Helping Students with Textbook Costs

Guest post by Karen Kohn, collections analysis librarian, with the Open Education Group 

The problem with textbook costs 

A college girl studying outside on the grass

Textbook costs have long been a concern for students, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that problem. In the summer of 2020, a nationwide study found that 20% of students had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and 16% were either furloughed or had hours cut. This meant that even though textbook prices had actually fallen from 2018 to 2020, students had just as much difficulty buying textbooks as they had in past years. U.S. PIRG found that 65% of students skipped buying a required textbook due to cost. In a recent survey of faculty and administrators by Bay View Analytics, 86% of administrators and 64% of faculty agreed with the statement that “the cost of the course materials is a serious problem for my students.”  

Recent guidance from the federal Department of Education on meeting students’ basics needs notes that increasing free access to textbooks can be a way to support students. 

Library copies of course texts 

One way to increase free access is to assign an electronic book found in the library collection or that can be purchased, and then direct students to the library copy. 

Since 2017, Temple University Libraries has been purchasing ebook copies of course texts whenever possible. In the 2021-22 academic year the Libraries offered electronic access to 32% of course texts, saving students an estimated $450,000. These books are all available via our catalog or our Etextbook Database. The database is updated near the beginning of every semester. 

The Libraries are not always able to purchase ebooks, as many textbook publishers do not make their titles available to libraries electronically. When a book is available to us, we prefer to purchase a multi-user license for something we know will be used in a class, though we will buy a single-user license if that is the only option. 

How faculty can help 

Let your subject librarian know what books you will be using so that the Libraries can look into buying them! Then let your students know that the Libraries have their books. When you submit your textbook adoptions to the bookstore, you can add a note to the submission form indicating that students will have access to a free digital copy from the library, and you can also mention the library copy on your syllabus. 

You can also check out the Affordable Course Materials page on our website for other ways to offer zero-cost to your students. Please speak with your subject librarian if you want to know if the Libraries can purchase a book for your class, if you need help determining what is already available, or if you want instruction on linking to an ebook in Canvas.