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an impossible-to-answer question? - helen-louise
an impossible-to-answer question?
Today I spent several hours in various bookstores looking at chemistry textbooks and compiling a list of the ones I wanted to buy. The idea was for me to try to buy them second-hand, because that saves resources. However! in looking on amazon Marketplace and abebooks, it seems that the majority of the books I want will cost me as much or more to buy preowned than to buy new. A £10.99 new book typically becomes £7.50-£9 second-hand, but add the £2.75 shipping on and it's virtually the same. Bizarrely, some sellers price the books for more than they cost new even before the postage goes on. And, annoyingly, amazon Marketplace charges £2.75 per book, even when they can be posted together by the same seller.

Also, there is the question of packaging. If I take my existing shopping bags to, say, Foyles, and buy a load of books, then I am not using any extra packaging. If I send Richard to buy them, then we're not using any more resources at all, because he can walk from his workplace to the bookshop, so there's not even the issue of transport. Whereas, if I buy the books preowned, each book will come in its own jiffy bag that I'll then end up storing along with the 100 or so other jiffy bags that are in this house waiting until they can be reused, which I can't throw away because of the environmental guilt and can't recycle because this country is not that efficient yet. They'll also have a packing slip and/or invoice which can't be recycled because it contains my name and address information, and while I often do rip off that part to go in the shredder while recycling the rest of the page, this takes Effort and spoons. Most likely, they'll pile up until I have energy to deal with it.

Of course, the sensible answer would be for me to go to a bookshop to buy the books second-hand, but there aren't physical bookshops that sell chemistry textbooks. You're stuck with physical bookshops that sell new or online bookshops that sell used. Occasionally, universities have a second-hand textbook fair, but they tend to be limited to students of that particular institution, and wouldn't be advertised externally. Similarly, another idea would be for me to borrow the books from a library - but public libraries don't carry university-level science textbooks because there just isn't the demand for them, and I don't have access to a university library. I could get access, but that would be to go there and study from the books there, rather than a borrower's pass - those are pretty much impossible to come by for outsiders. And I don't like to sit in libraries and breathe their dust and photocopier fumes and deal with chairs that aren't designed for my back when I could take a book home to read.

Considering that we're talking about small paperbacks of around 100 pages each, and considering that these books have already been printed and are sitting in the bookshop waiting for someone to buy them, I'm inclined to think that buying them directly with my existing bags might actually be the most environmental of the options available. But it doesn't seem very satisfactory.

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Current Mood: confused confused

11 comments or Leave a comment
brooksmoses From: brooksmoses Date: 23rd March 2008 01:44 (UTC) (Link)
Also, buying them new has other non-environmental benefits, such as helping the publisher stay in business (without having to raise their prices for new books even higher) and paying the authors.
baratron From: baratron Date: 23rd March 2008 21:19 (UTC) (Link)
Good point. Thank you.
(Deleted comment)
baratron From: baratron Date: 23rd March 2008 21:16 (UTC) (Link)
a) I really wouldn't want to have to go up to central London to visit the Imperial College library and b) their rules are the ones I'm most familiar with! I had trouble getting a borrower's pass even when I was writing up my thesis :/ Also, the central IC library is disgusting - it has chronic sick building syndrome, and the lights on levels 1-3 make me dizzy to the point where I can randomly fall over or crash into bookshelves. Levels 4 & 5 are much better because they were built new while I was at college. However, some of the books I'd want would be on one of the nasty levels, while all the rest would be in the lovely, clean, comfortable Chemistry Department Library, that I couldn't even get access to when I was a postgrad in Physics :/

Honestly, the Chemistry Department Library was so comfortable that my friends & I would choose to work there in the evenings, rather than go back to someone's student accommodation. There were silent parts and quiet-talking-allowed parts, meaning that people would only complain if students working on the same thing were talking about it too loudly or were talking about non-chemistry things. Also, it was considered perfectly fine to make a small pile of books or journals at your desk with a note on saying you wanted to use them again later, as long as the librarian or supervising postgrad knew which books you'd taken in case someone else wanted to use them while you weren't around. (And then, if you came in and found a book you wanted to use on someone else's pile, you'd simply write on their note that you'd taken the book so they knew to come and find you.) I suppose a lot of these rules only worked because the department was small enough for everyone to know everyone else at least by sight, but now, I get ridiculously nostalgic for it. I just... prefer rules based on courtesy and respect than rules which treat everyone like idiots who'll misbehave on purpose.

I'd quite like to get a British Library reading room pass again, but cuts in the funding means that those are getting like gold dust - you have to demonstrate a very serious need for access to get in. Far, far easier would be for me to rejoin the Royal Society of Chemistry and use their library. Though this is slightly scary. I'm hoping that because I used to be a member, I'll be able to just ring up and quote my old membership number to get reactivated; but I fear enough time might have gone by for me to need to find two members in good standing to countersign my application :/
johnckirk From: johnckirk Date: 23rd March 2008 13:11 (UTC) (Link)
As an alumnus of Kings College London, I can get a borrowing pass for their library at £50/year. I'm not sure whether that's also available to you directly (via the University of London), but if not then maybe Imperial have their own scheme?
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: 23rd March 2008 13:19 (UTC) (Link)
The £2.75 postal charge is why quite a few books are 1p on Amazon secondhand - that's where the profit is.
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: 23rd March 2008 13:21 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'd stick some 'books wanted' posters up in chemistry departments.
baratron From: baratron Date: 23rd March 2008 20:51 (UTC) (Link)
How would I get into them? Every university chemistry department I've ever visited has been on swipe card access. This is part of the problem :/
wandra From: wandra Date: 23rd March 2008 13:25 (UTC) (Link)
You could freecycle used jiffy bags. That's what I'm planning to do with my extensive collection, one of these days.
baratron From: baratron Date: 23rd March 2008 21:20 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, it's the whole "one of these days" spoons/energy problem again :)
jenny_gould From: jenny_gould Date: 23rd March 2008 13:29 (UTC) (Link)
You can ask for the books on freecycle, and likewise put your jiffy bags on freecycle. I could do with a pile of jiffy bags, but I am sure that its not worth gettting them from you. Someone nearer, who sells stuff via ebay or the like would be delighted though. Plus, as other commented, buying them new is good for the publishers. Suppliers of science textbooks is a business deserving our money, unlike the unutterable tat most people waste their money on.
11 comments or Leave a comment