The start of the fall semester brings a flurry of activity to the Goodson Law Library, and one frequently-asked question deserves some particular attention from the Goodson Blogson: “Can’t I just borrow all my textbooks from the library?”
We admire the enterprising spirit of our law students, and we understand your dilemma: textbook costs have been rising steadily for years, and the average law school casebook can cost anywhere from $125 to $160. However, as a matter of policy, the library does not attempt to buy every single textbook which is used at Duke Law, for a few reasons: sure, we’re cost-conscious too about keeping up with hundreds of new titles and new editions every year. But more importantly, we’re concerned about equity of access. Providing one or two copies of a text to be used by 40-100 students causes some obvious problems with supply and demand; even for copies on reserve (which may be borrowed for 4 hours at one time, and overnight if borrowed less than 4 hours before the reserve desk closes), only a handful of people can use a single title in a day. It’s best to consider the library’s collection as a backup in case you forget your own textbook—and even then, a fellow student may have already beaten you to the book you need.
Of course, if you search for your book list in the Duke University Libraries’ catalog, you may still turn up a few matches. Some of these titles will be kept in the Reserve collection, such as the Legal Analysis, Research & Writing textbooks. For casebooks authored by Duke Law faculty, the catalog will usually show one copy in the General Collection (28-day checkout for students) and one archive copy in the Faculty Collection (1-day checkout; see the service desk for assistance with the locked shelving). If you’re the lucky first person to snag a particular casebook, beware: titles in the General Collection are subject to recall and hold requests, meaning that your classmates can cut your borrowing period short with a request for the same title (you’ll be guaranteed a grace period with the book, but it will be shorter than the usual 28-day checkout).
Better, then, to find cheap ways to purchase your own copies. The Duke Textbook Store in the Bryan Center occasionally has used copies for sale. There’s also the Duke Law Book Exchange on Facebook, a student-organized trading post for used textbooks. Be sure to check edition numbers against your current semester booklist, as textbooks are updated by the publisher frequently.
West, which publishes many popular law school texts, is now offering a casebook rental program, promising users a savings of almost 40% off the sticker price, as well as access to e-book versions while you wait for the print copy to ship. (And yes, according to their FAQ, you are allowed to highlight!)
For aural learners, there’s also AudioCaseFiles, currently available to users who register with their Duke email address. ACF offers MP3 recordings of the edited opinions from many law school casebooks, including a number from Duke Law’s fall book list. If you’re so inclined to listen to your Civ Pro reading while on the treadmill at the gym, this is the site for you.
For help locating a textbook (or any other title) in the library’s collection, be sure to Ask a Librarian.