| 03.17.2018

UI says yes to free textbooks – UI partners with open source textbook program in effort to cut costs for students


In an effort to make college more affordable to students, the University of Idaho signed onto OpenStax, an open source textbook program, according to a memo released by UI Provost and Executive Vice President John Wiencek last week.

Annie Gaines, the UI Scholarly Communications librarian, said the program will allow students to access textbooks for free online. Gaines said she has worked toward an open-source textbook system since late last year, and the initiative finally took off once she got the go-ahead from Wiencek and UI President Chuck Staben.

“I met an OpenStax representative at a conference,” Gaines said. “It was presented to me as a potential solution to the extremely high cost of textbooks.”

She said OpenStax is a non-profit, grant-funded organization committed to lowering the amount of money spent on textbooks by offering free information online.

“Open-source textbooks take the idea of openly licensing work to make it freely available to anybody,” Gaines said. “We don”t pay them any money and they don”t pay us.”

She said the books are free on the internet, but students can also buy a hard copy if they wish. Gaines said the cost of the physical books are still affordable, as often students only pay the price to have the book printed – Gaines said the most expensive book she has seen was $50.

Instructors at UI have the opportunity to contribute as an author to the OpenStax library as well, she said.

“This partnership really helps me to make these connections with faculty and streamline the process of getting them to consider using these textbooks for their courses,” Gaines said.

She said she has worked with faculty and students to get on board with the initiative. She said ASUI President Max Cowan is one of her biggest supporters.

“This agreement with OpenStax has the potential to save students hundreds of dollars on textbooks,” Cowan said. “Both students and faculty could benefit immensely if we start using open textbooks.”

Cowan said ASUI launched an online petition for open textbooks earlier this semester, which he said hopes inspires faculty to use the new resource.

Gaines said faculty can customize the open textbooks to include the content they plan to cover in a course.

“Big publishers are making textbooks for a very wide audience, so they are pretty generic,” Gaines said. “With open textbooks you can put in the exact content that will be used in the course.”

Even though there are only 19 books online, Gaines said there are other organizations like OpenStax that provide free textbooks.

She said the next step is getting faculty members to use the free textbooks, which may prove to be difficult.

“I am planning on doing a couple of workshops in the next year to broach the topic and raise awareness to show faculty how easy it is,” Gaines said.

Once instructors start using these textbooks, she said, students will be able to utilize the new system to its full potential.

“Textbooks are such a large out-of-pocket expense that sometimes the choice is between groceries or textbooks,” Gaines said. “I would rather our students not have to make that choice.”

Jessica Gee can be reached at  arg-news@uidaho.edu

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