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Free Books For a Few at One U.S. University

Other schools and universities may want to duplicate this service.

If you are a student on a campus which has this kind of service, please post a comment about it on this web site.

I and other students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) can borrow some under-graduate college textbooks and some required books for a class for free from the "ASI Project" at SFSU, as those books are available in their inventory.  There are several 1000 of these books in the inventory, not nearly enough to help even 5% of the 60,000 or more students who use the SFSU main campus daily.

However we who have received one of them can borrow them and use them for the entire semester.  We promise not to "mess them up" with highlighting or bend or rip pages or covers.  If we "damage the book" we have to pay for a replacement book.  We have to return our borrowed books at the end of the semester.  At that time the students who run the operation log them back into "stock" so they can be checked-out again the next semester and given to other SFSU students who request to use them.

Requests for free used books are honored on a first-come first-serve basis, in part by the borrower's degree of economic hardship including having a disability, and by the number of copies of the book which have been donated to the ASI Project inventory of used books.

Donated used books come from some students who give their books away at the end of a semester, from some faculty members who have "last edition" of evaluation copy of a textbook they required for a class, and from some departments that do the same.  The books come ad-hoc, as each source can afford to give one away.

About Textbooks, Their Prices, Some Online Sources

ATTRIBUTIONS: all comments below are the truncated or otherwise edited remarks of Tara Siegel Bernard, author of the New York Times article, How to Find Cheap Textbooks, in the August 3, 2010 online edition.  Comments which I added to her's are in () parentheses.

Free Books:

  • FlatWorld Knowledge (www.flatworldknowledge.com provides) the use of so-called open source textbooks, offered by (various) companies.  (According to the NYT reporter, Ms. Bernard, this kind of service) is on the rise. "Students who are assigned open source textbooks can usually download a copy for free, or they can buy a printed and bound version for $20 to $40," Ms. Allen (of FK) said.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • ManyBooks.net (allows the site-user) to download a copy of a book to (their own) computer, Kindle or iPhone (jgw: and probably to the other eBook readers as well).  c/o NYT100803-article. (jgw: if you need to print pages of the digital eBook, use a printer connected to your computer.)
  • Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) has taken out-of-copyright books in the public domain and scanned them into its (digital) library. "If you are studying Jane Austen, you are not going to have an easy time following along with page numbers, but you can definitely get access to the text without paying for it", (a spokeswoman for Gutenberg) added.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • Google Books (books.google.com) has scanned a lot of (current, recently published) texts into its database, though you may not find everything you need” or, you may only have access to every 10th page. (jgw: The "Fair Use" section of U.S. Copyright Law allows a vendor to present for educational-purposes-only just 1/10th of the copyrighted material for free to the consumer of it.)  c/o NYT100803-article. (jgw: as of summer 2010, Google has scanned over 2 million out-of-print and out-of-copyright books into their database as well.)

ETextbooks (jgw: offering eBooks, digital textbooks, exclusively):  

  • CourseSmart.com is a consortium of major textbook publishers that provides eTextbooks that allow students to highlight and take notes electronically. Printing, however, is limited to just 10 pages at a time.  (jgw: see also the "major textbook publishers' web sites, none of which are listed on this web site.)  c/o NYT100803-article.

Rental Textbooks

  • Rent-A-Text.com (www.rent-a-text.com, works with) with 800 (USA) college bookstores. (They claim) renting books for the semester costs about half the purchase price, while online purchases can be picked up in (the) college bookstore. c/o NYT100803-article.
  • Chegg.com (www.chegg.com) has a reputation for being the Netflix of book rental companies. Its used books are known for arriving in a bright orange box, and, more important, in good condition. Shipping starts at $3.99, and return shipping is free.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • (wwwBookRenter.com (www.bookrenter.com) provides free shipping both ways.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • CampusBookRentals.com (www.campusbookrentals.com) provides free shipping both ways. It is simple to use, and the results are easy to compare.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • ECampus.com (www.ecampus.com) rents, sells and buys back textbooks.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • TextBookRentals.com.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • CollegeBookRenter.com.  c/o NYT100803-article.

Book Search Engine Sites: Campusbooks.com (www.campusbooks.com).  c/o NYT100803-article.

  • Bigwords.com.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • Kayak.com.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • Expedia.com.  c/o NYT100803-article.
  • BookFinder.com. It is a meta-search engine that finds the best price on any book.  c/o NYT100803-article-comment; Kaleo Kaneohe, HI, USA; August 4th, 2010

  • Online Book Sellers:   TOP

    • Amazon.com - apparently the most expensive online source.  (jgw: Books are new and used, in paperback, hardbound, and digital media, but the digital version is most likely available just for the Amazon Kindle eReader device.)  c/o NYT100803-article-comment.
    • Amazon.co.uk - possibly a half-priced source that is not in the USA.  (jgw: In the USA order from the UK 1+ month in advance of the start of classes, ship to your home for higher shipping charges than you might pay to Amazon USA.  Books are new and used, in paperback, hardbound, and digital media, but the digital version is most likely available just for the Amazon Kindle eReader device.)  c/o NYT100803-article-comment.
    • BFW eBooks offers eBooks at 50% less than the in-print (hardbound, paperback) price. c/o NYT100803-article-comment; Dan; New Jersey, USA; August 6th, 2010
    • HalfPricedBooks.com offers new and used books, textbooks, gift books, 50% off, discounted...  c/o KQED-FM radio "ad" jw100810

    NYT Article: Reader Comments and Recommendations:

    • Paperbackswap.com, a book trading website.  It offers a large variety of all types of books. Newer released books might be harder to find, however their inventory is pretty hard to match and definitely worth a look.  c/o NYT100803-article-comment by  Michael A Evanston; IL, USA; August 3rd, 2010
    • CollegeBooksNow.com.  c/o NYT100803-article-comment by jerod202; WV, USA; August 4th, 2010.
    • DynamicBooks.com. (jgw: See the February 2010 NYT article: Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally for more information on the concept. Apparently...) These online interactive textbooks cost a lot less and are more relevant for students because their instructor edits them (as necessary) for the class. Instructors get (make?) their perfect textbook and students can access the book on their terms (online, downloaded to their computer, via their iPhone or iPad) and print page by page, up to 10 pages at a time. Students can keep their downloaded textbook forever. This will be the wave of the future. The first books hit the web this Fall (2010). c/o NYT100803-article-comment by Karen Lippe for DynamicBooks; California, USA; August 4th, 2010.
    • CelebrationIdeasOnline.com (jgw: this is probably a promotion.)  I just read an article written by a Mom of college kids and she had some great tips for saving money on the textbooks.. she lists about 8 different options to buying the books brand new. I think the key is getting the kids to start looking for the books they need early on.. if they wait til the day before classes start.. they will end up at the bookstore for sure.  c/o NYT100803; amy3e; metro ny, USA; August 4th, 2010.
    • Cheapism.com There is a detailed review and comparison of websites that sell or rent textbooks on http://www.cheapism.com/cheap-textbooks. According to that comparison Chegg.com is highly recommended due to extremely helpful customer support.  NYT100803;  Max, New york, NY, USA; August 4th, 2010.
    • DealOz.com
      • DealOz compares 200 bookstore prices and (their) free discount coupons too. Their coupons are valid and (the commenter) saved over $500 on my textbooks. c/o NYT100803;  zhaojie xi'an; August 4th, 2010
      • I love to use dealoz.com  which is another meta deal finder. Plug in the name or author or ISBN number and you get a listing of every copy for sale on line, plus the shipping costs plus coupon options. This made my school life much less expensive.  c/o NYT100803;  kittykatpu, Chicago, Il, USA; August 4th, 2010.
    • TextbookStop.com I rent my textbooks online (and) like TextbookStop.com because they have a simple website that lets you choose between renting and buying for each individual book. I usually rent the book if I can save more than $30. Otherwise, I buy it and sell it back at the end of the semester. I don't know if they are at every (USA or Texas) campus, but at ASU, I can drop off my books at The Alternative Print and Copy Shop. So I don't have to deal with mailing them back. It's really sweet.  c/o NYT100803; ACorey, Tempe, AX, USA; August 5th, 2010.
    • CollegeMatchers.com Still in the expansion (jgw: web site development?) process, www.collegematchers.com is a great place to look for deals on textbooks, amongst other college related goods. c/o NYT100803; Matt Kelsey, Crawfordsville, IN, USA; August 6th, 2010.
    • PhatCampus.com provides a good selection of both new and used textbooks at much better prices than (do most) campus bookstore(s). You should also fan their Facebook sites as they often post limited-time coupons.  c/o NYT100803; Joe, Miami, USA; August 6th, 2010.
    • ISBN.org (jgw: Get the ISBN off of the book cover or the copyright page in the campus bookstore.) Then go home and look up the book on amazon marketplace. you can find great deals, as long as you can wait a couple weeks for them to be shipped to you. c/o NYT100803; Maggie; Boston, USA; August 6th, 2010.
    • BookRenter.com Before you buy anything on the marketplace, check out book renter.com and compare whether or not it makes sense to rent the book or buy (in the hopes of selling it back). Using Book Renter.com makes a lot of sense especially if you have a condensed course (like 8 weeks) because the rates are lower as long as you need it (just) for a short time. c/o NYT100803; Maggie; Boston, USA; August 6th, 2010.