Soaring Costs of Textbooks — Can the Library Help?


What if students couldn’t afford to buy their textbooks?


It is a common misconception – especially among freshmen and international students – that the Library provides course textbooks to students on the Flint campus, rather than the campus bookstore.

When students realize their error, and face the actual cost of purchasing their required course textbooks, it often comes as a shock.

Or more precisely, a horrifying reality.

Of course, both librarians and faculty are aware of the problem and are not without sympathy. After all, we’ve all been there ourselves and know the hardship of that extra burden on the shoulders (and bank accounts) of students already stressed by tuition, living expenses and the intensive studying that are part of life in higher education.

While Thompson Library must face the hard truth that we can NOT supply a print textbook to every student (our current annual budget wouldn’t cover the cost of a single semester of providing books to every student), we continue to look for ways to help our students find and use the resources they need, including textbooks.

One option we are exploring is through a short-term project in cooperation with the Computer Science Department faculty.    A review of the required textbooks identified 21 Computer Science (CSC) and Computer Information Systems (CIS) textbooks that were priced at or over $100.

As part of our investigative “textbook initiative,” Thompson Library purchased one copy of each of these 21 books (total cost – $2,721.75).

The books were subsequently cataloged and placed on shelf in the Course Reserve section within the library.

Course Reserves Jan 2016
COURSE RESERVES shelves in Thompson Library — Circulation Desk, 3rd floor (near entrance). January 16, 2016.

Each book was given a check-out period of 2 hours (to prevent any single student from monopolizing any of these books to the detriment of other students).

Current plans will have the Library duplicating this experiment during the upcoming winter semester with CSC and CIS textbooks (over $100 cost, each).

During the spring and summer period, the trial program will be evaluated based on usage statistics and student comments gathered by the Library Circulation Department (check-out desk).

Current statistics for fall semester (as of  December 2016) have been disappointing.

Students canvased have commented that they are not happy with the limited time period they are allowed to have the book.   They would prefer the book be given to them for long-term use (preferably for the duration of the course).

That attitude by students is understandable, but not practical within the limited resources available.

While students may not appreciate having to visit the library in person for short-term access to each textbook, this option DOES ensure that each student can get and use their textbooks at no cost to them.

The Library will examine and report back our findings from this experiment next summer.

Looking at the problem of costly textbooks in the long term, Thompson Library is working in conjunction with the Library Resource Committee and select faculty to raise awareness across UM-Flint campus of both the problem and options available to our teaching faculty to help students manage their educational expenses.

Having textbooks in the Library on Reserve is one such option. Another is to use digital textbooks, or ebooks.

The problem of textbook costs is not restricted to our campus.   As such, solutions for this growing concern are springing up world-wide.

In response to that demand, potential options to educational institutions are such things as Open Education Resourses (OERs) and licensed or purchased library ebooks which can be used as textbooks.

IMG_0158Thompson Library had ordered 16 print textbooks from Rice University’s OpenStax  initiative (

These introductory textbooks are freely available from the IMG_0159OpenStax website. Individuals that prefer having a print copy may order them for a low price ($52.00 and under).   Otherwise, the .pdf copies of the book may be: viewed online, saved, or printed.  The option of purchasing a print textbook makes OpenStax unique.

IMG_0154 (2)To publicize the materials Thompson Library has already obtained through OpenStax, we have additionally purchased a standing display which will in coming semesters be set in a prominent location of the library (beside the New Book shelf, directly behind the Reference Desk) to bring attention to this resource and the materials available.


IMG_0156 (2)

Any faculty interested in potentially using the OpenStax books to find, evaluate and potentially select any of the available materials as course textbooks can contact Thompson Library for individual  assistance .

At this time, Thompson Library is in the process of creating an online directory of available resources for open textbooks and licensed ebooks.   A new Research Guide for these materials should be available sometime in the winter 2016 semester.

To better alert the faculty and staff of the University of Michigan-Flint campus of the availability of various open access textbook resources, Thompson Library will partner with the Thompson Center for Learning & Teaching throughout 2016 to host information sessions.

Through these sessions, interested members of the UM-Flint community will be able to learn more about Open Education Resources along with how to IMG_0157access and select titles from the many ebook collections to which the Library already provides access.

As faculty, would you like to learn more about the new textbook options?   Interested in partnering with the Library to work with the textbooks for your course(s) during this resource investigation?

If so, please contact our librarian Matthew Wolverton at  Or give Matt a call at (810) 762-3415.

Textbooks help faculty educate our students to meet the future. The Thompson Library is here to help faculty find ways to provide those textbooks to the students who need them, affordably.