The Soaring Cost of Textbooks – What’s the Answer?

Textbooks are very expensive and represent a growing segment of the costs for a student to attend a college or university. According to a report of the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) published in 2014, textbook costs have gone up 82% during the last decade. The study found that the average student spends more than $1100 a year on textbooks. Because of the high cost, some students forego buying required textbooks for classes, thus putting their academic success in jeopardy. Of those 65% who reported that they did not purchase a required text because of cost, 94% of them indicated it hurt them academically.

While the price of individual textbooks varies greatly, depending on subject matter and many other factors, the National Association of College Stores (NACS) reported that the average cost of a textbook in 2011-2012 was $68 dollars. Since textbook costs are increasing three to four times faster than the rate of inflation, that average price will have increased substantially in today’s market. For some classes, the cost of an average textbook will be far above the general average. On the NACS FAQ on textbooks, they reported that students estimated spending an average of $370 on required course materials during the fall 2013 term.

Students and faculty at USFSP frequently ask the Library to purchase textbooks and put copies on Reserve. Unfortunately, the Library lacks the funding to be able to do this. The Library’s budget for buying all books has not gone up in a decade, even though the cost of buying books has gone up 49% in that same time period (according to data provided by YBP Library Services, a vendor that supplies books to thousands of academic libraries around the world). Much as the Library would like to accommodate the requests to purchase textbooks, the cost would be prohibitive and would further diminish our declining ability to buy the materials that are needed to support the academic programs of the University.

What, then, is the solution for our students at USF St. Petersburg? The Poynter Library has had discussions with USFSP Student Government leaders for the past several years to develop partial subsidies of a Library Reserves textbook program. So far, those discussions have not borne fruit.

USPIRG, the Student Public Interest Research Groups (SPIRGs) and others are now advocating the adoption of open textbooks. While students can save substantially through options like renting textbooks, buying used books, and bookswaps on campus, open access textbooks are seen as the long-term solution by many groups. SPIRG has produced an Affordable Textbooks Policy Guide that advocates for faculty to make use of and contribute to the creation of open textbooks and for their institutions to support them in this effort. As the SPIRG Policy Guide notes, “Not only are open textbooks more accessible, but they have the potential to save students $100 on average, per course, per semester. If every student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison were assigned just one open textbook each semester, it would generate over $6 million in student savings in just one year.” (see the full report at http://studentpirgs.org/sites/student/files/reports/POLICY%20GUIDE%20-%20Affordable%20Textbooks.pdf) There are currently hundreds of open textbooks available for use. Projects such as the Textbook Affordability Project are working to identify high-quality open textbooks from which faculty can choose.

Open textbooks are one aspect of the broader Open Access movement that the Library has been working to promote through annual programs and through the USFSP Digital Archive. In a previous blog posting (Open Sesame), I provided Peter Suber’s definition of open access literature as:

  • digital
  • online
  • free of charge, and
  • free of most copyright and licensing restrictions

This fall, the Poynter Library will be celebrating Open Access Week October 20-26, 2014. Either during that week or at some other point this fall, the Poynter Library will be working with students, faculty, and other interested parties to discuss textbook costs and possible solutions. Check in with the Library after the fall semesters starts for updates.

Resetting NetIDs

Berrie Watson, Head of Systems and Digital Technology of the Poynter Library, has informed me that we have had multiple students ask to have their NetIDs reset recently.

As long as the students answer their challenge questions correctly, we are able to help them with this at the WebExpress units near the front door or the stand-up computer at the Service Desk. However if the student cannot successfully answer their challenge questions, the online reset will not work for them.

When students have then called the USF helpdesk, they have been given the response “Go to the library, they can reset the NetID in person there”.

This is true only in the USF Tampa library. Although the Poynter Library has repeatedly asked for authorization to be able to assist students with this, the Tampa IT group will only trust a designated IT staff member to help with this issue. In Tampa, there is an IT Help Desk located within the Library. There is no such Tampa-approved IT help desk in the Poynter Library.

It is unfortunate that the Poynter Library – which provides the only open-use computing lab for USFSP and has the widest range of hours of availability — is not permitted to perform the service.

Any students who need help resetting their NetIDs following a failure to answer their challenge questions directly must either call USFSP’s Campus Computing (3-help) or the Tampa IT helpdesk at 974-9000. Any questions about this should be directed to Berrie Watson http://lib.usfsp.edu/staff-member/berrie-watson/

Data Management

For the past few years, USFSP faculty have grown accustomed to hearing about the Open Access movement from me as Dean and other Poynter Library faculty. The movement in support of open access to scholarship is based on the premise that research conducted in whole or in part with public money should be available to the tax-paying public without barriers. The Poynter Library’s primary means of supporting open access has been through the establishment of the USFSP Digital Archive, in particular the collections highlighting student and faculty research and scholarship. We have been promoting faculty research and scholarship by establishing digital portfolios in the Digital Archive for all faculty members who gives us their CVs. We investigate copyright restrictions on past publications, we create records in the Digital Archive for all articles and other creative output that faculty want highlighted, we add in full-text of articles where possible and abstracts and proxied links where copyright restrictions do not allow full-text, and we help faculty review their publishers’ agreements so that they retain as much control as possible over their intellectual property.

Our latest endeavor to assist faculty with their research is in the realm of data management. The Open Access movement is growing to include data. In a policy memorandum released 2/22/13, OSTP Director John Holdren directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans not only to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication but also to require researchers to account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research. In spring 2014, a group of library faculty, with my support, wrote an internal research grant to investigate the University’s compliance mechanisms for data management at USFSP and suggest modifications. Later in the fall, the Library will be organizing a faculty forum with an expert speaker to discuss the issue and help all faculty prepare for the new requirements from granting agencies. Stay tuned here or contact me or your library liaison for more information.

Therapy Dogs International

Since December 12, 2012, the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library has hosted a visit once or twice a semester from Therapy Dogs International, the Pinellas County chapter.

The initial visit was suggested by Dr. Norine Noonan, then Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of USFSP and ardent dog lover, trainer and dog show judge. Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, other institutions and wherever else therapy dogs are needed. TDI often visits schools and universities as a way of providing stress relief for students during mid-terms and finals.

On April 28, at the start of USFSP’s official finals week for the spring semester, volunteers and their trained dogs made their seventh visit to the Poynter Library. The library was very busy with students studying for finals and working on projects and many students stopped by to relax with the dogs and their owners and get a little stress relief. The event is always one of the most popular events that the Library hosts for students.


To see all the images of the latest visit from Therapy Dogs International, visit the photo album for the visit on the Library’s Facebook page.

Public universities confront changes

Ithaka S+R has completed a study on behalf of Lumina Foundation to understand the growing but contested role of technology-enhanced education at public flagship universities. The findings, summarized in a brief report produced by Deanna Marcum, are very interesting and uncover a growing disconnect between what universities are doing and how students are approaching their education, as discussed by Bryan Alexander in his blog post on the topic.

For my part, I was most interested in the issues surrounding faculty uptake of new technologies, as noted by Marcum in her report:

“Faculty time is probably the most significant impediment to integrating technology into the classroom. Faculty obligations toward research often take precedence over their other activities, which include pursuing any type of teaching initiative. Because integrating technology into the classroom requires more time and attention than traditional forms of instruction, the opportunity cost is quite high. The additional effort required by an online course includes time to deconstruct a course and rethink its approach and delivery, to learn about the latest trends in technological tools and applications that might be relevant to the course, and to create the online and digital materials. Online courses are new to many, and so there is also a learning curve that does not exist for methods that are familiar. The additional effort required by an online course includes time to deconstruct a course and rethink its approach and delivery, to learn about the latest trends in technological tools and applications that might be relevant to the course, and to create the online and digital materials.

A common consequence of these time constraints on tenured and tenure-track faculty is that non-tenure-track faculty are the major initiators of technology-enhanced education. As a way to deal with the limited time and multiple roles of faculty, a number of departments have hired lecturers to help support the teaching loads. Nearly all of the universities in this study have, whenever possible, moved away from adjuncts (who have been traditionally hired by rapidly-growing departments facing heavy student demands for introductory courses) to professional teachers under contract for a fixed period of multiple years who feel more connected to the university and to the students. These semi-permanent lecturers, or instructors, often have a great deal of interest in pedagogy, more time, and more of an incentive to develop innovative teaching than research faculty. Accordingly, they appear to be responsible for developing many of the online courses at institutions we visited.”

The summary Technology to the Rescue is very brief and worth reading.

Expect More

In the 2014 Ithaka S & R briefing paper on “Leveraging the Liaison Model,” Anne Kenney, the University Librarian at Cornell University, discusses what is needed from academic libraries today. She notes, “In an age where some members of the academic community question the value and expense of a library or maintain antiquated notions of what a library does, it is our challenge to make them expect more and to deliver the expertise, services, and resources that will be differentiators in their academic lives. We should seek less to answer the question of how to build 21st century research libraries and direct more of our energies towards thinking about what kind of universities will succeed in the 21st century.”

The main point behind this for me is that universities are changing. As much as some people have been questioning the value of libraries for some time, they are now questioning the need for universities in a way that has not been seen before. Public universities are especially under the gun, needing to be highly accountable to state legislatures and to the general public. We in the academy have a critical need to explain what we do and why it’s important. We are perceived by many as residing in a privileged ivory tower. The value of research can be an especially tough sell to the public. Tenure is often misunderstood and unpopular and academic freedom is poorly understood.

There is a growing sense that universities must provide a good return on the investment (ROI) made in them. There is concern over student debt, retention of students, graduation rates and years to completion, and for students to find meaningful employment following graduation. Governors, legislatures, the Department of Education, and accrediting bodies are weighing in on curriculum and what will provide good ROI in higher education. Many states are setting general education standards because they believe they are more in tune with what the state and the students need from higher education than we in the academy are. Universities are not always viewed as being good stewards of public monies.

The point of view espoused by Anne Kenney and others is one I share and that I believe the Poynter Library faculty and staff embody. I believe that we in the Library must expect more of ourselves and of our role in the University, and the faculty and administration must also expect more of what we can and should do. Not in the sense of just taking on more and more but in the sense of thinking of the library as an active partner, fully engaged in the success of the university in all its endeavors. We are partners in supporting the entire research cycle, in assisting other faculty in preparing students to be successful lifelong learners, in utilizing technology effectively to transform the academy, in building bridges between disciplines and across traditional divides, in being models of inclusion and diversity. Libraries should play an active role in recruiting students and then working with other campus partners to ensure that their experience is so rewarding and successful that they complete their degrees and go on to find meaningful lives and careers after graduation. We must be actively engaged with the community beyond the campus, playing a key role in strengthening and building a wide range of partnerships. We have expertise and skills that go far beyond what many think a library can – or should — be.

The role of an academic library in the modern university is complex and evolving. We are the Gateway to the World’s Information, not only providing access to rich collections of primary and secondary resources but also in helping our students and faculty navigate the increasingly complex world of scholarly communication. We provide new, technology-rich spaces for collaboration. We support the entire research cycle. We are interdisciplinary experts, helping students and faculty connect the dots between and across disciplines. By principle and training, libraries model diversity and inclusion in the collections we build, the exhibits we host, the talks we sponsor and, hopefully, the way we conduct ourselves. Libraries should be safe havens for exploration and discovery for people from all backgrounds and from all points of view. We often lead the way in the innovative use of technology; monitoring technology trends and seeking to test and apply new technologies across all disciplines is something that we do almost without thinking. We support teaching in all modalities, face-to-face or online.

By ourselves, we can’t cover all the bases of what our students and faculty need. But we are here for the common good, we know how to collaborate effectively (just look at the success of interlibrary loans, as one example), and we have wide-ranging expertise that should be tapped as a matter of course. We are ready, willing, and more than able to take part in the conversations and the planning to help our university be successful in providing an excellent education and life-changing experience for all of our students.

Annual Meeting of Society for Advancement of Poynter Library

On April 24, 2014 the Society for Advancement of Poynter Library (SAPL) held its annual reception from 4:30-6:00 in the Poynter Corner of the Library. The Society was established in 1984 with the “primary function the providing of direct financial aid to the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg … for the purchase of books, periodicals, library equipment and furnishings for use in the Library, capital improvements, [and] program support.” Over the years, the generous support of SAPL members has helped the library obtain books, furniture and equipment, and has occasionally subsidized specialized training and workshops for library staff when other funds were not available. SAPL donates funds for the yearly purchase of notable new fiction for the Poynter Library collection and contributes as well to the library’s Special Collections. SAPL also serves as an advocate for the library with the broader community.

The featured speaker was local historian and Special Collections Librarian, Jim Schnur, who regaled the group with a whirlwind presentation of “Memories of St Petersburg through Time.” His presentation and the 200 historical and current images he selected told the story of the development of St. Petersburg from the earliest days, through the troubled Jim Crow days, to today’s strong economic and cultural development.

Jim discussed his upcoming book, the proceeds of which are designated entirely to support the Poynter Library’s digital collections fund. (To see the Library’s current digital collections, visit the USFSP Digital Archive at http://dspace.nelson.usf.edu/ ) While Jim entertained and educated the audience about the treasures in our Special Collections, I ended the evening by observing that the real treasure of the Library was Jim and his passion for history, archives, and helping USFSP students grow and succeed.

The audience – which included members of the family of library namesake Nelson Poynter – was enthralled and asked Jim if he was going to teach a class on local history. The Library has considered offering more such events but must rely on the contributions of donors to make this possible.

Anyone who would like to help the library in its mission to serve the students of USFSP is encouraged to visit the Library’s fundraising pages maintained by the USF Foundation at https://usfweb2.usf.edu/foundation/asp/ssl/adfdn/funds.asp?group=PL