Library Resources as Affordable Course Materials: A Case Study

College students often factor in textbook costs when selecting courses. High textbook prices create a financial barrier that can steer students away from enrolling in a course that may be of academic value in their degree area. Travis Eastham discussed the benefits of using course reserves in his blog post on March 8, 2022. Using library materials can eliminate the financial barrier of high textbook costs by providing access to required textbooks for students.

Affordable course materials are copyrighted materials which have institutional costs associated with using them, specifically library resources such as e-books. This blog post will focus on the cost savings for students when faculty choose library resources. The cost of library resources is already built into our students’ tuition. By utilizing library resources, faculty are reducing the cost of attendance by not requiring students to incur the additional costs of purchasing textbooks. As we begin a new quarter, I want to highlight the efforts of my colleagues and our student employees’ informative work during Open Education Week by reminding everyone that library materials are an alternative to open educational resources that can also reduce student costs.

I am the Library Liaison for several programs in the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM). Librarians reach out every quarter to faculty in our subject areas to remind them of library services. I encourage faculty to send me a list of textbooks or supplemental readings and resources they plan to use for their course(s). I review that list and see what resources are available through the library. CDM makes this process easier because the syllabi for past courses are posted online. I conduct quarterly syllabi review and notify instructors when they are using a textbook that is freely accessible through the library.

DePaul University Affordable Course Reserves Data InfographicPrior to the start of winter quarter 2022, I decided to conduct an analysis of an academic program at DePaul to highlight as an example of potential student cost savings when incorporating library materials into courses in lieu of an expensive textbook. I systematically searched the DePaul University Bookstore’s website for required and recommended course materials for this program. I will share some figures on the potential cost savings for the courses where the required textbooks were available electronically through the library. I generated an average cost of the textbooks based on the actual pricing at the Bookstore. A special thanks to Rina Roosevelt who gathered the data on textbook costs from the Bookstore’s website. I selected 20 as the average enrollment of students per class, because some lower level classes may have 30 to 40 students, while upper level classes may have 10 to 12 students. The potential cost savings is calculated by multiplying the average textbook price by average enrollment and the number of courses.

For winter quarter 2022, students enrolled in the courses of the program I reviewed had the potential to save $74,430 from using library owned e-books and an additional $23,980 from library books purchased from course reserves funds for a total of $98,410. For spring quarter 2022, students had the potential to save $48,882 from using library owned e-books and an additional $19,049 from library books purchased from course reserves funds for a total of $67,932. The amount of savings decreased because many faculty took advantage of the information about library e-books provided in Winter Quarter to save their students money.

Some items that were not available at the library were purchased directly using course reserves funds. Faculty generally initiate requests themselves using our Course Reserves system, but an exception was made for textbooks required in several sections of the same course. It was reasonable for the library to purchase e-versions of these textbooks to provide access to our student body.

Before I close out this blog post, let me again campaign for Affordable Course Materials and Open Educational Resources. Library resources such as e-books are available to students immediately. E-books can be accessed prior to taking a course, as well as after the course is complete, thereby making them continuing educational resources. Open educational resources are about access and cost reduction. To improve access to these materials, we rely on faculty who are our best tools for outreach to students because of the valuable role they play in students’ lives.

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