Textbook Turmoil: The Library’s Role in the Textbook Revolution

textbooksFrom: Bell, S. (2010). The library’s role in the textbook Revolution. Library Issues 31(1)

“Ask any college librarian what the most frequently asked question at the reference desk is during the first week of the academic term. In recent years, hands down, that question is ‘Does the library have a copy of my textbook?’

Fortunately, the problem of escalating textbook costs has hit the boiling point, and both the higher education and publishing industries are seeking solutions before the pot explodes and legislators step in to clean up the mess. A forced legislative solution is avoidable given the options for delivering instruction materials in new ways that range from bless costly but mostly traditional digital textbooks to open educational resources that faculty create and share freely in order to provide students with no-cost options for accessing course readings.

When it comes to deciding how textbooks should fit into the library’s collection development policy, a mid-2009 exchange of messages on the college librarians’ online discussion list (COLLIB) illustrated just how diverse the opinions are. One discussant indicated that while his library will acquire textbooks, not more than a third of those would fall into the category of traditional textbooks with the remainder being monographs or novels that the existing collection would accommodate. Another library director shared that her library acquired the textbooks for all introductory courses. The stated reason was to help students who could not afford them.

The good news is that options are emerging that could lead to that much desired win-win solution that simplifies the textbook conundrum for students, faculty, librarians, and academic administrators. Foremost among them is the birth of the open educational resources movement.

Alternative publishers such as Flat World Publishing [http://www.flatworldknowledge.com] and Connexions [http://cnx.org] encourage faculty to make their textbooks openly accessible by facilitating the collection of sharing of the texts, and then allowing students to access them for free online. As many students prefer printed textbooks, there is an option to order a print copy, on demand, for less than fifty dollars… With open education options, in combination with digital content provided by the academic library, faculty have the capacity to assemble only those chapters, articles, videos, and other learning materials that truly meet the needs of their students. Faculty may use their online courseware system, such as Blackboard or Moodle, to efficiently package and deliver the material to their students. In this way, faculty are no longer shackled to the tyranny of the static, costly textbook, which few if any faculty are able to entirely cover in a semester anyway.

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