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SU tackles costly textbooks, smartly

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Every year university students spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and it seems like prices are always going up.

A new campaign, set to begin in March, is trying to tackle the cost of textbooks. The Be Book Smart campaign, put on by the University of Calgary Students' Union, is modeled after a similar campaign at the University of Alberta. It will teach students and professors ways to make academic materials more affordable.

The U of A started its Be Book Smart campaign after a series of Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials discussions. CRAM brings together academic vice-presidents from 21 university students' unions in nine provinces. It was started as a forum to discuss the cost of textbooks and other academic materials.

"The Be Book Smart campaign is kind of a sub-project of CRAM," said Su VP academic Pamela Weatherbee.

The campaign targets both students and professors. The student awareness campaign features a website and bookmarks that list alternatives available to students. SU faculty representatives and commissioners will talk to students about their options and rights. The first stage of the student campaign will launch in March and a second phase will take place September.

Be Book Smart will encourage professors to request textbooks early and educate professors about their rights when dealing with publishers. It will also teach them about alternatives like not having a textbook or using a course pack.

U of A SU VP academic John Braga said they received a positive reaction to their campaign.

Professors reacted more enthusiastically than students because they saw the problem of expensive books develop over a longer time frame.

Braga said that encouraging professors to have publishers compete on prices for selected books was effective.

"The last two main semesters, the fall and the winter, we've had great buy in from the faculty ordering their books much earlier," said U of C bookstore manager Brent Beatty.

Beatty said the bookstore has been communicating with faculty for a number of years to get professors to request early. This allows the bookstore to find more used books and students to sell back their textbooks.

The Be Book Smart campaign will be continued by acclaimed SU VP academic Megan Martin and new commissioners taking their positions in three months. Martin hopes to expand the program after they have an opportunity to gauge its impact.

"It's not the type of thing that will be effective for a couple of months," she said, adding that the SU is instituting a new culture around textbooks that will require more than just bookmarks.

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