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What do you do with Old Textbooks?

Mountain of books

When the semester is over and that tatty old plastic sleeve you use as your exam pencil case gets stuffed away, what do you do with those textbooks? Do you sell them or do you keep them? Or do you try building a 'book fort' in your bedroom?

Reasons to Move on

For the most part I fall into the ‘not keeping’ category. I have several reasons for this, but money matters are at the top of my list. I just can’t afford to hold onto my old texts. Textbooks typically cost me as much as $500 each semester, and one semester it cost double that. Ouch!

For most of my degree I’ve been operating a pyramid scheme: selling my old texts to pay for my new ones. I figure that even if I only get 50% of the initial price back, it goes a long way towards paying for my new books. Win.

But it doesn’t just come down to money. We all know that the law can (and does) change. Experience has taught me that my usual habit of keeping everything in the hope that it will come in handy some day typically doesn’t pay off. I used to work with a solicitor who had saved all her textbooks from uni (she was admitted about 10 years ago). She offered to lend me these books for my study, but I couldn’t use them - new authorities were missing and in some places the law had completely changed. Judging by the amount of dust on these books, it didn’t look like she’d had a lot of use out of the texts post-uni either.

Plus I figure the sky probably won’t fall down if I sell my textbooks and then later have a question relating to first year criminal law. I keep all of my subject notes (which are typically fairly comprehensive) and if I want it, my university library has about a dozen copies of the textbook. Failing that there’s always legal research.

If you’re still not convinced, think about how much space those old books take up. At times I’ve used stacks of old texts as a table or chair, but they’re more expensive and less practical than an actual table or chair. Although that book fort seems like a good idea…

Why Keep ‘Em

As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, law subjects typically aren’t discrete. You never know when first year contracts is going to rear its ugly head. Typically it happens in practical legal training when you have problems remembering what happened in first year, let alone the things you covered last semester. No doubt it’s handy to have resources like these close to hand to help with practical assignments, but for the most part using on my old notes has been enough.

While I’ve sold the vast majority of my textbooks over the years, I have kept a few. I saved my legal research and citation guides from first year and referred back to them on numerous occasions.

Plus once in a while you find a gem of a textbook that makes a subject make total sense. When this happens (certainly not frequently enough) a book like that is often worth keeping.

I guess the point is to keep the books you think you will use again, not the ones that will gather dust. If you’re still tossing up whether to keep or sell, maybe you should ask yourself, “did I enjoy this subject?” and “can I see myself practicing in that area of the law?” If the only thing you think when you put your pens down after the exam is “I’m glad I’ll never do that again,” then selling your books may be a good idea.

I really enjoyed Estate Planning and have been toying with the idea of practicing in that area. The textbook is one of the only books I’ve saved. Then again, more changes are planned for succession laws so I think I’ll have to sell that one after all...

Time to say goodbye?

If you’ve decided to show those texts the door, the easiest option is to find someone at uni who hasn’t done the subject yet. This is usually pretty easy. The key is find someone doing that subject before semester starts. Otherwise they’ll join the buying frenzy at the uni bookstore in week one and you’ll still be trying to sell off your wretched administrative law textbook.

If your friends don’t need your books you can always try the second hand textbook service run by your uni. Again, you’ve got to get in before semester starts. Once week one is over your chances of selling through this method rapidly diminish.

Another option is to take your books to a wider market. There are plenty of websites where you can turn your old textbooks into cash for new textbooks.

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