Q: How many books do you have in circulation right now?
Erin VanLaningham: Circulation… If we’re counting books, so I’ll use primary books like novels and things like that. Probably per class, six. But those are six novels.
Q: Do you like to keep it to six?
VanLangingham: Yeah, five or six. Probably, per 15-week semester long courses.
Q: How would you describe your usage of textbooks with your courses?
VanLangingham: They’re absolutely required. I do sometimes list additional, optional texts, but the five or six would be required texts that we use every day.
Associate Professor of English, Loras College
Q: Do you provide a lot of online resources for students to use?
VanLangingham: Yeah, sometimes I will do that instead of buying an entire book of short stories if we’re only going to read one short story and it’s been published in a magazine or something. I’ll definitely post a link instead of requiring students to purchase the entire book.
Q: What is the process of selecting books like for you?
VanLangingham: I would say it’s a little bit of both. There are lots of editions of classic novels, so you definitely want to make sure that you’re getting a reliable edition. I definitely look at cost in the sense that if I’m not asking students to use the secondary sources that might be included in a Norton critical edition or a Broadview edition, then I may not go for that one even though it would be higher. But if I’m going to ask students to use that material, I’m definitely going to use it. I try to have a blend, is the best I would probably say, so that some of the choices I would make would be on the lower price end, and then I would choose maybe two of them on the higher end because we’re going to use those more in depth.
Q: And the pricier ones, are those usually secondary?
VanLangingham: It would be something like this (Norton Critical Edition) where there novel’s in the front and the secondary is in the back. So it’s kind of like two books in one, a little bit.
Q: What is the most expensive book you selected for your classes this semester?
VanLangingham: This semester probably would have been one of these novels, and maybe it was $18. That’s in the novels course where we’re going novel by novel and I don’t have like one solid secondary source. In a survey class I would only require two novels, but then I would use a textbook, which would be more like $40 or $50, but then I’m not using another three novels or something, so it’s about the same cost.
Q: I noticed that some students were saying that they spent more than $100 or even $200 on one book.
VanLangingham: I believe that. I mean, the thing that people don’t realize about those kinds of textbooks though is the amount of labor that goes into actually creating the text. There are multiple faculty probably writing it, researching it, editing it, testing it. Then you have the publishing house as well involved in that, so it is really expensive, but knowledge is an expensive thing to curate too.
Q: If a student were to come to you with concerns of books being too expensive, how would you respond?
VanLangingham: What I would normally say, because of the content that I teach is that there are public libraries, and we are also part of a library consortium that they can secure these texts for free for the amount of time that they use them. They’re also readily available sometimes in used bookstores and places like that. I mean I prefer that students have the editions that I choose, because I choose the edition for a reason, and I prefer that we’re all literally on the same page. But if they choose to get a Dover Thrift Classic, that costs a dollar or two that’s up to them. If they choose to Gutenberg text, the sort of free texts online, they can do that. It just may kind of limit their ability to contribute to class discussion. My argument here is that this is part of the commitment of being a student in a class. This isn’t really a voluntary part of education in terms of participating in class. So I try to give them some low cost options, and if there are things that are available at our library they can certainly get those off of that reserve shelf kind of thing if necessary.
Q: Do you think that there’s a difference in what students are paying for their books and the value that they’re getting from them?
VanLangingham: I haven’t sat in enough classrooms to know how much other faculty are using books or texts, but my thought is that whether it’s directly sort of referred to in the course or whether faculty are assuming that students are reading it on their own, they’ve required it for a reason. So I would suggest that you probably can get value out of it. It may not be made as explicit in some classes as it is in others. So in other words, in my class we’re holding the books, we’re on page 90, we’re underlining, we’re talking about it. Maybe in other classes it’s lecture, or they’re just asked to read outside of class and it’s never referred to. I still think that a textbook is part of a resource that you should be using for your learning throughout the entire semester. It’s both on the student and the faculty to make clear how that should happen. Part of that is students taking charge of their own learning and trying to figure out how to use that resource. But again, there’s probably disciplinary methods of how we approach using texts in classrooms.
Q: Do you use any eBooks in classes?
VanLangingham: Sometimes… in terms of eBooks, sometimes there are eEditions of the books that I order. And that’s fine if students want to use those. I’ve had on even experiences in classrooms with that where students will have the eEdition, but it’s harder sometimes for them to even get to the page on time in class discussion and things like that. Sometimes that’s a preference for them if they prefer to have it all on a reader of some kind. Sometimes also, textbooks, part of that expensive cost, they have um eSupplements, and like images, and video links that come as part of the textbook. Interactive features that sometimes I’ve used in my classes, in terms of like, files of art. Sometimes I think that can be really useful in terms of having digitized materials. But really, so far the technology does not, I don’t think, pan out for discussion based classrooms, favoring eBooks over paper books. Just in terms of ease of use in the classroom. Outside of the classroom potentially, but in the classroom, no.
Q: So you prefer the hard copies?
VanLangingham: Yeah. I think students do, too. From the most part what I’ve been able to tell. You can highlight things, you can… but flipping between page 90 and 180 over and over again on an eText just doesn’t happen as fast.