From different angles, library and bookstore seek student savings

Available for affordability

To schedule a presentation for faculty on the options for open and affordable course content, contact ISU Book Store's Heather Dean at or the University Library's Abbey Elder at

Libraries and bookstores have different approaches to purveying information that suggest a natural competition. One lends freely what the other sells. But the ISU Book Store and the University Library are on the same page concerning affordable course content.

Along with other campus stakeholders, the library and bookstore are partners in the open and affordable education committee formed in summer 2017, a collaboration that isn't typical on campuses, though that's changing as concerns about college affordability grow nationwide. Committee co-chair Heather Dean, ISU Book Store assistant director, said colleagues at conferences frequently ask her about the level of cooperation here. While some have talked to their library counterparts, often the conversations are just beginning.

"I feel like we've pioneered this a bit," Dean said.

Committee co-chair Abbey Elder, open access and scholarly communication librarian, said the library and bookstore benefit from each other's strengths. The bookstore has more experience dealing directly with textbook publishers and navigating the university registration system that holds course content data. The library has expertise on copyright, pedagogy and campus outreach.

"Getting to work together has been really useful for understanding how these systems operate," Elder said.

Collectively tackling affordability makes it easier to present a cohesive message to different audiences, whether it’s functional advice for instructors or big-picture points for policymakers, Dean said.

"Intuitively, people think we're in competition with each other, but we're not," she said. "We all serve the faculty and the students, just from a variety of angles."

The committee's most important audience is faculty, since they're making the decisions on course materials. Dean and Elder jointly presented to the Faculty Senate this week about their coordinated efforts, which include the bookstore's immediate access offerings and open educational resources (OER) initiatives the library supports. They're seeking department-level meetings this year to encourage instructors to consider more affordable and potentially more effective alternatives to traditional textbooks.

"Our big push right now is awareness about what we're working on and that there are options," Elder said. "A lot of the time, faculty will think there's one or two things I can do for my class, and there's nothing else."

A student's story

Watch former Student Government vice president Juan Bibiloni talk about his experience with textbook costs in a video produced by the open and affordable education committee and Student Government.

The message has been spreading. OER -- instructional material free to access and customize -- are being used in at least 20 courses this fall, saving students about $113,000. That's more in just one semester than the $110,000 in OER savings during the 2018-19 school year. An even larger financial impact comes from the bookstore's immediate access offerings -- digital versions of commercial textbooks that typically sell for much less than print texts. Immediate access materials, which unlike typical textbooks are automatically purchased by all students unless they opt out, saved $2.7 million in 2018-19.

The intent of the faculty meetings is to personalize the push to keep content costs down, putting a face to a name. Faculty thinking about exploring immediate access should contact Dean -- before talking to a publisher -- to discuss possible options and negotiations. Those looking at OER are encouraged to consult with Elder.

"We can help them through this process. We're not just saying, 'Go out and do this,'" Elder said.

The committee also wants to remind faculty there are numerous resources and programs to tamp down textbook costs, Dean said. A one-page primer the committee created includes the more established ways to fight the rising prices for course content, including library reserves and used books.

"You need to figure out where you fit in this to be part of the affordability equation," she said. "There's no excuse not to be involved."