Thursday, April 04, 2019

How Can I Avoid Paying for a Damaged Textbook?

Damaged Binding: The Expense of Replacement
By Alan Eggleston, Book Editor and retired writer and editor, former bookseller

Reader Amy wrote back in July 2018:
Hello! My 7th-grade son was recently charged $85 for a broken spine (pages falling out) on his 3-year-old algebra textbook (hardcover). He was not rough with it in any way - he used it every day, and carried it back and forth to school. I contend that the BOOK is at fault, not my son! Do you have any advice on how to argue against this fine? I would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thank you!
Unfortunately, when Amy wrote this I was recovering from complex surgery and it's taken a long time to build up my wherewithal to get back to writing for my blog. But here is a response at long last. I wrote a short reply back in February, but here's a fuller explanation.

The Possible Problem

Several things could contribute to pages falling out of a three-year-old algebra book. It could be a book damaged by an earlier owner or owners. It could be careless use by your son other than being rough. Equally, it could be a faulty binding by the publisher. The best way to tell is to look down inside the spine: Is there peeling, flaking glue and string? Is the spine in general disrepair? Is the spine firm or does it give a lot when opening the book, and does it hold its shape when you stand it vertical? Are the pages discolored inside where they meet the spine? Is there any flaking glue at the back edges of the pages? Are there full stringing holes at the back edge of the pages or are they torn? Was any of this present when you got the book in the fall?

If there is peeling, flaking, and discoloration in the binding at the spine or at the back of the pages, the gluing could be damaged, such as from weather. Three years isn't an old age for a book, but if it isn't cared for during that age the glue and string can be damaged, such as getting wet, damp, or cold or hot. If the spine is bent the strings can be stressed and broken. If the book is stored in cold, damp places such as the car or garage or basement, or if it gets hot sitting in the sun too long, it can be damaged, too, weakening the binding. Mold and mildew can set in, also weakening the binding.


Look at all your textbooks as soon as you get them. Leaf through the pages and gently tug the pages. Check the binding to make sure it's in good shape -- has it been over- stressed by previous owners? Look down the inside of the spine for discoloration, peeling, and flaking of glue and worn string. Look at the back edge of pages where they meet the spine for discoloration. Obviously, don't try to pull out pages, just make sure they're secure. If you see any problems or have questions, return the book to school and get a replacement. Or at least get an assurance you won't be charged for replacement when you return it at the end of the semester or year.

If everything looks good, take care of the book while it's in your possession. Treat it like any book you intend to keep. Don't store it in cold, damp places nor in hot very dry places. If the book gets wet, gently dry it such as with a hair dryer on a low setting. Keep the temperature and humidity environment as even as possible for the best possible results. And keep the book clean and dust-, mold-, and mildew-free. Also, treat the spine gently, opening the book no more than halfway -- if you have a new textbook, break it in gently.

What to Do if There's a Problem

In my experience, schools aren't very sympathetic to students or parents when there's a damaged book. Schools often don't have extra funds available and they always assume families are at fault. So the best thing is to always be proactive and avoid problems in the first place. But sometimes it just isn't avoidable! It isn't always your fault. 

If there's a binding problem:
  1. Seek out a professional publishing binding repairer and see if it would be cheaper to repair it.
  2. See if you can find a cheaper replacement book in otherwise equal or better condition, There are online textbook stores -- see what's available!
  3. Explain why it wasn't your fault (such as if you can show it was faulty manufacturing). 
  4. You could always try to refuse to pay, but it's unlikely to work. The school holds too much power over you and your kids.
It's always valuable to remember: Investing effort in book care now may save you a more expensive investment in a book you don't want to keep later!

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