If you have ever taken a college course, odds are you remember the sting of purchasing books. Textbook costs remain an increasingly profound barrier for student success. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that textbook prices increased 88 percent between 2006 and 2016. Here at ISU, a spring 2019 Textbook Affordability Committee survey found that 73 percent of students did not acquire a required textbook due to cost and 89 percent had delayed purchasing a textbook or other course materials. Thirty-two percent of students reported taking on credit card debt to pay for textbooks.

Birds Give Back logo with Reggie Redbird and the words 1 Day for Change

And while these are not new issues, the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated textbook-related concerns for students leading Milner librarians to spring into action. In the fall of 2020, a team of librarians formed the e-Textbook Working Group. The group then began work on a pilot project that addressed textbook affordability and accessibility by working with faculty to obtain electronic versions of textbooks. Team members identified courses with textbooks that were available for library purchase and then calculated a benefit-cost ratio, ranking classes to determine which would achieve the maximum financial impact for students.

Ultimately, 52 professors agreed to participate in spring 2021 semester representing 70 sections of 43 courses. Milner Library invested approximately $8,000 into the pilot project that gave 2,029 students the opportunity to save just under $144,000. Beyond monetary savings, students and faculty reported numerous other program benefits including reduced stress, increased accessibility of course material, and increased ease of using materials. For more information on the pilot project, view the e-Textbook Working Group’s report available on Illinois State University’s institutional repository ISU ReD.

Now in its third semester, more than 160 faculty members from across all areas of campus have participated in the e-textbook program including Associate Professor Jacqueline Lanier from the Department of Health Sciences who participated in the fall of 2021. “It was a happy surprise, for me and my students, to learn that Milner could supply my class with a digital copy of our textbook,” said Lanier. “If the library is able to expand its program to making more textbooks available, that would be great for students. There is an equity issue with the high costs of textbooks and that disadvantages some students over others. With so many other education-related costs to consider, to be able to take this expense off of their plate would be huge.”

A gift to help all students

Milner Library’s e-Textbook Working Group continues to work on the e-textbook project, looking for ways to expand its reach to help more students. However, we know we can do more. Money raised on Birds Give Back for this project will go directly to helping purchase more materials for more students. More money for e-textbooks means more savings for more students and reduced stress by alleviating what can be a large financial burden. For more information and to support this project, visit BirdsGiveBack.IllinoisState.edu.

An extra special challenge

Jeffrey Johnson ‘84 wants to see his fellow Redbird alumni support our campus hub of intellectual curiosity on Birds Give Back. When we receive 50 gifts designated for Milner Library, J.J. will commit $7,200 to support the ISU University Archives!

Learn more about Milner Library’s textbook affordability initiatives from Student Success Librarian Mallory Jallas.