Have You Ordered Textbooks Yet?

A stack of booksIf you will be teaching in Summer or Fall terms, chances are good that the deadline for placing your textbook order is coming up pretty soon. Perhaps it’s already passed.

But if you’re like many faculty, you haven’t yet placed your textbook order. Soon you’ll get a reminder email. And another one. Maybe a phone call. Maybe the threat of some kind of consequence if you don’t meet the next deadline. And so on.

I’ve even heard stories of faculty who haven’t ordered textbooks mere weeks or days before the term starts.


Based on my own experience and that of colleagues and friends I’ve spoken with, there are three main reasons why we tend to put off this task.

We don’t have enough information.

  • If you haven’t decided which books you want to use, then you don’t have enough information. If you haven’t decided what sub-topics you’re going to focus on in your course, then you don’t have enough information to decide about the books.
  • If you know which books you want to use, but you don’t know which edition (say, if you’re teaching history or literature or another discipline with primary texts available in multiple editions), then you don’t have enough information.

It seems like too much work.

  • Textbook orders for the next term usually come due midway through the previous one, right when you’re busy grading tests or papers. The last thing you want to deal with is a task that might take a chunk of time out of your day.
  • It can seem overwhelming if you set it up as the final step in a long sequence of tasks: if you think you need to have your entire fall syllabus written before you can order books, you’ve just set up another afternoon’s work as the prequel to actually ordering books.

We don’t like being told what to do.

  • Sometimes putting off a book order is just a form of resistance to authority. You prize your independence and don’t want to conform to the rules and regulations of the system.
  • Or maybe you don’t like the course you’ve been assigned to teach, so you just put off dealing with it out of rebelliousness.

Why Should You Order Books Now?

Ordering textbooks sooner, rather than later, allows the campus bookstore more time to obtain used copies, which are appealing to many student buyers. If there’s the possibility of any problems with your order (is it a hard-to-find text or one that’s on its way out of print?), ordering sooner lets the bookstore (and you) deal with the situation before it becomes a real problem for your course. Finally, ordering textbooks now means that you can cross it off your list and relax until it’s time to prepare your syllabi.

In general, the more information you can supply to the bookstore, the better your chances of getting the edition that you want. If you’re teaching with a standard textbook, you may only have to supply the author, title, and edition number. If you’re teaching with primary texts, you may need to supply ISBNs and/or publisher information as well. I typically use both the Books In Print database and Amazon’s website to:

  • confirm if the edition I want is still in print
  • research alternate editions or titles
  • check list prices for books
  • gather or confirm the ISBN number, which I always submit with my book orders

Depending on your institution, you may be required to order books at the campus bookstore. You may also have the opportunity to order at an alternative store and/or make text lists available to students before the semester starts so that they can purchase books at the retailer of their choice.

Take Action!

Set aside 15 minutes to figure out what’s stopping you from placing your book order by answering these questions:

  • What information do you need? What decisions or research will you need to do to get that information?
  • What other tasks or decisions about your course need to be completed before you can order books?
  • How could you make the task of selecting and ordering books more enjoyable?
  • How long will it really take? When can you start?

Then block out some time on your calendar to sit down and take action on your first step, whatever that is.

What’s stopping you from ordering books for next term? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Alexandre Dulaunoy]

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