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Should You Keep Your Textbooks?

By Alyssa Laffitte

As college students, we accumulate many textbooks throughout the years. It’s easy to buy textbooks and then leave them on your bookshelf to collect dust once the semester is over. This is a waste of money and space, since we know textbooks are expensive and we do not want our bookshelves to be cluttered. However, there are other textbooks that you might need next semester, or that you might want to reference in your future career. In this case, it’s not wasteful to keep the textbook; on the contrary, it’s a good idea to keep that specific textbook. This is why we need to make the decision, after every semester, whether to keep our textbooks or not. The trick is deciding which one you will need in the future, and which you will not. In this post, we’ll discuss tips for making that decision. In the end, we’ll also discuss other ways to obtain your textbooks for the semester so you don’t need to decide whether to keep or give away your books.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you decide whether you should keep your textbooks or not:

Is the textbook for a course in your major, especially an introductory one?

The first question you should ask yourself when deciding what to do with a textbook is if it is for a course in your major. If it is, you should keep the textbook. Textbooks for courses in your major can be excellent resources if you need to look up something in the future. Even when you are in the workforce, you might still need to look something up in your old textbook. I would especially recommend keeping textbooks that are for the basic, introductory classes of your major, since they touch on the basics of the field. The introductory textbook is the one you will go to if you want to brush up on a basic area of your field.

Another reason you should keep textbooks for your major is that you might need them for another class. If you are taking a series of classes (for example, Chem I and II), there is a good chance you will use the same book.

Conversely, if a textbook is not for your major (for example, if it is for a simple elective class), you most likely will not need to reference it in the future. If that is the case, you should not keep the textbook.

In short, you should keep textbooks for your major, especially the introductory textbook, because you might need to reference it in the future.

Will you need the book for another class?

Just as I mentioned earlier, before getting rid of your textbooks, you should consider the possibility that you will need them for another class in the future.

Especially toward the beginning of your college career, you will be taking many series of classes (for example, Calculus I and II, Chem I and II, and so on) to fulfill your general education requirement. Your professors will likely use the same book for the entire series of classes. Even if these series of classes are not directly related to your major, you should hold on to the textbooks until you are done with the series. It would not be smart to get rid of the book when you will need it again!

If you are taking a series of classes, or if you know you will need the textbook for another class, you should definitely keep it!

Will you want to reference it later on in your career?

Although you will definitely want to keep textbooks for classes of your major, in case you want to reference them in the future, there are other textbooks you might want to reference in the future, too. You might want to keep those textbooks, even if they are not exactly for your major. Textbooks that are related to your major might be worth keeping because you might also want to reference those. For example, if you are an engineering major, you might want to keep your physics textbook, too! If you are a biology major, you might also want to keep your biochemistry textbook. Although these textbooks are not exactly for your major, the information contained in them might be useful for you in the future.

Before you decide what to do with your textbooks, consider whether you might want to reference them. You might want to reference books that are not even directly for your major, so do not immediately give them away!

Can you find the information on the Internet?

Nowadays, we have access to an incredible wealth of information at our fingertips, thanks to the Internet. You don’t even need to pay extra to access most of this information. For this reason, if a textbook is not for your major, and the information you think you will need from it is freely available on the Internet (for example, terms, definitions, equations, maps, etc.), then it might not be worth keeping. However, I would not recommend this tactic if the book is for your major.

Don’t do it for the money

Finally, before deciding what to do with your textbooks, do not make your decision based on money. You should not re-sell your textbooks solely for the money, because you likely will not get a lot of it back. However, if you have already decided the textbook is not worth keeping, because you know you will not need it in the future, then by all means, re-sell your textbooks. This way, the book won’t be taking up space and collecting dust on your bookshelf, and you can make a little money!

What should you do if you have decided you do not want to keep your textbooks?

If your textbooks are not for a course in your major (for example, an elective), and you know you will not need them for another class or for future reference during your career, you can get rid of them. There are a few things you can do to get the textbooks off your hands. For example:

  • Give it to a friend. Ask around to see if any of your friends will need the textbook you have. They will be delighted to not have to look for the textbook somewhere else! (Personally, this is the first thing I would try to do if I decided I no longer want to keep my textbooks!)

  • Donate it to a library. Libraries are always in need of books. Do your research to find out if you can donate your textbook. If you can, do it.

  • Sell it back to your campus bookstore. Campus bookstores almost always have a textbook “buy back” program, where the bookstore will give you a small amount of money in exchange for your used textbook.

  • Sell or donate it to a secondhand bookstore. Similarly, you can donate or sell it to a bookstore. You can even consider donating to online bookstores like TextSurf. They will ensure the book goes to someone who needs it.

Are there any better options than simply buying textbooks?

Every semester, it’s a cycle of buying books and either keeping them or getting rid of them. This cycle can be very expensive! If you would like to do something different, you should consider any of these options, as they are cheaper and will take the book off your hands once you are done with it.

Renting textbooks

Instead of buying a new or used textbook, and having to decide what to do with it at the end of the semester, you should consider renting textbooks. Renting a gently used textbook for the semester is dramatically cheaper than even buying a used textbook. Not only is it cheap, but once you are done with the book, you can simply bring it back. (Or, if you decide you like the book, you can pay a little more money to keep it!) When you return the book, it will go to someone else who will use it, rather than collecting dust on your bookshelf. It’s a win-win situation!

You can rent textbooks from your campus bookstore, or through online retailers like TextSurf. At the end of the semester, you simply ship the book back. (Renting textbooks is my personal favorite. I have done it for three years and have never looked back! I once ended up buying a book I rented because I liked it so much, and it was an easy process.)

Rent or buy an e-book

Similarly, if you are a fan of electronic books (rather than traditional paper books), you should consider buying or renting an e-book. If you use a computer or tablet frequently, an e-book will be convenient for you, since you will not need to carry around a heavy textbook. Generally, e-books are cheaper than traditional books, even more so if you are renting rather than buying. E-books are also available for download immediately after you purchase them; you do not need to wait two days for them to ship.

In other words, e-books are cheap, readily available, won’t take up space on your bookshelf, and can be accessed anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Check your campus library

Another option to consider if you do not want to buy or rent a textbook is to borrow it from the campus library. This is convenient because it is totally free. However, there is no guarantee the library will have it because another student might be using it. (You might have trouble reserving the book the weekend before a big test, or if homework was assigned from the book.) Borrowing a textbook from the campus library will work if you REALLY want to save money and if you know you will not need the textbook often throughout the semester.

Share with a friend

If you know someone who is taking the same class, you should consider sharing the textbook with them. This will be cheaper because you can split the cost with them. However, you will have to share the textbook, so it will not always be available to you. It might also be a pain to have to carry the textbook from your friend’s place to your place, or your friend might forget to bring the book to class (or you might!). Sharing a textbook is convenient if you want to save money and have a friend who is taking the same class as you.

Textbooks are a big expense to consider as a college student. Is it worth spending a large amount of money for a book you will only use for a few months? Will the book simply be sitting in your bookshelf collecting dust once the semester finishes? These are things to consider when deciding what to do with the textbooks you invested in.

Some textbooks, such as those for your major classes or those you know you will want to reference in the future, are worth keeping. Textbooks you know you will use for another class later on are also worth keeping, at least until you finish the class you need it for. On the other hand, textbooks that are for an elective, that you know you will not need in the future, are worth taking off your hands.

If you decide you no longer want your textbooks, there are many ways to get rid of your textbooks. I would first suggest asking if any of your friends will need it. If they don’t, consider selling it back to the campus bookstore or donating it.

If you don’t want to continue buying and re-selling your textbooks, consider renting textbooks or using e-books, since those are good alternatives.

In short, you don’t need to keep every single textbook you ever use, but you should not get rid of all of them, either. Keep the books you think will be useful to you in the future, but donate or sell back the books you will no longer need.