Friday, September 16, 2005

My classes are going well in terms of the students, but on the other hand, there have been a few annoying glitches. Every semester, the bookstore begs faculty to get our orders in early so that the books are available when students arrive. So, I always make an effort to meet the deadline. For this semester, that was back in March. I use the most current editions of the books, but only one was updated since the Spring, so there should have been plenty of used copies floating around, in addition to the new books that the bookstore should have ordered.

I believe the books for one of my classes have sold out twice already, and there is always a delay of several days while the bookstore scrambles to get more copies. In my other class, the books recently sold out, and not every student has them yet. I know this happens because the bookstore doesn't want to be stuck with even one copy to send back, and so they must use some calculation to determine how many enrolled students don't plan to do the reading or buy the books at all, plus how many go to another, probably cheaper, vendor. But it seems to me that they are always wrong, never have enough in stock, and I wind up being inconvenienced. I really burns me up. Why bother to make the deadline if they aren't going to hold up their end of the deal?

In my experience, students perceive not having a personal copy of the book as the ultimate justification for putting in zero effort. Then, another problem is that some students don't have any money, and so they are not unwilling to do the reading, but they simply can't afford to buy the books.

Several semesters ago, I decided to partially fix the problem by putting copies of all the books on reserve in the library. I took older editions of all the books, and I went online and bought one copy each of the latest editions (I have my own review copy that the publisher provides to me for free, but they won't give extras). So there are multiple copies at the library, and one each is the current edition.

I also have a bunch of books on reserve that are for a book review that is due at the end of the semester. Students can buy a copy of one of 15 books for this assignment, or they can read one of my copies. I bought some new and some used books from Amazon so that students who have tight budgets wouldn't have to shell out any more money, since the cost of the three required books is already over $100 and I am trying to be sensitive to the rising cost of college. I didn't bother to ask for reimbursement from the department. It isn't that they wouldn't compensate me after the paperwork hassle, but my sense is that with our endlessly tight budgets, it wouldn't be appreciated at all.

This semester numerous students have reported that they are getting the run around from the reserves desk. It moved over the summer, and I did notice that although it looks much more impressive, it also seems as if the staff is more disorganized. I am not one to bash the staff on campus - as a student they seemed to be unresponsive if not downright hostile, but to faculty members the folks in most offices are quite nice. So I wondered if students were telling a tall tale to get out of the reading.

I decided to test it out. On Tuesday, I visited the library and asked for one of the books. I waited at least 15 minutes before the woman who was helping me came back. There was a whole opera as she kept looking the book up on the computer and getting someone else to help her find it. Finally she came back with an older edition. I told her that wasn't the book I needed, that I wanted the most recent edition. Again at least 15 minutes passed. Finally, another woman came out and reported that they did not have any other copies of the book. So I asked what happened to it? Did a student steal it? Was it misplaced? She didn't know. I could see she wasn't going to be helpful, so I said, "it is listed on the computer as being on reserve. These are not library books, they are personal copies. I have a lot of books on reserve. If they are not here when students need them I have to know what the problem is. Do you have the sheets I filled out when I brought the books over?"

I didn't say this, but obviously my next question would be whether the library intended to reimburse me for the lost book. It is one thing to not get reimbursed by the department for the purchase, but another thing to have the library cost me even more. Another 15 minutes passed while she consulted with someone in the back. When she returned, she told me that the listing in the computer was an error - I had never given them the latest edition. She did not produce the sheets that I brought over when I put the books on reserve.

I am proud to say that resisted losing it, although I felt like it. I would have been a lot less angry if they just admitted they were at fault, instead of blaming me. But I knew it was pointless. They do not give a receipt when you place personal copies of books on reserve. They had no intention of admitting responsibility, because they were not going to risk having to pay me for the lost book.

Later it struck me that when students don't return the reserve books, they get fined, and if they don't pay, a hold is placed on their records. In one case, I remember a student kept one of the books for the review a long time (the book review copies are two day reserves) and I had to ask in class for the student to return it. I know he had to pay at least $40, which is much more than the book cost new. Why does the library get to keep that money? It is my book. If he never returned it, would I get reimbursed? Or would they replace the book once the fine was paid? It seems the answer is no, tough luck. Just deny ever having it and run.

So, I went on Amazon to see if I could find a copy to replace it. The cheapest used copy I could find costs $43. I am simply not willing to spend that much again, so I guess the students will have to settle for the older edition. A student who came to office hours shortly after this fiasco told me that she works in the library and they put things back on the wrong shelf all the time. So that is probably what happened to my book. Maybe it will turn up eventually.

Last night I had my lower division class, the one that is mostly freshmen. It is in a smart classroom in the chemistry building, and I got ready to show a slideshow that I had saved on the class website. The projector wasn't getting a signal from the computer, so I looked around and discovered that someone had unplugged the wire from the wall. I should mention that the others who use the room clearly do not embrace modern technology, because every week the chalkboard has been rolled front and center, the overhead projector is all set up, and tables and chairs are obstructing the smart console.

I plugged in the wire and it still wouldn't work. I fooled around rebooting, etc., only to discover that everything related to the computer and the Internet had been unplugged - and the back of the smart console was locked, meaning not accessible. So, I reordered my plan for the night, and put in a video that I intended to show a bit later. I had borrowed it from the library, and surprise, surprise, it wasn't rewound. The wait was excrutiating (luckily freshmen are so well behaved), but once I finally got it set up, I ran over to AV Services to get a technician. He told me that this problem has been happening in smart rooms across campus. He came over and worked on the console, but after he left and the video was finished, it still couldn't find the Internet. So I gave the students their break early, ran over to my office (the education building is quite a hike from chemistry), managed to find a floppy diskette (not easy in this age of CD ROMs), copied my presentation to a diskette, dashed back, and gave my presentation. There is a lesson here about relying on technology, and having back-up systems in place. At least I am getting some exercise!

The good news (aside from the best news, that Rudy is doing well and will turn 10 tomorrow) this week: I got a new computer on campus, as I mentioned before, and the Dean's office gave all in my department nice tee-shirts, because we were the first department to make our Fall enrollment targets. So, I guess that almost makes up for the incompetent bookstore, the mean librarian, and the revenge of the Luddites.

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