Save On Textbooks By Borrowing Them From The School Library…

We always knew one of the biggest scams in college was the school bookstore, but we never realized that you could actually try borrowing textbooks from the library. The blogger behind The Baglady certainly did:

“It’s hilarious because I had a class with 200+ people, and there were 3 to 4 copies of the current edition of the textbook in the library, but no one borrowed the books except for me… I just kept on renewing the books until the end of the semester and kept them in my locker.”

Not all your books might be in the school library but it’s certainly the first place to check, and after that, the used books on Amazon.

How I Saved Over $30,000 While In College and What I Did with the Money [The Baglady via Frugal For Life]
(Photo: Lisa Pisa)


Edit Your Comment

  1. MercuryPDX says:

    The only drawback is if it’s an older edition or comes with a CD of “bonus materials” that you’ll need for the class. Chances are someone can cop… err maybe let you borrow the CD for twenty minutes or so.

    That aside, it’s a great tip.

  2. Cowboys_fan says:

    You gotta’ be fast though. I did this in college but after a week, the books are gone, and b/c one can renew, you’ll never see them again until next semester. The drawback is not keeping the book after they year ends.

  3. morganlh85 says:

    This works great if it’s possible. Some school libraries will put the book on reserve so you can’t check it out, but don’t forget to check the local public library as well.

    I got away with not buying OR reading the books in some classes; I figured out that a lot of my instructors told you want they wanted you to know in their lectures. Approach this method with caution though.

    Another money saver is to split the cost of a book with a friend and “share custody” of it.

  4. Eliamias says:

    At my university, course texts were set aside by the library in a special reserve so that it was accessible to all students at almost all times. Maximum check out time: 1 hour.

    Not quite feasible in that case though helpful to have if many people want to use the book without paying.

  5. whereismyrobot says:

    I work in an academic library. Your school library’s InterLibrary Loan Department is another great source. Also check the other libraries in your area, they may have it too. If they do there is less of a chance that the item will be recalled for another patron because there is less demand.

    Ask your professor to put the book on reserve. At our school, this immediately recalls the book and takes off any holds for other patrons.

    Start early as was mentioned above. You wouldn’t believe the amount of idiots we get that come in two months into the semester and ask if we have ALL of their textbooks.

  6. coreyander says:

    @morganlh85: My college had the same course reserve policy and it was really inconvenient. I can’t count how many times I had to order books through ILL or Link+ to write a paper just because another professor had assigned a book I needed to their class. And of course I never used the books on 1 hour reserve even when they were assigned for my class… it was far easier to borrow a book from a classmate than shlep across campus to the library and skim through a book for one hour. I still haven’t met the undergrad who can read and take decent notes on a 150 page reading in 60 minutes or less.

    Most of the time, though, I bought class texts with friends who were also taking the course. Online, always online. I was only ever assigned a few books that I could not find for cheaper online than in the bookstore.

  7. Chese says:

    Just photocopy the section you need for the class that week or semester. You could actually photocopy the whole book for cheaper than buying, but usually classes don’t use every chapter anyways. So just do a few chapters at a time. Worked for me.

  8. 2Legit2Quit says:

    I’m gonna sum this shit up:

    1. Get mommmy to pay for college and my car
    2. Get a job while at school
    3. Give personal information out to win small cheapstakes.. err.. sweepstakes
    4. Get an internship
    5. Sell bargain books?
    6. ????
    7. Profit

    See, many of us don’t have 1 or 2 so this savings thing is just a little on the tough side.

  9. hoo_foot says:

    Your mileage may vary. The college students in my area caught on to this trick awhile ago. Now you have to find textbook information and reserve it about a month before classes start if you want a chance in hell of seeing the book sometime during the semester.

    Famous books and classic literautre, however, are usually easy to get simply because the library has so many copies available.

  10. Razzler says:


    Resentful much? There’s nothing wrong with parents paying for college.

  11. camille_javal says:

    my problem is that I can’t retain what I’m reading without taking notes in the margins and underlining, and I can’t bring myself to write in library books.

    and, @Maxpayne3576 – dude, the hell?

  12. Sucko-T says:

    This post should be titled. “Save on books by borrowing them from the library”. Books in general are a waste of money. I can place a hold and have the book sent to my house once it arrives. Might as well get something out of my tax dollar.

  13. HungryGrrl says:

    I was sitting int the library reading my school’s reserve copy of a class textbook when the 9/11 attacks happened. =o

    I was never much of a note taker so buying the text books for all my classes was a necessity. Often, though, I couldn’t afford to buy them all at once and would get by with the use of some library copies for the first few weeks of the semester. My school kept a copy of all class textbooks on reserve in the library.

  14. rkm12 says:

    I did this when I could, at my school’s library you could renew it twice but if someone else needed it you had to give it back.

    Also, a lot of books you have to buy are compilations or special texts the library didn’t have.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you all for reading my article. It wasn’t really focused on saving money on books, but just a bunch of things that happened in college that resulted in me coming out of college with a surplus. I wrote about my parents because they are very important to me and I know I am very fortunate to have them. I think the point I want to get through is that I didn’t waste anything they gave me and managed my money so it grew. Anyway, thanks for visiting my blog!

  16. girly says:

    Done this before to preview what a course would be like by borrowing its text

    The library saves dollar$$$ for anyone—not just college students!

    There’s free access to databases for investors, free video rentals, and of course, just about anything you’d find in the bookstore.

    And some libraries offer online access to ebooks and informational databases and newspaper articles.

    Interlibrary loan have also helped me on quests for hard-to-find items that you can’t even buy anywhere

  17. shaunirving says:

    This is exactly why I became an English major (true story!).

    Saved a few hundred bucks per semester by checking out my required readings.

  18. 2Legit2Quit says:


    … pretty much lol

  19. BrianMathews says:

    As an academic librarian I have to say that this is a very common misconception. The first month of each semester the reference desk is flooded with students who think they are gaming the system by turning to our collections. Academic libraries were designed to supplement the curriculum not to supply textbooks (try the bookstore!) As someone mentioned, we do often have older editions which have been donated, and sure, some profs do put their books on reserve-but don’t count on it. It’s disheartening to see how many students actually believe they’re the first ones to this, only to find they’re going to have to purchase the book.

  20. SybilDisobedience says:

    My most successful method is to find the books used on I got my Psych text last semester for a paltry 20 cents, and this semester’s text was $2. The most I had to pay was $14 for my Government text. I even bought the old edition of one text – that only works sometimes. The 3rd and 4th editions of the book were essentially identical, so I wasn’t going to pay $130 when I could get the 3rd edition for a fraction of the cost.

  21. azntg says:

    That technique might’ve worked for her, but unfortunately, it won’t work for me.

    The Hunter College Library has some serious gaps in the textbooks they stock (as in, they either don’t have the textbook altogether or they have outdated copies). Some textbooks are available in other colleges in the CUNY system, but then again, they are located in different parts of the city and some colleges only let their own students borrow the textbooks anyway.

    For the textbooks Hunter does have recent editions of, Hunter stocks perhaps one or two copies at most. They can be borrowed under Reserves for 2 hours maximum. To add insult to injury, some of them aren’t in usuable condition either (e.g.: missing pages, too much writings to render the text illegible).

    It’s worth the time and effort for me to just buy a new book online (preferably International Editions. I like softcover books anyway). Especially since I get generous financial aid further supplemented with colleged based and private scholarships.

  22. azntg says:

    Actually, one more thing to add is, that my neighborhood library system (Queens Library) does stock some of the textbooks! Problem is, they have only one or two copies, at branches which is pretty far from my house (whether by mass transit or car). And it’s probably checked out for the next three weeks ;-)

  23. cynu414 says:

    I go to school in Southern California and this semester my bookstore started a program where professors can request that the book be rentable. If you want the book for the course you can buy it for $75 or rent it for $5-$10. However, if you don’t return the book they WILL get you.

  24. jaubele1 says:

    As a librarian at a major (i.e. big) state institution I can tell you that most libraries do *not* purchase textbooks for the collection — doesn’t hurt to check, but don’t get you’re hopes up.

  25. EtherealStrife says:

    Great idea, sadly my university had a 90 minute checkout time on all reserve books. Enough to do a fluff job of hw assignments, but not enough for studying.

  26. olegna says:

    I had a girlfriend who simply purchased the books, then photocopied them manually at a copy shop. Then she returned the books for the 100% refund before the two-week grace period ended. She did the math, and even with the time involved and the cost of paper, it was considerable savings.

    Yeah, this is illegal (copyright infringement), but the high cost of textbooks should be illegal. Oh, and there’s nothing like a sexy, brainy, innovative cheapskate for a girlfriend. :)

  27. emjsea says:

    that’s a lovely photo of the library at the Peabody Conservatory.

  28. Bunklung says:

    Used books FTW!

  29. etinterrapax says:

    This is a good tip if your college library stocks the textbooks, but I tried to put our course text on reserve for my students, and the library didn’t have it. They probably just don’t have the budget or the space to have every college English reader in the collection, especially since new editions come out every 2-4 years. I only have one copy, and the textbook company isn’t going to give a desk copy to the library and hurt sales at the bookstore. I’ve been pointing my students to online sources.

  30. keith4298 says:

    I used to work in a college bookstore and the manager had a habit of paying professor’s not to let the other local bookstores know what books they were using so that they could make all of the money. They went so far as not to sell the book until the fist day of classes (because the other bookstores would send people in to check which books they should order). This meant that plently of people were told the books weren’t in yet – even though they were sitting neatly in piles (waiting for the first day of classes) in the back.

    Obviously, I felt that they book store was ripping people off, so I decided to get back at them.

    I used to go to the same class the following year and offer to buy a receipt off someone that just bought the book (they re-sell so many of them). Then just go to the bookstore and return it for a full refund!

    Btw…I’m not advocating theft of services.

  31. monkey33 says:

    One of my favorite dumb customer moments working at a college bookstore was when a customer came in needed a book the same day for a class. We were out, and I suggested she try the library as a temporary measure. She said “The library has books?”

  32. Gloria says:

    Lots of libraries have limits on renewals, and the limit is often reduced if there’s somebody waiting for the title.

    I like the reserve system best … I only need a textbook for taking notes on readings, and once I’m done for the few hours I need it for the week, I don’t need to see it again, because I have my notes. So let someone else read it.

  33. Gloria says:

    @olegna: This doesn’t work at my bookstore, as they won’t take back new books with the obviously bent spines or covers that tend to result from repeated photocopying (I’ve seen them check pretty carefully). Spiral-bound books — usually a collection of articles compiled by the professor — are not returnable for the same reason.

    And yes, check your local library. Sometimes they only have a few copies of some acadamic texts, but at least one is usually in reference.

  34. morganlh85 says:

    It works a lot better at smaller private colleges where there aren’t a vast amount of textbooks and hundreds of different classes. Luckily my library usually has our books both on reserve AND on the shelf so you can check them out. If you’re quick.

  35. protest says:

    right on! after i read the article all i could think was, this dude didn’t save 30k, he’s just a lucky bastard who got his parents to pay for college. how the hell is that saving money???

  36. ipaidipod says:

    At my college, copies of all required texts are put on reserve in the library. You can use it for 2 hours in the library, but can’t check it out for an extended period of time.

  37. ipaidipod says:

    ahh, forgot to mention… interlibrary loan is a wonderful resource for checking out textbooks. if i’m really in a bind, and my school doesnt have it, chances are one of the other SUNY’s do. you’re only allowed 1 renewal though.

  38. it5five says:

    How was this article about “saving” money? All he did was get his parents to buy him everything.

    Doesn’t quite work for people that don’t have that luxury.

  39. bbbici says:

    I didn’t even care if the classes’ books weren’t in the library. I just took out other texts on the subjects, or books dealing with specific topics covered in classes. That is why my life is pretty sweet these days!

  40. forwarddeployed says:

    This doesn’t always work, if the library circulation edition isn’t the one being used, or if a gazillion other students thought the same thing and beat you to the punch. . . In my first year of grad school, I had a situation where I ended up chasing after a textbook that happened to be one of the hottest titles on a given subject (in this case EU affairs), but only had a limited press run that didn’t even approach demand levels. In this case, there wasn’t a single library that had a copy of this book. If you could picture 200 grad students from 4 grad programs chasing after less than 10 copies of a book. . . It can get pretty ugly. . . In the past, I found to have a pretty good spread of textbooks at reasonable prices. . . The only caveat is that they are online only. . .

  41. delicatedisarray says:

    I actually tried this. The university I attend does not allow you to check out the text books that are in the library. There is also a time limit on how long you can use them while in the library. They do not have all the text books and are often not up to date on what they do have. I actually feel as though all the libraries in the city I go to school in are against me half the time! The public library does not check out books to college students(apparently they have had to many problems with students not returning books).

  42. Anonymous says:

    Free text books for the win!


    It’s not very comprehensive at this point, but getting better every day.

  43. UpsetPanda says:

    The one thing I learned very well was that if your required text is a workbook of some kind, and someone offers to sell you their workbook that is all filled out from last semester – don’t do it! I had a prof who regularly checked the workbooks to see if anyone had bought one that wasn’t theirs. He’d know if the notes were filled out all the way to the end – either you’re psychic or a cheat! This doesn’t happen everywhere of course, and I wasn’t the one to buy the filled out textbook (but I was ridiculed just a bit for being the girl who spent the whole $20 to get a new one).

    I spent money on textbooks by looking at how much I would be using them. For all of my psychology classes I had to buy books because of all the required reading, but I had a few communications classes that I took to naturally and didn’t need to read for. Also, I did splurge and spend $70 for a brand new psychology textbook because I intended to keep it, and reference it. I also kept many of my textbooks for my library at home, and wanted one in good condition. Also, Amazon’s sellers weren’t giving me a much better deal.

  44. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    Another librarian here confirming that this “brilliant” idea is the worst-kept secret in libraries. Oh, the looks on the faces of the med students when I tell them that it’s either already checked out or we never got it. “But the residents tell us that we could get all our books from the library!”, they wail. “Well, maybe you can still get money back on the elevator pass that they sold you,” I reply.

  45. kryx says:

    It’s the Peabody library!

    I’m just amused, as I go to that school :)