Mailbag: Textbook costs

Re: “Textbooks leaving students behind”

Dr. Hawks, I am a long-time reader of your blog and a librarian at the University of South Florida. With interest, I read your comment of 8/24/11 concerning the high cost of textbooks for students and wanted to share some information. Here in the library we are taking it seriously and are leading an institution-wide effort to promote alternatives. There is some information concerning the library's Textbook Affordability Program (TAP) program at We've been encouraging faculty to develop open-access electronic textbooks (we will host them and assist with design/layout). We negotiated with the on-campus bookstore to donate copies of all textbooks with an expected user base exceeding 100 students to the library where we provide free access. We also have a VERY aggressive electronic book program that increasingly covers classroom needs. For context, our building holds 1.8 million physical volumes (the USF Library System holds 2.4 million) but our ebook collection is now approximately 600,000 volumes. Finally, we pay ~$140,000 to subscribe to a copyright clearance system that ensures that students no longer need to purchase expensive course packs and that faculty are protected as they try to help students. Thanks for mentioning this issue in your blog. I suspect that you caused some readers to consider solutions to this significant problem. And I appreciate your attention to such issues as peer review, the academic journal "ecosystem," and open-access. Cheers, Todd Todd Chavez
Director, Academic Resources
USF Libraries

Thank you so much for writing with this! Yes, it’s an awful problem, and my solution (write materials myself) obviously won’t work for everyone. But maybe one step at a time we’ll improve things.