Textbooks: try before you buy

Remember when Harry Potter got his letter from Hogwarts? And attached was a list of all the books he needed to buy? Remember wanting that exact list, rushing out to Flourish and Blotts and buying each and every one of them? The only bit J.K. Rowling didn’t mention was that he probably didn’t need half of them and neither will you…By Thomas Stewart

When I started my Undergrad at Glamorgan (now University of South Wales) and even when I came here, to Warwick, to begin my Postgrad, there were lists of books I needed to purchase. And, being the book lover I am, I went out – or sometimes onto Amazon – and bought each and every one of them. Even if I didn’t read them straight away, I thought, I could keep them, collect them and yet there they sit, inches away from me, un-read, un-used and a proof of my wasted money.

When you begin University – whether it be Undergrad or Postgrad – you will be asked to buy certain books. Depending on the subject, this could be quite pricey and the lists could be very extensive so the question is – what books should you buy? And how do you know which will work for you? If you’re on a Literature course, for example, and you know your focus is Gothic Literature and Science but the list contains books looking at George Eliot’s life, one of your possible reactions will be to ignore said book. You don’t have an extra £15 lying around.

But how do you know that book isn’t actually very important? How do you know that that specific book doesn’t have a section discussing Eliot’s introduction to science? A section that discusses how this affected her Gothic works such as The Lifted Veil? And what if you found this out at essay time, the night before, when you could have read or bought it? There are many what ifs and buts wandering around so now is the time for answers. The obvious answer is to get the book in your hands, skim through it and, if you’ve decided it’s useful then purchase the book. To do this there are three simple steps:

Step 1 : Library Catalogue

You can use Library Search to search the Library’s collections before you arrive at Warwick. Jump onto a computer and head onto the Library Catalogue and check to see if the library has it. Warwick library has a whole collection of books – they’d make Flourish and Blotts blush – so the chances are they’ll have it. If not, then you could head to the book suggestion form and they’ll look into ordering it for you. In the meantime you could try step 2. If, however, the book is sitting nearby waiting for you then you head onto step 3.

 Step 2: Google Books

With Google Books you can skim through sections in order to see which relate to your own work. If you conclude that it’s a useful book then ba-boom! There you go. However, there’s one catch, Google Books only allows you to look at certain pages.

You can link to Google Books straight from Library Search. Once you have found the book you’re interested in, select Explore on the right hand side and view the book in Google Books. Please note, not all books are available for preview.

Step 3: The Shelves

With the classmark jotted down, all you need to do is find said book. Of course, if you’re stuck, just ask a member of staff. When the book is in your hand all you have to do is have a look through it and come to a firm conclusion whether it’s the one for you. If you’ve decided it’s not then you’ve saved yourself £15 or more. If, however, it is the book for you then you might want to buy it. Sometimes it’s nice having the book as your own and that way you don’t have to worry about fines or somebody else checking it out. You may be out £15 but at least you know it’s a well spent one. Plus, you can always sell it on after you’re done!

Easy enough? Yes it is. At the end of the day you wouldn’t buy a piece of clothing without trying it on, why should a book be any different? 

Image: The Making of Harry Potter 29-05-2012/Karen Roe/ CC BY 2.0


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