NIU taskforce works to make textbooks more affordable for students

The NIU Libraries’ Textbook Task Force came together last fall with a straightforward vision: to improve NIU students’ access to textbooks.

The task force, made up of NIU faculty librarians (also known as subject specialists) and staff members, was responding to a nationwide problem. According to a 2017 study, 85 percent of college students in the U.S. delay or avoid purchasing course materials, and 91 percent cite cost as their reason for delaying or not purchasing. Nearly half of students say that textbook costs impacted how many and which courses they took each semester.

In response to these sobering statistics, the NIU task force has offered a range of straightforward solutions. They’ve worked to add textbooks to Founders Library Reserves on a sustainable basis so that students will have free access to course materials. They’re committed to educating faculty about the impact of expensive textbooks on students and providing faculty with a range of resources to help them find high quality, low cost or free alternatives to textbooks. And they’ve provided information and resources to help students find and access their textbooks at lower prices.

“Perhaps the most important element to making textbooks affordable (or more affordable) is sustained awareness,” says Leanne VandeCreek, Associate Dean of Public Services for the NIU Libraries. “I urge faculty to consistently consider cost as an important criterion in their textbook adoption process. Is there a book of equivalent or similar quality that costs significantly less?”

The library’s list of recommendations and resources for faculty (available on the NIU Libraries website) offers a practical guide for course instructors. Recommendations include:

  • Don’t assign expensive new editions if a previous edition is still acceptable. It will be less expensive and available used.
  • Place textbook orders early. This allows the bookstore to buy back used copies and gives students time to bargain hunt.
  • Request free desk copies from the publisher and make these available through the library’s course reserves.
  • Fully exercise the right of fair use to make as much course material as possible digitally available to students.
  • Seek out open access resources and ebooks already available in the libraries’ collections, which may be used as textbooks.

Not sure where to begin or what free resources might be available in your subject area? The NIU Libraries encourages all faculty and instructors to reach out to their subject specialist librarian.

“Whenever possible, I would encourage faculty to work with their subject specialist librarian to determine if they can create their own ‘textbook’ of sorts, by selecting some combination of books, book chapters, journal articles, essays, etc. from among existing library resources,” says VandeCreek. “These materials have been carefully curated by library professionals and have already been purchased, and in some cases are free. We can work with you to make these materials readily available to you and your students.”

The task force also offers resources and tips for students to help save money. Top tips include seeking textbooks from the NIU Libraries or a public library in the area, renting expensive textbooks instead of buying, and using up to $700 from your bursar account towards textbook purchases. Still unsure how to access course reserves or other resources through the library? Don’t hesitate to ask a librarian, either in person or through the “Ask a Librarian” chat or text services (library.niu.edu or 815-769-5425).

For more information, visit the NIU Libraries’ Textbook Affordability webpage or contact Circulation Supervisor Dee Anna Phares at 815-753-0343 or dphares@niu.edu, or Associate Dean VandeCreek at 815-753-9804 or lvandecreek@niu.edu.

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