For years, the Michigan Student Assembly and University officials have promised to build a system allowing students to view reading lists early and shop around for the best deals on textbooks. Though a University-sponsored textbook exchange website is nearing completion, several independent book exchange websites have popped up to help students looking for cheap books.

The sites include many of the same features the University plans to include on its site, which will be hosted on CTools, including the ability to view books by course.

One such site, mtextbooks.com, debuted this semester. The Ann Arbor-based site compiles the information from book lists posted on academic departments’ websites.

Creator Jim Burden said he developed the site to make it easier for students taking classes in different departments to find all their textbook information in one place.

“I think the website can help students in a lot of ways,” Burden said in an e-mail interview. “It can promote the University’s own resources with the links to the library. It can help students find cheaper books online at several different online bookstores while also letting them know when the books are reasonably priced at the bookstores.”

The website lists the books necessary for a given course, indicating whether they are required or optional and also lists the prices for new and used editions at several local and online bookstores.

The website also indicates which textbooks are available in the University’s libraries, potentially eliminating the need to purchase some textbooks altogether.

Another new site, Uloop.com, which was launched in 2007, provides various search features that allow users to locate a book, contact the seller and meet in person on campus to purchase the book.

According to Uloop co-founder Ryan MacCarthy, more than 4,500 University of Michigan students are registered on the site. Nationwide, more than 70,000 books have been bought and sold through the site. MacCarthy said the average used textbook on Uloop costs $37, a paltry price compared to the national average of $102 for a new textbook.

Soon the University will offer its own website in the same vein as these private websites.

When UBook, launches next semester through the CTools website, it will feature a tool for students to search textbook lists for specific courses. It will also allow students to arrange to buy and sell used textbooks from each other.

The site comes after a recommendation from the University’s Textbook Task Force, which was commissioned by the Office of the Provost in 2007.

Brenda Gunderson, chair of the task force and a senior lecturer in the statistics department, seemed pleased with UBook’s progress.

“The work of the Textbook Task Force is on target to establish a fully operational system that will help reduce the cost of textbooks, beginning in Winter Term 2009,” Gunderson said in an e-mail interview. “Significant work has been completed on various pieces of the planned suite of Textbook Tools.”

Like Uloop, students will not be able to conduct transactions on the University’s site. Instead, students will use the site to arrange an in-person exchange.

Several students were happy to hear of the University’s project.

Gary Suen, a graduate student in the School of Information, said he would prefer to use UBook, rather than a comparable private website.

“I would use the CTools site because with places like Amazon and Half.com, you are not sure who are the buyers,” he said.

LSA sophomore Cassie Shamey said she thought the University project was a good idea, but expressed some concerns about how late book lists have been released in the past.

“They should be released at least a month ahead of time,” she said.

Due to complaints like these, the Textbook Task Force recommended that professors make their booklists available to students at least six weeks before the start of the term, especially for courses that use a particularly expensive book. However, there are no plans to make this practice mandatory for professors.

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