The death of the Blue Book?

Highlighting and underlining courses in a Blue Book, officially known as the Yale College Programs of Study, may soon be a thing of the past.

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly and to save money, the Yale College Publications Office will likely allow students to opt out of receiving a hard copy of the Blue Book for the upcoming academic year, administrators said — a first step toward potentially eliminating the books entirely. The new option not to receive the printed Blue Book is contingent upon approval later this month from the Registrar’s Office, which must determine whether it can implement the new system. The option will not be available to freshmen, who will automatically receive the Blue Book in the mail.

Students next year will likely be able to choose whether they receive the Blue Book in the mail.
Grant Smith
Students next year will likely be able to choose whether they receive the Blue Book in the mail.

“My mandate is to reduce unnecessary expenses,” Laurie Ongley, managing editor of University Publications, said. “But I don’t presume to know which students consider the YCPS necessary and which don’t.”


The proposed change comes after a similar move at Harvard University, which announced earlier this month that it would eliminate the print versions of many of its own major publications, including its course handbook. And while the new option still requires official support from the Registrar’s Office, Ongley expressed confidence in an interview that the measure would be approved.

Every spring, Yale undergraduates receive an e-mail from the registrar’s office asking them to either confirm the address to which they want their Blue Book sent, enter a different address, choose to have their book held at the University or decide to have it priority mailed. This semester, though, students may have a fifth option — not to receive one at all.

Students who choose this option will not be without course selection materials, Ongley said. They will still have access to the Online Course Information system as well as the HTML and PDF versions of the Blue Book. Those who choose to go online-only will also be entered into a raffle for gift certificates to the Yale Bookstore.

“Some students already do most of their course searches online,” Ongley said, adding that she does not know how many students might choose to opt out. “It doesn’t make sense to print a 644-page book for those students. They’re just going to throw it away.”

The opt-out alternative will serve as a gradual test to gauge student support, Associate Dean of Yale College Penelope Laurans said. While Laurans noted that students have cherished hard-copy Blue Books for generations, dog-earing and underlining them, the current generation may feel differently about them, she said.

Laurans said she thinks that an online version of the book would not be the same as a physical copy. Yale College Dean Mary Miller agreed.

“I’m not ready for that day yet,” Miller said of the potential elimination of the printed volume.


Yale College Publications has a long history of trying to be more environmentally sustainable, Ongley said, and administrators have been discussing elimination of the Blue Book since at least 2003. Over the past several years, various handbooks — including those for professors, sophomores and directors of undergraduate studies — have been made online-only. In 2006, Ongley’s office circulated an online survey to all undergraduates asking about their usage of the Blue Book.

“Students unequivocally told us to keep the print YCPS,” Ongley said.

Following this survey, the publications steering committee agreed that the Blue Book had to stay. And it will stay for now, at least — as long as students want the volume, Ongley said, it will continue to be printed. But when there is a critical mass of students in favor of elimination, and when instructors and administrators are onboard, the Blue Book may go online only, Ongley said.

Recent budget cutbacks have added a sense of urgency to the Blue Book initiative, as more than 12,000 Blue Books are printed each year at a cost of $3 apiece. Mailing all of the Blue Books costs about $2,000, Ongley said.

But the most important motivation, Ongley said, was the University goal of reducing Yale’s carbon footprint.

Melissa Goodall, assistant director of the Yale Office of Sustainability, said she thinks the new option is a “wonderful idea.” But she said she had some qualms about the phrasing of the option.

“From the sustainability perspective, it makes 100 percent sense,” Goodall said about the option in its current form. “But I would rather see an opt-in program. A lot of students will default to the easiest thing.”

She said she thinks students will choose to browse course options online not just to be sustainable but also to be efficient.

“[Students] are fully immersed in digital culture, and I don’t think the physical book would be missed,” Goodall said.


Still, although the 15 students interviewed said they primarily use OCI for course selection, nine said they will likely choose to receive the Blue Book. But if the book were to be eliminated altogether, 13 of the students, including Alison Grubbs ’12, said they would not be greatly affected.

“It’s a nice resource, but not necessary,” Grubbs said.

Another student, Andrew Tschirhart ’10, said that he would opt out if given the choice but that the administration should improve online course software before eliminating the Blue Book. He said he would like the Online Course Selection program to allow students to begin adding classes to their course worksheets as soon as courses are put online rather than waiting until days before the semester begins.

John Gambell, the University printer, said some of Yale’s graduate and professional schools are considering similar initiatives to reduce distribution of certain publications, but he declined to specify which ones.

“I think Yale should be strongly considering a Web-only approach to publishing when it comes to administrative documents that don’t have a promotional content to them,” Gambell said.

The School of Drama, the Law School and the School of Management distribute hard-copy course bulletins to all students, while the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Public Health offer them only to incoming students. Administrators at the School of Public Health are currently discussing whether or not to continue distributing hard copies to students. The School of Medicine provides its course bulletin to students in digital form only, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Divinity School will follow suit in the fall.


  • Yale '07

    While allowing students to opt out of receiving a printed blue book may be a viable option, it'd be a far worse mistake to eliminate printed blue books altogether. The blue book (and the blue book party!) is a special Yale tradition that should not be done away with. When blue books arrived in the mail the summer before my senior year, nearly every one of my friends had an excited "blue book's here!" away message or facebook status. That excitement and anticipation of the new school year that comes with the annual blue book mailings just can't be duplicated by a website. Plus, they're a great recruiting tool for visiting students.


  • BlueBookFan

    Giving students the option to opt out of receiving the Blue Book is fine, but it shouldn't be eliminated all together! There's something about flipping through the Blue Book and highlighting courses to shop that OCI will never be able to replicate. Plus, won't the admissions office and visitors' center still want blue books for prospective students and out-of-towners to skim? I bet if this article had asked alums or talked with more current students, the consensus would be don't kill off the Blue Book!

  • Alumna, '89

    Yikes…but what about Blue Book parties during Shopping Period…can't imagine a Yale without those get-togethers.

  • Anonymous

    BAD IDEA. Give students the option to opt out, fine, but don't eliminate Blue Books! As one of those students who mostly uses OCI to search for courses, I know that I also couldn't live without my blue book - it's essential for Blue Book parties during shopping period and also just for flipping through when I'm away from my computer to browse for courses that way. Plus there are a lot of important rules and regulations in there that are harder to find online. Keep the Blue Book!

  • Anonymous

    There's a better reason to keep the books than "Aww, it's a nice tradition!": OCI is consistently unreliable.

  • Anonymous

    You can't ditch the blue book until you put all of the major-specific information (subcategories and so forth) into OCI.

  • Anonymous

    That is a happy Wu.

  • -

    I never got the blue book because they don't mail it to international students, so I just look at everything online. It'd be great if we had the option to opt out.

    But, don't eliminate the print edition nonetheless!!

  • alum

    Getting rid of the blue book is a very bad idea.

  • br '11

    agree with all the above - don't get rid of it!!

  • Anonymous

    I'm a bit annoyed by all the e-board bashing in the comments - and in the YDN endorsements. If you think you can do better, run yourself. If not, shut up.

  • Tip

    I'd like them to keep it around, but I hope they change the color. Getting kind of stale.

  • Stiles Alum

    The printed blue book is a great Yale tradition! It just won't be the same if students are sitting online in their rooms picking out courses rather than getting together for blue book parties. Furthermore, all the information about the various majors is easy to find in the printed blue book, and it's just nice to have a hard copy where you can find all the courses at once. I'm all for conserving the earth's natural resources, but there are better ways.

  • Smart Decision

    To make this truly economically and environmentally efficient, it should be an 'opt-in' system.

    Also, the registrar should make all efforts to get OCS available for second semester earlier.

  • yale 09

    Blue book parties are one of the most pathetic parts of Yale life.

    It's just a chance for typical high school losers to discuss the one thing they have in common: obsessing over school.

    If you go to a blue book party, you have no life.

    get a clue kids

  • Anonymous

    11,398 students * 644 pages = 7,340,312 pages
    (# of students figure from Wikipedia)

    3.14 * 62 * (60 * 12) = 81,430
    (Assumption: Tree is 60 feet tall, 1 foot diameter)

    Assuming we can scale up the weight of the tree from a piece of lumber and pulp yield from the average tree is ~50%:
    Our 60 foot tall tree yields 805 pounds of paper.

    500 sheets of paper weigh ~5 pounds.

    (805/5 * 500) = 80,500 = number of pages from one tree

    7,340,312 / 80,500 = 91.184 trees cut down for one year’s blue books

    91 trees is a substantial piece of land to lose every year for a book that gets used twice.

    Preserving a tradition of parties that are rarely helpful is not worth the massive environmental waste that goes into creating the blue books. What’s the point of Yale’s sustainability push if we are not willing to question tradition? With today’s technology paper should be considered a luxury.

  • Anonymous


    The 11,398 figure includes the grad schools, so that cuts our number of trees in half.

    Most trees used for lumber are probably more than a foot in diameter. 2 foot diameter trees would be 4 times as large.

    So now that tree number's under 12.

    Then realize that 6 of 15 students said they would opt out in the mini-poll of this article.

    7 trees.

    The measurement you gave for paper weight is for full-size 8.5×11 sheets of paper - the 644 page blue book is most certainly not more than 5 pounds. I'd say a pound, maybe a pound and a half is more reasonable.

    1-2 trees. Then consider that the Blue Book is probably made with recycled paper…

  • Anonymous

    if the problem with replacing the blue books with OCS is that OCS is flawed, why not revamp OCS to have more information, and generally be more user friendly?

  • none

    The Blue Book does use recycled paper. Says so on the inside of the cover.