November 12, 2007

Should I Read or Should I Eat?

Scientific books are too damned expensive. I'm sure that's big news to my fellow grad students and researchers, but damn! The people who most need these books can often least afford them.

An example from personal experience this morning. My research involves the phylogeny and ecology of chitinases. There was an excellent book published in 1999 and then republished in a facsimile edition in 2004. The book, Chitin and Chitinases, edited by P. Jolles and R.A.A. Muzzarelli and published by Birkhauser Basel, is selling for $350 on average; the cheapest copy I can find is going for $267.

Now, I need this book. It's pivotal to my work, really. Can I afford to pay out that much for a single book while living on a graduate student's income? Sure... as long as I don't need to eat this week. If I can just get by without food for a week and not turn my heat on, I think I could manage it. Of course, I'll be an emaciated, frozen corpse by the time my book gets to me, but at least I'll have the book!

My solution is to request the book on an interlibrary loan. If a copy can be tracked down that way, I'll take the parts I need and photocopy them for personal use only in my research. I would love to own the book, of course, but I cannot do it.

Unless there's some wealthy benefactor out there who has a copy and is willing to part with it cheap, or else just go ahead and buy me a copy. That'd be just super and about as likely as my winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

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