaded the ODY-DB program in 2016.

Creative Alternatives to Paying the Price for Textbooks

Emery Younger ’17

From her first semester through to her last, Emma Hennessey ’17 found the cost of textbooks to be a headache.

“As an English major, I read tons of novels,” she says. “It’s not uncommon to be required to buy upwards of 10 books for a single course.” 

It is a challenge that many students and families often overlook when preparing for each semester until the bill is in hand. So, Olivia Mathieu ’17 decided it was time to find a way to make the price tag of class materials a little more affordable for students moving forward. 

Through a Senior-Year Experience project with the Department of Performance and Communication Arts, Mathieu investigated new ways of reducing the cost of textbooks for St. Lawrence students and eventually implemented a recycling program through a partnership with the Thelomathesian Society and the ODY Library. 

The Owen D. Young Library Donation-Borrowing program, or ODY-DB, collects used textbooks from dropboxes around campus at the end of each semester. The books are then housed in ODY, where they are available for in-library use by future students. The program kicked off in 2016 with a poster campaign and several op-eds for The Hill News as well as attempts to raise awareness of ODY-DB with student leaders. More than 550 books were added to the ODY-DB collection for loan since the project began. 

During her research, Mathieu discovered the misconceptions that accompany the textbook marketplace.

“A lot of students mistakenly attribute the high cost of textbooks to the Brewer Bookstore, but really the Bookstore has little to no control over the pricing of these books,” Mathieu says. “Ultimately, it’s academic publishing companies that determine the course materials’ high prices.”

Complementing the ODY-DB program, Mathieu, along with her faculty-advisor Jessica Prody, associate professor of rhetoric and communication studies, partnered with the Brewer Bookstore in securing a campus Innovation Grant, which funded the acquisition of a new textbook purchasing software called Verba. The Verba software program started as a Harvard student government project to tackle affordability through providing transparency in the textbook marketplace and has since evolved into a business partnering with hundreds of college bookstores across the country.

Brewer Bookstore has fully implemented the software, and faculty have already taken advantage of Verba’s features of cost comparisons as well as alternative sources for course materials to minimize the expense for students. 

The combination of savings through the Verba software and providing course materials through the ODY-DB should translate into student savings.

“Just looking through the list of books that were collected in the fall,” Hennessey says, “there are easily at least 10 to 15 books that I could’ve used over the last four years. I’m glad ODY-DB is in place … I just wish it was started sooner.”