Few things frustrate a librarian at the reference desk more than facing yet another student asking, “Do you have this book?” This is not to say we do not want to help students find volumes required for their classes, but when the eighth student arrives asking for the same book, well, you can imagine.
Sometimes we have the book. Sometimes we do not. Or we may have the 5th edition and the professor is using the 6th edition. We are left to wonder why students are not equipped with this information before they set foot into the Library.
One simple addition to the syllabus will ease everyone’s pain.
Does the Library have the required textbook? If so, add the call number on the syllabus. The syllabus is required to include the isbn, but that is so students can purchase the correct edition (and that does not necessarily help us find what they seek). What they need in the library is the call number.
Is the book on reserve, meaning the students can use it for three hours in the Library? Note that fact on the syllabus. With the call number.
Do we have one copy of the required reading in our circulating collection? Please put it on reserve so it is available to many students throughout the semester, and not just the first student who races to the Library from class to check it out and take it home.
Is the book available as an ebook? If so, let students know that they can access it at any time from any computer.
Textbooks are ever more expensive, and it is frustrating for a student to hear that we have the 5th edition but not the 6th. Does it matter? That is, has the content in a Sociology 101 text changed so much that the earlier edition is obsolete? Of course not. The Library does not purchase textbooks for every course, every year. We may have a half dozen copies of that 5th edition available on reserve, but not the 6th edition required for the class.
What might change in textbooks in each successive edition will be the pagination, charts and illustrations, and the questions at the end of a chapter. Faculty would serve their students well by comparing editions to determine whether a previous edition would serve just as well as the current edition. For example, rather than assign readings by pages (e.g. 144–165), assign by chapter.
Finally, before assigning that hefty and expensive tome, check the availability of our Open Educational Resources (OER) and Alternative Educational Resources (AER). What we have available digitally could fill just about any syllabus.