The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 50.0°F | Light Rain and Windy
Article Tools

The Coop has introduced a Web site which allows students to view textbook information online without physically going to its Kendall Square location.

The site, http://mit.bncollege.com, launched on Aug. 24 and allows students to view information such as the titles, authors, publishers, and editions of textbooks for the upcoming Fall 2008 semester. Neither the ISBN nor the textbook cover is accessible. Students may order their books online for in-store pick-up or opt to have them shipped.

Though the idea of a textbook Web site has been floating around for approximately eight years, 2007-2008 Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08 spearheaded the initiative, according to Elizabeth A. Reed, senior associate dean of undergraduate education. He contacted the Coop shortly after his election in the spring of 2007.

Holmes first contacted the Coop to solicit a collaboration between the Coop and Information Services & Technology, which had agreed to build the Web site to display the textbook information. “At [first], the Coop was not receptive to putting textbook information online,” Holmes said.

The support of the Department of Undergraduate Education was enough to arrange another meeting in the summer of 2007, Holmes said. A few weeks later, the Coop agreed to an informal collaboration “to help deliver more information to students in a convenient manner.”

Dean of Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80, Reed, and Holmes began discussions with the Coop in July and August 2007, according to Allan Powell, general manager of the Coop. During these discussions, they learned of congressional legislation pending at the time that “required MIT to take certain steps to provide students with information about course textbooks,” Holmes said.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush on Aug. 14, includes a provision that requires textbook publishers to share pricing information with faculty members. The act ensures that “universities and colleges are accountable,” Reed said. It also requires publishers to allow all textbooks to be sold separately as opposed to in bundles.

This new information complicated a formal partnership between MIT and the Coop, and the Coop decided to pursue the online Web site without MIT support.

The Coop utilizes Barnes and Noble as its contract manager of day-to-day store operations. “[Barnes and Noble] has implemented online textbook sites in a number of other schools it serves,” Powell said. “We are replicating the site used at Boston University.”

Powell said that though students have the option of shipping books, the vast majority of students choose to pick them up in the store.

When asked whether the Web site would help or hurt the Coop’s sales, Powell said, “There’s no way to determine this yet.”

In September 2007, however, the Coop seemed to have a different stance. The Harvard Coop called the police on three Harvard University undergraduate students who were copying down ISBN numbers of textbooks for their own book Web site, according to The Crimson, the Harvard student newspaper. Previously, students had been asked to leave the Harvard Coop after writing down ISBN numbers and prices to find cheaper textbooks online. According to an article in The Crimson, The Coop “has argued that it owns intellectual property rights to the identification numbers for the books it stocks.”

Powell said that the Coop agreed to the Web site to continue its goal of customer satisfaction. “Our primary motivation is to satisfy the MIT student and MIT’s request for the Coop to provide an online textbook site,” he said. “We want MIT students to continue to think of the Coop as a valuable resource.”

MIT will be pursuing its own collaboration between the UA, IS&T, DUE, and MIT Libraries which will “likely provide more detailed information than the Coop’s Web site,” Holmes said. The collaboration aims to bring textbook information to Stellar course pages, according to Theresa A. Tobin, head of the Humanities Library. “This gives students a better opportunity to do comparison shopping.”

Tobin said that the MIT site will provide ISBN numbers. “Libraries are all about open information sources,” she said.

A pilot version of the new Stellar Web site, with textbook information from representative courses in various departments, is online and will be in use for the Fall 2008 semester. Students taking these courses will be able to access the full MIT library citation, including the ISBN number, of the required textbooks. A full version is expected to be ready by the Spring 2009 semester, Tobin said.

Tobin said that the Stellar information is contingent upon MIT faculty providing the textbook information. Reed agreed. “We really need to have faculty buy-in,” she said.