CHAMPAIGN – University of Illinois senior Jared Mahan spent Monday morning with his mother buying books for the start of fall classes more than three weeks away. He came out with about 30 books, including 10 for just one class.
Even though students shopping this early have been the exception in the past, local bookstore officials said they are getting set for the rush now.
"Everything that is here has been shelved. We actually have a higher percentage of books in (stock) this year," said Brian Paragi, textbook manager for TIS College Bookstore, 707 S. Sixth St., C. "We are about 90 percent ready."
The remaining 10 percent of work is out of his hands.
"There are some courses that we have not received book orders" for, continued Paragi. "We are waiting for publishers to either box them and send it or publish them in the first place. If we receive the orders this week, I am confident it will be on time. But much later, it will be difficult to guarantee."
The Illini Union Bookstore and Follett Energy Squared Bookstore began receiving shipments of books in June and won't stop until weeks after school starts. Several factors resulted in some books not finding their way onto Champaign shelves.
"If we have to order books from some obscure publisher in southern France, it might be difficult getting it on time," said Ed Slazinik, interim director of the Illini Union, who added that sometimes the store has to scramble to get books by the first day of class.
Slazinik said that when professors fail to turn in orders by May, shipping can be delayed.
"We have tried different things to help faculty members get their orders in as quickly as possible," he said. "If the faculty get their orders in by a certain date, we give them a discount for that semester. There has been an improvement in early orders because of that."
Paragi has noticed that publishers are making a concerted effort to ship books on time because late arrivals affect their bottom lines.
"Publishers realize that when they have late publication dates, it hurts their sales," he added. "Students will manage to get through the semester without the book if it is not there by the first day of classes."
Another obstacle that keeps area bookstore managers busy is the constant evolution of textbook editions and accompanying supplies. An example is a basic UI macroeconomics textbook, which still has the same edition as in previous years, but also includes a new CD-ROM disk this year.
"I can remember when editions lasted four or five years," said Steve Mesker, Follett textbook manager. "Now it's about three years."
In addition, most of the study guides or CD-ROM packages have a code expiration date, so students can't sell or lend a friend the material for the next semester, Mesker said.
"In this day and age, the editions of books change much quicker than in recent history," Slazinik added.
Changing editions frequently might elicit a groan from students, but bookstore officials try to make other aspects of book buying as painless as possible.
"I would recommend coming in four to five days before classes begin. That way we would have the largest selection of used books on the shelves," Paragi said. "If they wait for classes to begin, that's when we start running out of books."
Also, since 1997, Mesker has seen a rise in the number of students who use Follett online ordering, which allows students to reserve highly popular used books months in advance.
"It's already a lot less headaches," he said. "It's more convenient, and also by doing it early, students are going to be getting ahead of people who wait weeks into class."
You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 351-5223 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.