The academic library is “Open”-ing Up

Our library, like many academic libraries, has traditionally been resistant to assisting students with obtaining required course texts. Students obtain those through the college store, Amazon, or other bookstores. Logistics often prevent the academic library from venturing into this arena, especially when most course texts are print. We simply don’t have the space, personnel nor budget to purchase, catalog, maintain and deacquisition texts for hundreds of courses every semester.

Concerns about inflation rates and costs of textbooks, student retention, ebook formats, and open educational resources have started to change our minds, even at small colleges like mine.

Our library recently presented a workshop for faculty about open educational resources and faculty are very interested in exploring this further, specifically in regards to lowering costs for students.

Consider these statistics: Since 2003, the cost of a textbook has increased 73%, more than four times the rate of inflation. (Senack & Donoghue, 2016), The average textbook cost is $80 (National Association of College Stores, 2017) and the average amount a student spends on textbooks per year is $1,298 (College Board, 2017).

Unaffordable textbook costs impact student learning and retention. Sixty-five percent of students skipped purchasing or renting at least some required textbooks, even though 94% realized that it would affect a course grade (Senack & Donoghue, 2016). Almost half of students say textbook costs impact what courses and/or how many courses they take in a semester (Senack, 2014). Researchers found that OER vs traditional textbooks had a small but significant positive effect on course grade for new students (Winitzky-Stephens & Pickavance, 2017). A survey conducted by Williams showed that 14% of students knew at least one student who had dropped out because of textbook costs (2013). Withdrawal rates were cut in half (yes, half!) at a large community college after transitioning to an open psychology course text over all sections of an introductory course. (Hilton & Laman, 2012). In a survey of more than 20,000 students in FL, 11% took fewer courses, 8% dropped or withdrew from a course, 8.1% earned a poor grade or failed a course because they couldn’t afford to purchase a course textbook (Donaldson, Nelson, & Thomas, 2010).

Quite simply, “The cost of college textbooks has become a major affordability issue for low and middle income students, adding to the potential that these students will either drop out, take on additional loan debt to pay for textbooks, or undercut their own learning by forgoing the purchase of textbooks.” (Frederick, 2008, p. 2)


We clearly have a major problem with textbook costs in academia. What are some solutions?

Your academic library can be a major source of materials that students have already paid for through their tuition dollars. Encourage use of these quality educational resources through requiring them in your courses. Make the most of these resources, and remember that your library has ebooks, journal articles and streaming video formats. Create custom course packs through links to online library resources. Place print texts that the library may already have on course reserve.

A few reminders when using library resources:

  1. Don’t forget to include these access options in your syllabus, so that students know about them, and can decide for themselves whether to purchase required texts or access them through the library.
  2. When creating links to library resources, make sure that your links are stable and will work from off-campus.
  3. When linking to library resources, check availability and/or let your librarian know! Many library collections (including ebook, journals and streaming video) are not stable; think of them as Netflix collections where videos come and go. We don’t want you to assign an ebook, only to discover it was removed! Your librarian can keep an eye on things to assure access when needed.

There are many open educational resources that are high-quality and peer-reviewed. Explore resource repositories and assign open course materials as primary course texts when appropriate. In some cases, students may opt to purchase these items at a low cost if they prefer print format. While open educational resources may not be appropriate for all courses, consider exploring them for just one or two courses; a lower-level introductory course is a great place to start.

Talk to YOUR academic librarian and see what they can do to help you bring quality open (or library) resources into your classroom. Lower costs for students, and improve their ability to access resources and succeed in your classroom.


William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (n.d.). Open Educational Resources. Retrieved  from

College Board. (2017). Understanding college costs. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from

Donaldson, R. L., Nelson, D. W., & Thomas, E. (2010). 2010 Florida Student Textbook Survey (p. 46). Florida Virtual Campus.

Frederick, L. (2008). Retention and the cost of college textbooks. Retrieved from

Hilton, J., johnhiltoniii@byu. ed., & Laman, C. (2012). One college’s use of an open psychology textbook. Open Learning, 27(3), 265–272.

National Association of College Stores. (2017). Higher Ed Retail Market Facts & Figures. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from

Senack, E. (2014). Fixing the broken textbook market: How students respond to high textbook costs and demand alternatives. Student Public Interest Research Groups. Retrieved from

Senack, E., & Donoghue, R. (2016). Covering the cost: Why we can  no longer afford to ignore high textbook prices (p. 24). Student Public Interest Research Groups.

Williams, L. (2013). Textbooks on Reserve. University Business, 16(4), 14–14.

Winitzky-Stephens, J., & Pickavance, J. (2017). Open Educational Resources and Student Course Outcomes: A Multilevel Analysis. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 18(4), 35–49.

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