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One of the most common things I think any students has seen is walking into the office of a professor to a miniature library of textbooks and books geared towards disseminating research to researchers and practitioners. I am wondering how often these books might be paid for out of pocket or if it is common for universities to pay for these books as if they were something like an educational allowance.

How do universities (if at all) try to financially support professors in their continuing education?

I understand there are travel grants for conferences, but I am wondering if professors can take MOOC's or purchase books to help them explore new research areas and receive financial support from their academic institutions?

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    Sometimes there is funding for literature (some grants). Or they may be library books on long-term loan. Or sometimes they just buy it. Mar 17 '20 at 14:50
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    In two tenure track jobs and several postdocs, I always had access to at least several hundred dollars a year of funding I could use for miscellaneous research-related purposes, including books. (This is not counting startup fund and grants which were necessary to fund more expensive things like travel.) The bottleneck limiting the size of a typical professor’s library is not money for books, but time to read them.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 17 '20 at 19:30
  • You often have access to "books for evaluation", or can con the library into buying the book and check it out indefinitely.
    – vonbrand
    Mar 21 '20 at 16:11

11 Answers 11

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This is probably as variable as the educational system generally. But I'd doubt that more than a few professors get special allowances for such things.

Some of the books you see are text books given to professors by publishers in hope that the professor will adopt them for a class. Some of them are "ancient" texts that the professor used as a student back in the ice ages.

Some quite useful advanced books might be given to a professor by some publisher when the professor adopts some elementary text. It is a form of bribery, I suppose.

When professors retire they sometimes open their own bookshelves to their colleagues (or students) who are free to carry away things that interest them. Some books actually wind up in boxes outside a professor's door and others are free to expand their own libraries with them. Sometimes such books actually have some educational value.

Some of the books are funded by grants also, but normally grants from funding agencies outside the university.

A few new professors will get some "start up funds" from a university department and while intended for bootstrapping research, books and papers are part of that.

I accumulated hundreds of books over the many years. Some were donated to educational systems in Kenya eventually. But I still have far too many. No one other than publishers ever funded them, however.

Generally, however, the salary of a professor should be high enough to support quite a lot of such things out of pocket. I paid for professional memberships myself, for example, which generated a lot of journals on my shelves.

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    I guess that there is also the question of ownership. If the books are paid for by the university, you might have to leave them there, when you move somewhere else. As someone who does not have a permanent position yet, this alone would motivate me to buy my own books with my own money.
    – mlk
    Mar 17 '20 at 18:19
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    Good list of sources for books. To add two more: Publishers sometimes offer books as honoraria for (thoroughly) refereeing manuscripts for future publications. Also, when some professors retire, they simply abandon their offices, books and all, leaving the distribution of the books to the department administration (in effect, to the chair's secretary); I once acquired quite a few books that way. And a comment about using grant money to buy books: The NSF (and I suppose other funders) require that the books be directly relevant to the funded research. Mar 17 '20 at 18:31
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In Canada, most universities provide a professional allowance that can be used with some discretion towards various costs (professional associations, cloud storage etc) including books. The value is variable but even CEGEP teachers in the Quebec system have a small allowance; outside Quebec some school boards also provide a small allowance.

In addition it’s usually easy to get a desk copy of a relevant textbook. I still do pay for about 1/3 of my books.

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    @FedericoPoloni Most Canadian Universities. The amounts are variable. Even in the CÉGEP system the instructors there have a small professional allowance. Mar 17 '20 at 21:01
  • @ZeroTheHero Please edit this information into your answer. Mar 18 '20 at 14:29
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Some universities have budget and programs to buy books for departments - for example, I know Barcelona University does. Books bought with funds from such programs, although university property assigned to a department, may end in the shelves in the office of a professor who is using them for their work at the university.

Furthermore, books can be bought with project grand funds, as any other item deemed necessary for the program goal.

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Every German university I know of has a part of the annual library budget earmarked for the chairs, like several hundreds of Euros per year for a chair. It is called the "Handapperat" and it is listed by the library. Students can borrow those books for a short time (overnight or for a weekend). The books are owned by the library, but their official location is the professor's shelve. The books are selected by the professor (or their team) and cover usually advanced topics.

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It depends upon the specific department and university. I know some "teaching universities" where faculty get faculty development grants either formally through the university or their department for continuing education and professional development For example the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, offers faculty development grants to:

The UWL Faculty Development Committee (FDC) awards grants to support the professional development of faculty and instructional academic staff and projects intended to improve teaching and learning. There are three types of grants:

  1. Teaching Innovation
  2. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  3. Professional Development

Conversely, many faculty at research programs are expected to fund their own needs through grants. Some research universities have "seed" grants that are designed to help faculty development, but these tend to be more research focused starter grants rather than continuing education. For example, Texas Tech offer faculty development grants described faculty development as

Faculty Development

The OR&I offers a variety of learning opportunities and internal funding programs to promote faculty success in research and creative activities, and to assist faculty develop successful external funding proposals.

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You do not even need to be a professor, it is very easy to accumulate a huge collection of books at a university without paying a single penny.

As an undergraduate student I was already picking up several free textbooks from outside the used book store of our campus: many classes required students to buy the most recent version of a textbook, so the old versions would go obsolete and they'd be left outside the book store for people to take. The library might also have a similar system for damaged or obsolete books as they need to make room on their shelves for new books.

What about books for more specialized topics that are not covered at the undergraduate level? When a professor retires and moves out, books are often given away for free. This happens often enough.

More opportunities are available for professors, still without paying out-of-pocket:
- start-up allowance: when you are first hired as a professor, you get some money to help you get started, and this is usually enough to pay the salaries of some graduate students or a post-doc, so it is definitely enough to fill up a library of books (not that anyone would ever use it for only that).
- professional allowance: many universities give about $1000 per year, which is more used for conferences, laptops, printers, and teaching materials, publication fees, but sometimes also for books. - many professors apply for and acquire research grants.


Despite all of the above, it is still common for some books to be purchased out of pocket. In my case I did buy a lot of textbooks for my undergraduate courses, and some of those books are still relevant enough for me to still have today. Many books were on sale for $0.99 at the used book store, and I bought them almost entirely because it was a great deal. Some books were payed for out of pocket because the system for getting reimbursed was too inconvenient for me.

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It depends on the institution, but it's possible that some of these may actually be library books, or former library books.

Libraries have to regularly weed out titles that aren't circulating enough to make room for either new editions or other books that are seeing more use. Some libraries will have an off-site archive, and will move older books there (until that too is full). Others will dispose of the books -- sometimes they'll offer them to other libraries (and often in a consortium, they'll try to make sure that there's a minimum number of copies in their system), but I've seen at least one case where they offered them to the people who had previously checked out the book.

I've also worked at places where professors were allowed to check out books for an entire semester, so it's possible that a few of the books aren't actually theirs. (I've also worked at a research institution where people could keep book out until someone else requested it ... I don't know if this is similar to what oekopez mentioned or not)

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Some of my colleagues who are editors for various academic publishers do get copies of advanced texts and monographs. It's not at all a budget from their university.

In my experience, people who have lots of books have paid for them our of their own pockets. Yes, this can be a significant expense. All the more motivation to create "free/on-line" versions of things when one is in a position to do so.

(For myself, I estimate I have a few thousand non-elementary mathematics books, and fewer than 10 were not paid for by me out of pocket.)

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Something that hasn’t been mentioned much yet is the fact that many professors are given books for free by publishing companies in the hope that they will then cause others to buy the book. In general, professors accumulate books from grants, university resources, book giveaways, free books from publishers, their own money, and many other sources over time.

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Many universities have deals with Springer Nature and other publishers whereby a large portion of the books from those publishers are available freely for download by anyone with an account at that institution. Springer will even send a paperback edition for a small charge, of the book is already available for download to that professor.

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Depending on the place, systems may be in place that allow faculty members to buy books without paying from their pocket. For example, in India, government universities have something called "learning resource allowance" (LRA) for faculty members which can be used towards anything which the faculty member can justify as "learning". Usually, these funds are accumulated through the year and faculties cash it in towards the end of financial year to buy stuff. I know professors who have bought things like cameras, laptops, printers, paid for publication charges, books, projector screens, software subscription, and what not. Depending on the institution policy, books purchased under the LRA may carry a stamp that says that this was purchased with LRA funds but the book remains with the professor.

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