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Starting next semester, the current system of coursepack distribution, with its paperwork and hour-long lines, will become a piece of Harvard history.
Coursepack ordering will be carried out exclusively online starting Jan. 28, according to Kenton Doyle, Harvard Printing and Publishing Service’s technical projects manager.
The old system, which involved students filling out a slip of paper requesting sourcebooks and waiting in line to check if their books were available, was “pretty outdated,” Doyle said. “There was no real centralization of inventory. It needed to be streamlined, which we hope the new system will do.”
Cathy I. Cheng ’07, who said she felt the change was needed, described the old coursepack ordering system as “a huge line and two people to help them.”
“Braving the lines took all my cunning,” said John Souther ’07.
Val M. Hastings ’07 said that the long lines of the old system sometimes caused desperate behavior, and recounts waiting in line for a sourcebook this fall when the fire alarm rang.
“I knew that the coursepack people kept running out of packs. So I waited outside in the rain for 40 minutes during the fire drill because I didn’t want to lose my place in line,” she said.
Though Hastings retained her place in line and ultimately got her coursepack, she said she would not want to repeat the experience.
In designing the new coursepack distribution system, Doyle said he took such student complaints into account.
“Over the last two semesters we had an online survey which showed overwhelming demand for an online system,” Doyle said. “Something in the realm of eight or eight-and-a-half out of every 10 students wanted the change.”
Especially in the past four semesters, Doyle said he received complaints from students who had waited in line for up to an hour to reach the coursepack distribution desk, only to find that their book of choice had recently run out of stock.
Under the new ordering system, students can request their coursepacks quickly and easily using a system similar to the popular online bookstore Amazon.com.
Students first search for the pack using criteria such as a teacher’s name. Once they find their book, they place it into a virtual shopping cart.
At checkout, they can either pay by credit card or charge their purchase to the semester bill.
“The main difference here is that students pay before they pick up their books,” Doyle said.
Within three days of placing their order and “ideally within 24 hours,” Doyle said, students will receive an e-mail telling them their order is available for pickup at the Science Center.
The Printing and Publication service has been redoubling its publicity efforts for the project. In about 10 days they will begin their third door drop campaign, and they have put up posters and ads in all the major newspapers describing the new system of coursepack ordering and its merits.
“Honest to God, we really hope this is going to go over well with the students,” Doyle said.
Last year’s coursepack coordinator, Geri Barney, said that she is “excited that it’s going to be online to reduce the students’ frustrations.”
But the change does not fix what some students see as the biggest problem with source books—price.
Tenzin Dickyi ’06 said that she gets her coursepacks from the library because they are too expensive to buy.
This complaint will not be ameliorated by the new system, Doyle said, because coursepack prices have never been related to the distribution system. Rather, she said, the prices are due to the cost of purchasing copyrights and producing the actual books.
Students can expect to be directed by their teachers next semester to www.hpps.harvard.edu/coursepacks, the website which will house the coursepack ordering system effective at the end of January.
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