Changing Roles in Providing Textbook Content

Textbook Content Panel

Textbook Content Panel (L-R) Nicole Allen, Charles Lyons, Bob Nardini

This panel addressed the evolving landscape of course content, specifically textbooks. Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC, led off with a view of what students face when they come to purchase textbooks for their courses.  For example, one introductory physics textbook costs $241 and can rent for $108. The average student budget for books and supplies is $1200, and these expenses are often paid out of the student’s pocket, so they are more aware of them more than other costs. Buying a digital textbook does not help students save much money. And if they rent the book, when they have to return it, the knowledge they gained often goes away.

Professors decide what students have to buy; they are a captive market. 1 out 2 students say they have not taken courses because the cost of books is too high. Students cannot learn from materials they cannot afford. SPARC’s solution, the Open Education Library (OER), is a library of open education resources. Lumen Learning has become active in open textbooks.

One example of the impact of the Open Education Library shows the impact of open textbooks: Tidewater Community College in Virginia has created an entire curriculum using the OER, so a student never has to spend money for books. Using OERs caused a jump in the number of students graduating with better grades.

Charles Lyons, Electronic Resources Librarian at SUNY Buffalo, listed 5 myths librarians should know about textbook affordability:

  1. Library reserves are not the only option for accessing textbooks.  For example, SUNY has negotiated with publishers for reduced textbook prices.  The library is not on students’ radar screens when it comes to textbooks; the time is right for change (See Lyons’ article on page 1 in the November 2014 of Against The Grain).  Many initiatives substitute high-priced textbooks with open resources.
  2. Faculty are unaware of costs. That was a thing of the past. Most of them want to do something about it, but that is challenging and time-consuming. Libraries are finding a role to help.
  3. Authors only write textbooks for the money. Although many high-impact books make high royalties, most authors are not getting rich. Some schools have incentives in which faculty are rewarded for supporting open textbooks.
  4. Print is king.  But e-textbooks are not much cheaper than printed ones.
  5. Bookstores are the enemy. In reality, they can play important roles. Library e-books are alternatives to expensive textbooks. The bookstore at San Jose State University put up a sign telling students when books are in the library. Choice is king, so are options. Students see value in both print and electronic.

Roles for libraries include identifying and assessing relevant textbooks, curating a wide variety of them, and providing incentives for students to use their collections.  The real challenge is lower prices and better textbooks.  As prices go down, learning outcomes rise.

Bob Nardini, VP, Product Development, Ingram Library Services said that students have more options than ever before in their textbook selections, but they still prefer printed textbooks over electronic ones.  Some companies active in this market include Lumen, Chegg, Follett Bryte Wave, CourseLoad,  and Academos.  Open access textbooks are available from OrangeGrove, the OpenTextbookLibrary, Maricopamillions, Merlot, and the Ohio Digital Bookshelf.

Nardini predicted that textbooks will go in every direction and will be a mixture of print and open. Even free textbooks are not free; somebody must pay to produce them. Ingram and its VitalSource e-book  service has  over 500 publishers and 3 million users. Its Lightning Source service is a print on demand facility that can print textbooks one at a time as needed. Customization of textbooks will disrupt everything. Ingram Construct will allow people to put together textbooks from different sources. Aggregation is also possible.

Institutional licensing of textbooks will become more prevalent. We can expect more centralizaion of negotiations by librarians. Don’t underestimate the ability of a smart agile company to be open to change and new ideas.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist


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