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Free textbooks may be a new reality

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Free textbooks may be a new reality

Student advocates hope to raise awareness about open textbook sources

There’s always that moment at the start of each semester when you discover the number of required and optional textbooks for each class that you will be attending, and within that moment is the heartbreaking reality of the cost.

But, what if the textbook you needed was free?

Whether it’s your first or last year, purchasing textbooks has become a semi-annual routine, so it seems strange that after all these years the idea of getting the resources you need for the price you want is finally becoming a reality.

Interestingly, this movement of free textbooks, known as the Open Textbook Project, is already taking effect throughout Canadian universities.

This brings up the question of why Alberta is deciding to join this initiative now.  Katelyn Garlough, vice president academic of the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU), is spearheading the project, in hopes of bringing cheaper alternatives to the MacEwan Bookstore.

“It’s becoming a huge barrier. A lot of students will actually drop a class or they won’t buy the textbook because it’s too expensive, and at that point we’re saying that only people who can afford the textbook are worthy of that form of education,” she said.

Despite the ability for students to purchase textbooks used instead of new (whether it’s through social media or other means), textbooks are still costly.

Garlough is building this campaign with a big picture in mind: equal access to open assets that students need in order to succeed.  

Originally, a university would publish its own textbooks (Oxford University would release Oxford editions of books, for example) and the money paid for them would eventually filter back to the students. The idea of free textbooks stems from this notion.

Today, the royalties of these required books go solely towards the publishers who created them.

Having open resources would mean using already-published open online textbooks made with creative licensing rather than copyright that allows for the textbooks to become adaptable for certain classes by and for professors.

The books would be available online similar to eReserves with the option of printing them at a far lower rate.

Garlough wants to raise more awareness of the need to have open textbooks in Alberta, specifically lobbying MacEwan and the government for funding that would be required to accomplish this task.

“We’re trying to make it so we’re not just consumers of knowledge, we’re contributors as well,”she said.

Cover photo by Stewart Butterfield / CC BY