First, a little background. Nearly a year ago, someone asked me why universities generally don’t buy textbooks for students and make them available via the library. As it turns out, the reasons are legion – but most of the challenges for libraries in buying textbooks boil down to cost (yep, the same issue students have with them). The traditional textbook can be very expensive and new editions are published more rapidly than most other types of books. Pile on replacing/buying new books each semester and the costs simply spiral out of control. A very helpful article by Pollitz and Christie (2006) can be found here.
In getting to an understanding of why libraries generally don’t buy textbooks, I stumbled on the open textbook movement. The concepts behind open textbooks are simple – build a textbook using many of the same processes found in traditional publishing (e.g. peer review, edited etc.) but license the work under a Creative Commons license and distribute them for low or no charge (usually over the web).
In the past week, the question (‘why don’t we buy textbooks…’) came back in a slightly different form: why don’t we buy eBooks and use them as textbooks. From my perspective eBooks are similar to textbooks in that the costs are comparable to a printed book (even if the eBook is a scaled down version of the printed version), the eBook model does not change the problems related to new editions, and distribution (DRM) can be just as challenging as one finds with a printed textbook (with notable exceptions such as Project Gutenberg). The news on eBooks with respect to our central issues – essentially access questions – was not great news for the folks asking questions. But, this time I chimed in with the idea of open textbooks.
Cut to today – one of our deans asked if I might be willing to help investigate the use of open textbooks. Of course, I said sure!
So, without further ado – I have a new project, and its one that I’m excited about (yes, there are projects I’m not excited about, but that’s another story). However, I can’t in any way claim to be an expert on the subject of open textbooks. Much of my original research is nearly a year old and was specific to the original idea of buying traditional textbooks for the library.
Here is where I need your help.
Do you use open textbooks? Are you interested in them but are in the same spot as me (just getting the discussions going)? K-12? Higher Education? One and all, I’d like to hear from you. Please post in the comments or just give me a shout: Calhouns[at]usfca.edu, follow me at Twitter or keep up with my links at Delicious.