Affordable + Reusable Textbook Initiative


Program Co-Director: Charlene Eska, Professor of Linguistics, Department of English, Virginia Tech; 2022 Guggenheim Fellow


On average, college students in Virginia spend more than $500 per person per year on required textbooks. Virginia Tech students alone spend more than the library's annual collections budget on textbooks. The financial burden weighs on every student, and disproportionately affects those in dire need. High textbook cost has caused many students to attend classes without required textbooks, take fewer courses, not register for a specific course, drop or withdraw from a course, earn a poor grade, or fail a course.

Although Open Educational Resources (OER) provides the ultimate solution to the problem, at this time OER's coverage remains sparse. Virginia Tech offered 6569 undergraduate courses in fall 2022 alone. Only a tiny fraction of these courses have the option to adopt OERs. For those courses that must still use commercially published textbooks, we need a better solution than the status quo.

  • If every student must purchase a new copy for every course, the financial burden would have been much heavier.

  • If professors do not consider costs when choosing required textbooks, the most vulnerable students may have to drop or withdraw, or perform poorly throughout the course.

  • If textbooks changes every semester and cost $150 for each course, the library will need to spend about $1 million per semester just to fill the textbook reserve shelf.

Students, faculty, and the library need to work together to enable more effective textbook sharing and reuse.

Survey Shows How Students Reduce Textbook Costs

Students are already quite smart, but these cost-saving measures won't be as effective without the support from the faculty and the library. For example, if professors always choose the latest edition, used copies will not be widely available or any cheaper. If digital copy licenses forbid reuse and sharing, the seemingly reduced expenses on individual purchases or renting aggregate to higher cost for all. The publisher's companion website often requires the purchase of a new copy, rendering the library reserve shelf useless.

A Collaborative Approach

Working together, we can at least make the marked (in red arrows) cost-saving measures more effective.

How It Works?

Faculty informs the library of the initial textbook choices at least one month before the class starts. The library evaluates the cost and proposes cost-saving measures. If the cost is already low or the proposed cost-saving measures are adopted, the library will reward the faculty with $50 collections credit as a small token of appreciation. If no viable cost-saving measures exist and the cost remains high for the students, the library will purchase additional textbook copies to be shared with in-needs students through a lottery.

Pilot @ Department of English (Updated Nov 2022)

14 Department of English courses offered at the 2022 Spring semester signed up, with 11 courses able to achieve significant cost reduction for students through the consultation. 5 additional courses offered at the 2022 fall semester signed up and achieved significant cost reduction for students. Primary ways to reduce cost include:

  • delay the adoption of the latest textbook edition, instead adopt an older but sufficiently updated edition where cheaper used copies are abundantly available

  • choose or accommodate the use of an edition for which the library already has a paper copy or an electronic subscription

  • not require texts from any specific publisher, translator, or edition

  • accommodate the usage of a legal, openly accessible edition, e.g., Open Educational Resources, the Project Gutenberg etc

  • make certain purchases (e.g., workbook) optional

  • not require one-time registration for course companion bundled with a new textbook purchase, etc

University Libraries put on the course reserve a copy of those more expensive textbooks, and provided a few more for full semester checkout to students in need. For more details, please visit the program website.