Purchasing textbooks to be streamlined, more economical for Princeton students

Princeton University will introduce a new software tool on Blackboard this fall intended to enable students to more easily purchase textbooks, and will implement a pilot discount program for students who buy their coursebooks through Labyrinth Books, the University's bookstore.

The discount will be 30 percent below the retail price for new and used books. 

The new program will be available Sept. 1. Students will be provided with more detailed information through email and online before they return to campus in the fall.

"This software tool will offer students a simple way to get reading lists and an efficient system for purchasing their books locally," said Peter Quimby, deputy dean of the college.

The discount program will reduce the cost of coursebooks for all students who purchase the books at Labyrinth Books, the University bookstore, at 122 Nassau St., according to Paul Breitman, assistant vice president for University Services, who oversees the University's relationship with the store.

The University began designing the new tool following the passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008. The act included legislation asking colleges and universities to include in their online course schedules the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), author, title and retail price for all required and recommended books and supplemental materials for each course offered before the beginning of the semester.

Prior to the software tool being implemented, Princeton has met its obligation under the law by linking the Registrar's Office website with Labyrinth's website. Many institutions have used similar methods to handle compliance.

But Princeton has decided to use the opportunity to streamline the system, providing students with far more information and functionality than is required under the federal legislation.

Course reading lists will be displayed in a new section of Blackboard, the University's online course management system. Students will be able to access lists of required and recommended readings for the fall 2011 semester, starting Sept. 1. This is the earliest date the tool can go live this year because the University wants to assure that faculty have submitted their lists and that the lists are researched and finalized by bookstore staff members.

While the software tool addresses the "letter of the law," Breitman said, the discount program addresses the "spirit of the law" in seeking to lower the costs of coursebooks for all Princeton students.

The system also will provide a single place where faculty members will enter the reading list information for their classes.

"Previously, there was no single repository at the University for maintaining course reading lists," Quimby said. "We had a highly decentralized system in which faculty members shared this information with students in whatever way they found to be most convenient (Blackboard, hard-copy syllabus, email, a list at Labyrinth, etc.). The new software tool will make it easier for faculty members to order their books through a single portal."

The project is a collaborative effort of the Office of the Dean of the College, University Services, Labyrinth Books, the Office of Information Technology and the Registrar's Office.

Students who order their coursebooks on Blackboard from Labyrinth will be able to pay by charging their student accounts. Those wishing to pay with a credit card may still order online and pay in the store. Labyrinth staff will bundle the books students order online and have them ready for express pickup. Also, during the traditional buyback period after courses have concluded, the amount offered the student for a used book will be based on the book's higher retail price, not the discounted price they originally paid, resulting in greater savings.

After two semesters, the discount program will be evaluated, Breitman said.