SBA Book Exchange: Much Ado About Nothing

By: The Student Bar Association Executive Board

As requested by Motions, this article is written by the SBA in response to the Motions article written by Christina Phan, Senior Staff Writer. The SBA is grateful for this opportunity afforded by the Editor in Chief of Motions, Evan Acker.

The Student Bar Association (SBA) hosts a book exchange twice a year where students are able to sell their books to other students.  We agree that this is one of the most beneficial services organized by the SBA, but we’ve been made aware that there are many misconceptions about the service itself. Though the exchange requires well over 50 hours to organize and run, the SBA does not charge any fees to students who participate (students receive 100% of the profits from their individual sales).  One of the successful practices we carried forward from last year was to offer students an opportunity to volunteer to work the book exchange as a way of raising money for their respective registered student organizations.  Funding earned by student organizations for helping out with the book exchange may be used to help pay for mixers, panels, and other events.  This year, the SBA increased the number of volunteer time slots per hour to allow for a greater disbursement of money to the volunteering clubs.

Unlike last year, it was highly encouraged that the SBA host the book exchange prior to 1L orientation, but the SBA fought hard to have it moved to the week of Orientation and just a few days before classes began.   This is the most opportune time for second and third-year students to sell their first-year books to incoming students who would otherwise have to buy their books from the bookstore in preparation for their first week assigned reading. Understandably, Student Affairs was concerned that incoming 1Ls would leave orientation to take advantage of the service.  As a compromise we were given a list of acceptable hours and days that coincided with the orientation schedule so as to minimize the temptation to ditch. This list of decided dates and times appeared exhaustive but we have since been made aware that this was not the case.  In the spring, as custom, the book exchange will be expanded into the first week of school to make it more convenient to the student body.

Additionally, there did appear to be far fewer books to choose from in comparison to last year.  This is because several students spent nearly 20 hours over the summer clearing out old, outdated, leftover books.  We pulled out the hundreds of unclaimed books the SBA had been storing for years from previous exchanges, sold what we could back to the bookstore (raising over  $1,000 to go back into the student organizations fund of the SBA budget), donated quite a few to programs on campus such as Academic Support (Janet Madden now has a great collection of 1L nutshells to loan to the incoming students), notified a local high school starting a pre-law program to take what they wanted, and recycled the remaining (including books published in the 80’s and 90’s that we didn’t believe would sell).  The SBA, along with several other programs on campus, has been hit with budget cuts, but as a result this hard cleanup work, we raised over $1,000 to help offset those cuts and prevented funding for events and student organizations from drying up more quickly despite a smaller total amount granted for these purposes.

The overwhelming majority of responses from students who participated in the exchange have been positive, so we were a little surprised at the harshly critical nature of the Motions article.  Unfortunately, with any service provided there will be human error and in hindsight it is easy to criticize the program.  The new practice for this year, having the volunteers check the books, seller, and prices into an excel chart, was responsible for the fact that there was an error with only one student’s books. Over 900 books were submitted to be sold in book exchange.  Though every single book is accounted for in a master list Microsoft Excel document, there was only one student (who had three books purchased) who had a minor issue (the prices she listed were on the books for sale but was not listed on the Excel chart next to this student’s book and contact information) resulting from human error in data imputation (99.7% efficiency).  The SBA immediately contacted her, the day her books sold, asking her what prices she listed and the issue was resolved within hours. The SBA was happy to provide the service that earned that student some extra cash!

The Motions article indicated that several students “noted that they purchased the majority of their books at last year’s exchange and they also sold most of their books.” However, since students set their own sale prices and the SBA cannot determine if new editions or books are required, we cannot be held responsible because one student’s books sold last year and not this year. It’s possible that last year a second-year student could have had all first-year books for sale (likely, considering all USD Law students enroll in the same required courses first-year) whereas this year, elective classes would have a significantly smaller market (possibly as low as 10% if a class has 30 students in it and last year all 300 students took Civil Procedure for example).

In regards to advertising, the book xxchange e-mails were sent to all students via Student Affairs, coordinators of book exchange posted the hours on their Facebook pages, and signs were posted in the Writs listing the hours in addition to being available on the SBA calendar on the website (SBAUSD.com). The individual class Facebook pages are created by SBA members the summer before the incoming classes matriculate to help students meet each other, find housing, and for organizations (SBA and Motions alike) to post announcements of events.  We do answer questions when we see them or when they are brought to our attention so we understand where that confusion comes from, but generally, questions should be posed to the board  at our SBA email addresses (available on these Facebook pages, on the SBA office, and via the “Contact Us” tab of our website—SBAUSD.com).

We do apologize for any inferred negativity to last year’s book exchange.  We do not feel last year’s exchange or exchange coordinators were unorganized or improperly managed. In fact, last year’s coordinator has been a valuable, helpful and trusted resource. Since there were several problems with the old “price-sheet” system, we instituted a new system in an attempt to improve upon and prevent these issues. Admittedly, it forced us to re-ask one student one question, but was an overall upgrade in organization.  In the future, we can take steps to prevent that.  The negative remarks are less directed at last year’s coordinators and more at what we felt was an unwarranted attack.  SBA is working hard to better serve the students.  After two years without an adequate website we were able to get one working towards the end of last summer.  In response to complaints about a lack of communication, we are working more closely with Student Affairs who have the ability to e-mail all students and not only the list compiled by us of students who volunteer their information.  We have instituted office hours to be more accessible to students.  We welcome all suggestions, complaints, and comments but we do ask that people e-mail us at our official addresses, come visit us at our office hours, or if anonymity is desired slip a piece of paper under our door so that we have an adequate opportunity to address any issues or comments. 

Quotes on Organization from actual students:

Kevin Kwon, last year’s Vice President of Organizations and Book Exchange coordinator:

“The book exchange has shown some definite improvement this year,” says Kevin Kwon. “Checks seem to be processed more efficiently by the SBA and were returned much faster than last year.”  Mr. Kwon also thought that the Excel chart system (where volunteers input the information so book sellers can drop off their books and leave without having to do much work) “was a great idea in improving efficiency.”* He also noted that, “unlike last year, students are given the choice of picking up their books immediately after the book exchange using an opt-out system at the seller’s choice.  Last year, we held onto the books until after the Spring Book Exchange without this option.  It is a good idea that we were unable to implement last year, and I think it is great that they added it.”

*Mr. Kwon did not personally attend or participate in the Book Exchange, but is expressing an opinion formulated from what he has heard regarding the process.

Shane Waller, President of Veteran’s Law and VP of the Criminal Law Society:

“Having spent most of my week sitting in the Writs reading ahead for Evidence, I can say Book Exchange was a vast improvement over last year’s. In fact, with the hundreds of unorganized and extra books on the shelves last semester, I didn’t even bother looking through the books in that chaos. This year, it appeared to run smoothly. There were always students there to work the Exchange and all of the books were organized by subject and on their own racks. It was clear-cut. Non-invasive numbers (not un-ordered student ID numbers) were assigned to each book to ensure accountability. It appeared much more streamlined from start to finish.”

Quotes from actual participants of the Book Exchange:

Jared Tingey, Book Seller:

“I thought the Book Exchange was run very smoothly.  To me, now having participated in two book exchanges (one last year), this book exchange was much more organized than last,” says Jared Tingey. “It seemed the books were sorted according to subject and year far better than last year.  Granted, I was one of the first people selling my books and first people looking for books this year, but it didn’t look like it changed in the following days.  Jon always responds within minutes explaining any issue I had…certainly not something so “important” to decide to write an article in Motions.  It kind of seems like whining, but hey, maybe other people had a different experience than me.  I thought it was well organized.  I am sure that it was a ton of work for Jon and others involved.”

David Barnes, Book Seller:

“Thanks so much for providing this great service! I get money for books that I would otherwise have thrown away.  Likewise, you and your staff were very accommodating and it appeared that new students were able to obtain books they are seeking for pennies on the dollar.  It is sad to see USD’s law school newspaper reinforcing the ugly stereotype of law students raising hype without legitimate claims. Thanks again.”

Thank you to all of the volunteers and participants of the Fall 2011 Book Exchange for creating shorter wait times and faster returns of checks! Without you, your fellow students and Student Organizations could not have benefited from the success of this helpful and practical program!

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