As the imminent deadline for a final paper or the start of an exam closes in, praying for one more hour—to add a conclusion or memorize a few more ID’s—will likely not prove fruitful. At the start of next semester, however, those prayers for 60 more minutes may finally be answered. With a long-overdue improvement in the system for ordering coursepacks launching at the start of the spring term, the science-center-basement burden of long lines and return trips will be a thing of the past.
Starting Jan. 28, students will be able to order coursepacks online, through an interface similar to the one used by Amazon.com. Each student will place an order in advance on a centralized website, pay with a credit card or charge the item to a termbill and then—after receiving an e-mail notification of its fulfillment—saunter into the science center to pick it up. The efficient and time-saving system is a tremendous improvement to filling out course numbers on a piece of paper, standing in line for dozens of minutes and then either paying for an order over the counter or—if it has not been printed yet—having to come back later to pick it up.
According to Kenton Doyle, Harvard Printing and Publishing Service’s technical projects manager, “Something in the realm of eight or eight and a half out of every 10 students wanted the change.” The student demand for an online system should have been obvious, given the frustration that seems to emanate from those painfully long queues. But just as valuable as saving waiting time is the added efficiency that this will allow the Harvard Printing Publishing Service (HPPS). Rather than guessing how many coursepack copies they will need—often having to reprint when student demand exceeds supply—they will now be able to print on demand, without fear of over- or under-printing.
According to HPPS, the fulfillment time for a coursepack order will be 3 days or less—“ideally within 24 hours,” Doyle said. But for this system change to be as valuable as its potential, HPPS must focus on quick turnaround of coursepack orders. Students who have just decided to enroll in a class may want to begin reading immediately, especially if they have joined the course late. Fortunately, the online ordering change will free up worker hours that no longer have to be spent explaining the manual system or working the cash registers. HPPS should devote this energy to printing the coursepacks in an efficient and timely manner.
Furthermore, this new system might allow HPPS to finally allow for some coursebook returns. HPPS can surely not afford to guarantee full refunds and unlimited returns—imagine if a class turned sour in the second meeting and 100 people wanted to return their coursepacks for which the printing and publication-rights costs were already paid. But since the online pre-ordering system will alert HPPS if students still want a particular coursebook, a return-on-demand system would be feasible. Students could easily use the online system to cancel their coursepack orders and HPPS could save the time—and the cost—of reprinting the book. HPPS could ask the unhappy customers to return the book within the next few hours for a full refund.
With a revamped online system, HPPS is stepping into the future. Fortunately for students, this will mean spending less time in the present standing on line.