Library campaign shares students’ stories about course material affordability

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Geneva Henry, the dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation, said students will write on the postcards about the sacrifices they have made to afford course materials.

GW Libraries staff are encouraging professors to adopt and use more affordable course materials through a new campaign.

Gelman Library staff launched a “Postcard Campaign” at the start of this semester to offer students the chance to create cards detailing their struggles with affording textbooks and other course items by showing other items they could have purchased, like food, with the money spent on course materials. Gelman officials said the postcards will raise awareness about textbook affordability and open educational resources, which are free to access and use.

Geneva Henry, the dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation, said staff is asking students to complete postcards at the beginning of the semester about what sacrifices they have made to afford course materials and how the money could have been spent. Staff is promoting the campaign at Gelman and outside the Marvin Center, she said.

“The GW Libraries and Academic Innovation are committed to increasing affordability for students at GW,” Henry said in an email.

Some of the students in the campaign wrote on their postcards that more affordable textbooks would help them save money, work fewer hours at their jobs and allow them to allocate more money toward food.

Henry said students are also including in the postcards requests for their professors to transition to cheaper course materials, like less expensive textbooks, and to stop assigning expensive access codes for materials.

The library’s Twitter account has been using the hashtag #TextbookBroke to spread the campaign to members of the GW community.

She said GW Libraries’ Open Educational Resources and Top Textbooks team, which acquires up to five copies of books required by certain high enrollment classes for students to use for free, is “coordinating with GW” and national representatives from non-profit organizations focused on course material affordability to assist students in advocating for cheaper course materials.

“We believe that student communication with their instructors about the impact of high textbook prices, paired with professional assistance in finding lower cost alternatives, including using open educational resources, will motivate many faculty members to reconsider expensive textbooks and access codes and adopt more affordable course materials,” Henry said.

She said the postcards will be presented to faculty at the end of the semester along with resources facilitating the transition to cheaper course materials to “support them in switching to open educational resources.”

Paige Valego, a freshman majoring in dance, said she participated in the campaign after she was approached by Gelman staff and asked if she paid too much for textbooks.

“I paid $400 for my books last semester when instead I could have had more than $13 a day for food,” she said.

She said the campaign is “a good idea,” adding that officials could do more to promote student involvement in it.

“A lot of people don’t stop until someone says, ‘Hey, can you do this?’ when you’re on your way in and out somewhere,” she said. “I feel like they need a more effective campaign strategy.”

Academic libraries experts said the trend of universities adopting open educational resources and participating in library consortia, which share materials at a reduced cost to each individual library, are on the rise, and the postcard campaign adds a personal element to the affordability issue.

Adriene Lim, the dean of libraries at the University of Maryland, said Gelman staff’s efforts to help students with course material costs are “impressive,” adding that the library serves as a model for others to follow suit.

“They demonstrate yet again the valuable impact a university library system can achieve within its campus community – in this case, by enhancing student success and college affordability,” Lim said in an email.

Jimmy Ghaphery, the associate university librarian for scholarly communications and publishing at Virginia Commonwealth University, said students can take a more proactive role in confronting the costs of course materials by becoming directly involved in projects like the postcard campaign.

“The postcard campaign is especially innovative in grounding the advocacy with student voices,” he said. “I look forward to hearing about the results.”

He said that while the financial side of the issue for students is serious and needs to be tackled, the emphasis on students’ success in class needs to be included in the discussion as well. He said studies have shown that more expensive textbooks have adversely affected students’ performance in their classes.

“The goal is not for students to have more or less money but for students to succeed,” Ghaphery said.

Anne Osterman, the director of the Virtual Library of Virginia, said libraries are increasingly becoming more of a resource and a gathering place for students and faculty to work toward common goals like course material affordability.

“They are hubs for connecting, and I think that has become a really natural fit to then help affordability for students in a variety of ways,” she said. “They have become leaders in open textbooks and open course content work because of those ways they can bring people together and centralize resources for campuses.”

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