Last year, Erin Milanese, head of learning technologies, and Fritz Hartman, director of the Good Library, implemented a program called the textbook savings project.
“I did a survey last spring of the student body to see about how much money students are spending on textbooks and found that textbook prices are a problem,” Milanese said. “I think that’s known across higher education, so we just decided it was a project we wanted to pursue.”
The project encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between librarians and faculty members, who are voluntary participants.
“For those who say yes, they choose one class to work on and they send the facts to the librarians to search for resources and lower textbook costs,” said Hartman.
Last year, four professors chose to take advantage of this resource with three success stories. Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communications, Sara Patrick, assistant professor of mathematics, and Beverly Lapp, professor of music, were all able to almost completely switch their textbooks to free resources provided by the library.
“With Sara’s, we were able to find the textbook in one of our library databases,” Milanese stated. “Bev’s was sort of similar…she switched to things that were in our databases. Duane’s was pretty interesting because he was invested in ceasing the use of a pretty expensive textbook and he was the only one of the three who actually quit using the textbook.”
One main goal of the project is to create wider awareness of the free resources available online amongst faculty. “There are Open Education Resources (OERs) – a lot of them sponsored by colleges, even though they’re free,” Milanese said. “Some of them have good editing processes and entire courses online.”
Years past, it was really difficult to get an eBook, it was just super expensive, the open source stuff wasn’t as good five years ago – there wasn’t anything,” Hartman said. “Now there are things. As soon as we heard about some of the open source things, we were like, ‘Time to go!’”
Sara Patrick applied this project to her Applied Algebra course.
“That’s my only course that does not require an electronic homework program, and then it turned out the book I was using already was available at the library online for free,” she said. “So it just worked out that that course was the easiest one to do… The nice thing was from day one, everyone had the book.”
Collaboration with librarians takes the weight of the project significantly off the shoulders of professors.
“I kind of got grouped with Andrew Shields – they paired us up with a librarian, so I gave him my syllabi,” Patrick said. “Basically he did all the research of finding it [the textbook] through the library website and linking that up.”
Lapp agreed, saying, “Our librarians are very skilled at helping with curriculum, and so I knew I would have a good resource there when asked to participate in the project.”
Hartman also reflected on the role of librarians, saying, “One thing I really want to emphasize is that to do this checking does require a bit of expertise in that you have to understand where the professor is coming from and the context of their class and the context of the material they are trying to teach.”
“The text that I was using for Communications Research was expensive and always seemed to be out-of-date,” Stoltzfus said. “It was challenging to replace – it was a book that was filled with terms and studies collected conveniently in one book… Fortunately, I had excellent help from librarians, and in the end we came up with more engaging and timely information – free of charge.”
“There are many solutions and steps people can take to save money, it’s just a matter of taking the time to arrange them,” said one of Stoltzfus’s students, Lydia Kelsey, a sophomore. “But it’s worth it because so much money can be saved in the long run.”
Hartman and Milanese are of the same mind – last year the project saved students $6,705.
“It’s important to note,” Hartman said, “that…the savings multiply year after year that the student does not have to purchase that textbook.”
The project will be offered again this year, with informational sessions occurring on Monday, Feb. 20 and Friday, Mar. 10, both from 10-10:50 a.m. in the Good Library room 102. This year, Milanese and Hartman hope to increase participation numbers.
“We had four last year but we’re hoping to have six,” said Milanese. “We would like to grow it more, but it’s a lot of work and capacity is the problem.”
Despite limited personnel, Milanese is hopeful.
“Fritz and I are really excited about this project,” she said. “The price of textbooks is connected to other issues we see in the library- rising costs of databases and journals – so we’re trying to kind of solve the problem broadly.”
Interested faculty members can sign up to attend by contacting Milanese or Hartman. Capacity for each session is eight people.