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Contrib: Textbook

Lead(s): Jim Eng, Gonzalo Silverio, John Leasia, Sean Michael DeMonner


A tool to facilitate the identification, buying and selling of textbooks.


The objective of this project is to reduce student costs by identifying books earlier in the academic cycle and by facilitating the establishment of a student-driven used book market.

The Textbook Tool has two main components:

A. Textbook List:

  • allows an instructor to identify textbooks to associate with a given course within Sakai. The list of books is presented through MyWorkspace and a Course Site (although a class does not have to have site to have a textbook list)
  • allows a student to view the list of textbooks associated with a course
  • provides a gateway to uBook (see below)
  • will allow for ISBN lookup via configurable external services

B. uBook:

  • allows a student to post books for sale
  • allows a student to search for posted books
  • provides basic contact information for students to arrange for a transaction

The Textbook Tool will have the following configuration options:

  • the textbook entry screen may be turned off and associated data accepted from an external source
  • the ISBN lookup may be set to an external search engine; the default service will be a free, low-traffic service

Progress to Date:

U-M rolled out a pre-Sakai release version of the tool to its campus in Oct for use with Winter 2009 textbooks. Here are some quick data points on the experience:

  • Metrics: The system went live in early Oct for use with W09 books:
    • By the first day of classes for Winter 2009 (Jan 1), 62% of the classes with actual enrollment greater than 100 students had textbooks or course pack information entered. The Textbook Task Force was most concerned with large classes, so this was considered a successful rollout.
    • At the end of Janurary, 2953 textbooks had been entered into MPathways for Winter 2009.
    • Textbook entry for F09 is beginning now, and an email reminder to all faculty is scheduled to go out shortly from the Provost; the calendar of key dates may be found here:
    • With regard to UBook, as of 2/19 students had listed for sale 4432 books and had manually removed 1218 listings from the system, indicating a possible sale. We expect usage of UBook will go up again in early April as the semester comes to an end.
  • Policy: as is typical at U-M, there is no blanket policy requiring faculty use the system, but the recently passed Higher Education Opportunity Act requires that all institutions make textbook lists available to students before registration, starting July 1, 2010, so we expect the various departments will exert more local pressure on faculty to enter their textbook data as time goes on. Student uptake of the system will also likely encourage faculty adoption ("All my other courses have their books listed on CTools, where are the books for this class?").

As a side note, there has been a lot of debate about the extent to which the system encourages or enables students to buy their books online (vs. from local booksellers as has been the case in the past). In response to faculty concerns along these lines, the system allows instructors to specify a preferred bookseller, thus encouraging the other booksellers not to order the specified books and students to buy locally.

Version 1.0 Release Preparation

The following remaining areas of work remain to be addressed in the near term for the U-M instance:

  • Improve workflow such that the user is returned to the referring page after they have added an item in UBook (vs. the current practice of returning them to their My Offerings page.
  • Include metadata entry pages for those textbooks that are not found by the commercial search engine (xISBN). These pages would certainly be used by Support personnel, but they may also be used by end-users in the case where a book to be posted is not found in their search.

Additional work is also being considered for the Sakai 1.0 release:

  • Inclusion of metadata entry screens for UBook users as outlined above. Many Sakai institutions wil not get their data from external systems, so the Sakai Textbook tool will need to accommodate book data entry natively. 
  • Inclusion of additional connector(s) to other ISBN lookup services, at least one of which could be free (as opposed to a paid service)

The team plans to present the tool and latest data on the U-M experience at the Sakai Boston conference. Feedback on the remaining work for the Sakai 1.0 release and other requirements are welcome.

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  1. We just started a book club (as a project site @ Rutgers) and I would have loved to have something like this for either "Course Texts" or "Reading list" type scenarios.

    Any thoughts on who you would integrate purchasing with? I think technically a Rutgers system would have to access Follett – but I believe they have some kind of storefront API.

    1. We have requirements gathering meetings with a few of our local booksellers scheduled over the next couple of weeks. It is not yet clear the degree to which we will attempt to integrate with their systems, but our general approach will be to avoid deep integrations. We may provide for example, content feeds for the booksellers or possibly bookseller accounts on the systems. We've also discussed linking to booksellers' sites to facilitate eCommerce, although we do not plan on having any eCommerce components ourselves.

      1. That sounds reasonable. I know we would probably be happy with the ability to generate links directly to an item on a vendor site, whether that site was Amazon, or EFollet, or whatever, perhaps with a way to produce "LinkProviders" to generate the links.

  2. Hey Sean, long ago when Jay Fern was at IU, he was working on integrating OnCourse with campus textbook ordering and purchasing. Not sure whether you've spoken with anyone at IU about this but you may want to see whether they've implemented something similar. Seems like a neat idea.

    1. Thanks for the lead Hannah. We have not yet spoken to anyone at IU, but it may be worthwhile to see what lessons they may have learned.


  3. Per the recent closures of three local bookstores ( has this tool's purpose changed; i.e. might the focus shift to online textbook sources (perhaps even a mobile app)?