Full letter is below the fold, but here’s the gist on what may be a unique system in higher education:

  1. All students will be able to pay for books @ Water Street using their Williams ID, which will charge to their term bill.
  2. All students on financial aid will not be charged, for books or for course packets, I.E. no out-of-pocket expenses for books if you are on Financial Aid and buying from Water Street.
  3. This change is cost-neutral.

The committee has been working on this for a while now, and if the reaction of one parent (who somehow sent an e-mail to the entire student body) is indicative, it will be well received. No one on aid will choose a course based on book costs, no one will have to wait in a somewhat stigmatizing line during First Days, and Water Street Books will get a lot more business, since this doesn’t apply to Amazon.

Dear Students,

On the recommendation of the faculty/student/staff Ad Hoc Committee on the 1914 Library, the College is making two significant changes to how course books are paid for. One affects all students, the other all financial aid students. Both changes go into effect for the spring 2010 semester.

When purchasing books at Water Street Books, all students will now be able to swipe their Williams ID and have the cost go directly to their term bill (student account). This convenience applies only to books required for the courses that you’re registered in at the time of purchase. If you change courses, you can return the books for the course you’ve dropped and purchase the ones for the course you’ve added. Those transactions would also show up on your term bill. If you’re not a financial aid student, who will use the system described below, you can also pay for these purchases by check or with a credit or debit card.
The more significant change applies to all financial aid students. I’m very happy to report that the Committee has found a way for all financial aid students to acquire all your books with no out-of-pocket expense. You’ll swipe your ID card at Water Street Books, the purchase will go on your term bill, and the cost of that purchase will be paid for by the Financial Aid Office as a grant. Beginning then, the Financial Aid Office will also cover the cost of your course reading packets.

This system, which we understand may be unique among colleges, both eliminates the negative educational effects of the current system and is fairer. Let me explain how.

The 1914 Library has served financial aid students and the College as a whole well for many decades but its system of book loaning has unintended consequences. The financial aid grants that the College sets each semester include for each student $400 to cover the cost of books. You can purchase those from a variety of sources or you can borrow many of them from the 1914 Library. But in many circumstances you’ll be better off educationally owning the books: you can write in them and you can keep them after the semester for reference in future course work or when preparing for the GREs or professional school entrance exams. Some you’ll want to keep for life. The Committee also had learned that some students have let the cost of books influence their choice of courses. That will no longer be necessary. At the end of the semester you can decide to sell some or all of your books, either to Water Street Books or elsewhere. And there will no longer be any reason to camp out beside the 1914 Library the morning it opens.

In addition to the educational benefits, the new system will be fairer since currently each semester each financial aid student gets $400 to cover books. That’s an average arrived at by the College based on student surveys. But, of course, depending on the courses you take, some students spend more and some spend less. This system eliminates those inequities.

We’ll send more information about the new system closer to when it goes into effect.

We should thank the Committee for its thorough and creative attention to this important matter. Its members are listed below. We also need to thank many people at the Office of Information Technology, the Provost’s Office, the Financial Aid Office, the Controller’s Office, the Bursar’s Office, and Water Street Books who have had to work hard on creating a workable system. Of course we also thank generous alumni donors, including the Class of 1848, who helped make this possible through their support of the 1914 Library.

This move is cost-neutral to Williams. We have been able to implement it because our staff worked so cooperatively and well to resolve the many conceptual and technical details involved. Thanks again to them all.

Bill Lenhart
Provost and Treasurer
A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Computer Science


Ad Hoc Committee on the 1914 Library
Chair Nancy Roseman, Professor of Biology, Former Dean of the College
Alan Arias, ’10
Paul Boyer, Director of Financial Aid
Gina Coleman, Associate Dean of the College
Keith Finan, Associate Provost
Diego Flores, ‘11
Brent Heeringa, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Elizabeth Jimenez, ’12
Felicia Pharr, Coordinator of the 1914 Library
Kwame Poku, ‘11
Wendy Raymond, Professor of Biology, Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity
Chris Winters, Director of Institutional Research

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