Texas A&M librarians are working toward securing more free textbooks for students while allowing thousands of research papers to be read by the public, marking two goals discussed at a weekend workshop aimed at encouraging open access initiatives at SEC schools.
The world of free online textbooks and open access publishing is foreign to some professors who are comfortable in assigning the same textbooks each semester, said David Carlson, dean of the Texas A&M University Libraries.
"What we find is some faculty get used to the textbooks," he said. "They can be using them for years and they like it. So it's easy to reassign it every year."
Meanwhile, students are paying an average of $1,200 per year for textbooks, according to a 2014 study from the Student Public Interest Research Group. Nearly half of the students surveyed said the cost of textbooks impacted how many classes and which classes they chose to take each semester.
The issue was one of several addressed at a three-day workshop hosted by Texas A&M University Libraries after a proposal from staff won the first-ever SEC Academic Collaboration Award and a $25,000 grant, which was used to pay workshop expenses. The workshop was attended by student representatives and librarians from SEC schools.
Carlson said he wants to mimic a University of Minnesota program in which teachers were paid to review online textbooks. Payment was given whether the review was positive or negative.
"They found when faculty members take a good, long look at open textbooks, about 40 percent, almost 50 percent, adopt the open textbook for a class," Carlson said.
While free textbooks for students might sound like a bad deal for the experts writing them, several states and organizations provide grant funding for authors said Sarah Potvin, a digital scholarship librarian at A&M.
The workshop also addressed professors making their research accessible online to the public. While some research journals allow anyone to access articles free of charge, others require a subscription or a fee. And while more access means new policies and tools will have to be developed, Bruce Herbert, director of Digital Services and Scholarly Communications for Texas A&M University Libraries, said it's worth it.
"A&M has lots of research with lots of implications on societal problems or issues that can improve our economy and education," he said. "We need to share that research freely so people have access to it."
Potvin said she's published articles in both open access and more traditional journals. In both scenarios, her articles are peer reviewed, but she's only able to email the open access articles to everyone.
Research has shown articles published in open access tend to be cited more, Potvin said. She's seen more attention to her open access articles on social media.
Potvin said that the quality of the research and the textbooks will remain excellent as open access becomes more popular.
"The idea isn't how do we take these expensive resources and swap them for readily-available but not up-to-par resources," she said. "We heard at the workshop about developing education resources that are as good as, and better than, these horrifically priced textbooks."