I know you may not frequent your university library too often due to the invention of this thing called: “the internet", but it can be a goldmine of free information if you know how to use it the right way.
Go to the library at the start of the semester or quarter. Check out their catalog (usually searchable on a computer, just ask an assistant) and search for some of your required textbooks. If you can find some, chances are they are circulated and you can access them for an extended period of time. Make sure you ALWAYS fill out the renewal form though!
Also, see if your school has any type of lending consortium. If your librarian says that you do, ask her if you can look up textbooks at other local colleges. If you can do this, you can order the books for free online and then have them shipped to your school’s library.
If you’re lucky, the college library will own a copy of the textbook you need, or be able to import it from elsewhere upon request — although this may take time. If you’re very lucky, no one else will have checked it out yet. Be sure to check your class textbook requirements before school begins, and place a hold on the book if you aren’t able to physically pick it up right away. The sooner you try to check it out, the more likely you are to actually get it.
There are some potential problems with this plan. Depending on your status with your college library, the length of time for which you can check out a book may vary anywhere from a week to the entire school session. You might only get the book for the beginning of your classes. This is good news if you weren’t the first person there, but bad news otherwise. You should be able to renew through the college library, as mentioned above, provided no one else has placed a hold on the book. Alternatively, if you find all the copies are checked out, you can check their due dates and place a hold for yourself.
You may also be forced to return the book to your college library if someone else places an immediate recall. Your return deadline will instantly be shifted to within a week or less. This can lead to a recall battle among students, and is generally considered impolite. However, professors can recall any book they need, especially for the students in their classes, and especially if they forgot to put a copy on reserve.
If all your efforts to procure your own copy through your college library have failed, the library reserves is your back-up. Usually your professor will have contacted the college library to place a copy of the textbooks for your class on reserve. This may mean an extremely reduced check-out period—from two days to two hours—or it may mean the textbook has to remain within the college library limits. Reserves is most useful when you only need a textbook for problem sets or a short-term project, not the actual reading material. It is also an excellent place to run into fellow classmates and compose study groups – you are already in a college library, after all.
Even if you don’t manage to check out and hold on to your own college library textbook, your professors should make sure there is a copy on reserve, and you can ask them to if they haven’t. Free textbook access should be available through college libraries, one way or another. Your tuition fees are already funding this institution, so be sure to make the most of your college library.