Thursday, March 20, 2014

Library Publishing and Open Textbook Initiatives

"The cost of college textbooks has skyrocketed in recent years. To students and families already struggling to afford high tuition and fees, an additional $1,200 per year on books and supplies can be the breaking point."

- Fixing the Broken Textbook Market 2014 report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and The Student PIRGS.

In addition, according to the report "65% of students said that they had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. The survey also found that 94% of students who had foregone purchasing a textbook were concerned that doing so would hurt their grade in a course. More than half of the students felt significant concern for their grade." 

Our university president recently commented to the faculty senate that the cost of textbooks has become a major factor for students in attending college. His comment aligns with the quotes and report above. 

Update: Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution - 2015 report by The Student PIRGS.

A couple of years ago I worked with my university's director of educational technology to help faculty create textbooks for specific courses. We demonstrated how to get started building ePubs in a couple of faculty workshops by using articles in our library databases (when license permitted), OERs, library e-book chapters (when permissible), and their own writings. We also chose a platform that would allow all students to access the books regardless of what type of device they might be using. From the Android OS to iPhones and tablets, laptops and desktops. A couple of our tech-savvy faculty gave this a good try. In the end they reported that the time and effort involved in getting the textbook ready for the course (with limited IT and library help), was simply too great. 

Shortly after my experience with creating our homegrown textbooks, I heard about the SUNY Open Textbook Initiative. “SUNY Libraries are working with faculty to reduce costs to students, promote authorship, invest in readership, and support teaching and learning."

-Cyril Oberlander, Director of Milne Library at the State University of New York at Geneseo and the Principal Investigator for the Open SUNY Textbook Project. 

Over the past year I've been exploring and learning about a variety of open textbook initiatives. I’ve curated a set of articles and videos on open textbooks and library publishing initiatives on for those who are interested.  

Academic libraries have been increasingly involved with this movement, and there are a number of initiatives around the country that are gaining momentum. A recent library publishing conference I listened in on via the #LPforum hashtag on twitter mentioned several initiatives that were making good progress (see link to curated articles above). I’m looking forward to reading the Library Publishing Forum 2014 proceedings when published later in the year. A couple of blog posts that were written about the event helped fill in the gaps from twitter, this blogger did a nice job summarizing.

Though it's still early, successful open textbook initiatives are beginning to have greater impact. Learn about Rice University OpenStax textbooks in the videos below. There are quality peer-reviewed open textbooks available now that I feel comfortable recommending to faculty as an alternative to costly textbooks. However, the numbers are still small.

It was encouraging to read that over 2,500 professors had signed the open textbook statement of intent to include open textbooks in their search for the most appropriate course materials. But we need faculty members to make a commitment to using open textbooks or OERs for their courses. We also need more quality peer-reviewed open textbooks from which faculty can choose. This is where involvement and participation in the open textbook movement by libraries like mine could help. 

Small universities do not typically have the resources to start an initiative for publishing open textbooks. However, we are part of a consortium of 37 colleges and universities in the pacific northwest known as the Orbis-Cascade Alliance (OCA). One of the OCA [library] directors, Faye Chadwell, the University Librarian at Oregon State University (OSU) and director of OSU Press, was a featured speaker at the recent Library Publishing Forum. This news piece was shared in the #LPForum twitter chat and alerted me to the work already begun at OSU: OSU open textbook initiative aims to reduce student costs, enhance learning. Another OCA member librarian, Karen Estlund, Head of the Digital Scholarship Center at the University of Oregon (UO) Libraries, also presented at the LPForum. 

I would love to be involved in writing a grant for an Orbis-Cascade Alliance Open Textbook Initiative. We could solicit one textbook from each institution, providing some cash to the lucky professor who gets chosen at each school, with half of it payable when the book is complete.  If we could get this rolling and get a batch of texbooks every year, we would soon have a collection that would matter, and that participating schools and others could use with pride.  

Definition and characterizations of Open Textbooks - simply put, college texts offered online under a license that allows free digital access and low-cost print options. 

Would love thoughts from others about library publishing and open textbook initiatives. How doable is it? Are the challenges too great? Would the benefits to students be worth overcoming challenges that arise? Seems to me they would.