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Second floor of Zimmerman library on Sunday, Aug. 27.

Librarians advocate for alternative to textbooks

An alternative to requiring students to purchase textbooks, University Libraries have begun to develop programs and offer grants to help professors integrate Open Educational Resources into their curriculum. All resources on an OER are licensed as Creative Commons - free to use.

Three librarians at the University of New Mexico – Holly Surbaugh, Jennifer Jordan and Leo Lo – conducted a study in July of 2023 on the impact of textbook cost at a Hispanic-serving institution UNM.

70% of the 315 UNM undergraduate students in the study reported the amount they spent on textbooks was “somewhat or extremely unreasonable,” and 102 said the cost of materials impacted their ability to purchase basic needs such as housing, food and transportation.

“A lot of students aren’t buying their textbooks, which can affect their grades in class,” Jordan said. “We did a survey at UNM and we found that because students didn’t have access to the books, some dropped their classes and some didn’t get as good of a grade. A few students even changed their major because they couldn’t afford the books.”

Yet to buy textbooks for this semester, UNM student Tavin Brogan said he normally spends about $400 dollars on textbooks a semester. While some books can be fairly priced individually, he said they add up.

“I feel like there’s a lot of things that professors could do such as online textbooks or other online sources that aren’t necessarily books that you won’t have to pay for … There’s been points where I can’t afford textbooks. If (a professor’s) not mandatory with their books, I won’t always buy them,” Brogan said.

OER is a part of the solution, Jordan said. Now through Oct. 1, faculty at UNM can apply for a grant to use OER in their courses. Librarians will work with professors to help find content that is applicable to the class. That initial work, Jordan said, could be a deterrent for some professors.

“There’s a lot of work at the outset, designing the material for your class. But once that big push is done, it gets easier, but it is a lot of work at first,” Jordan said.

Compared to teaching off a textbook, Jordan said using OER gives faculty more liberty in the decision-making process of what texts or resources are used in the class, rather than being bound to a single book.

According to Jordan, the amount of resources available has grown significantly since she worked on an OER in 2015 – a trend she anticipates will continue.

“It does take more work to adopt or adapt the material. But it also gives faculty more control over their content. So, for example, you decide when you want to revise the materials for your course,” Jordan said.

Brogan said he hadn’t heard of the OER program specifically in any of his classes, but would like to see how the program develops.

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“That would definitely help out education as a whole for people that can’t afford things like textbooks. That’s the first time I’ve heard of this program. I’d be happy to see what comes up as it matures,” Brogan said.

Maddie Pukite is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at on Twitter @maddogpukite

EDITOR'S NOTE: 8/28/23 A prior version of this article stated faculty can apply for grants starting, Oct. 1 it has since been changed to through Oct. 1. 

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