Free Textbooks!

July 28, 2013

Every college student knows that the cost of textbooks can be exceedingly high. For a short but interesting discussion of this topic, check out this article. As you can see from the attached graphic (taken from the linked article), the cost of textbooks has risen much faster than the consumer price index (aka inflation). There are various reasons put forward to explain this, but whatever the cause the end result is that students are left paying very high prices which they often can’t afford.

Rising textbooks costs (see linked article for source).

Rising textbooks costs (see linked article for source).

What can you do about this as a student? There are a number of creative options which you can try with varying degrees of success, including obvious ones like buying second hand books. Another option, though, is to use a free book. More and more textbooks are showing up on the internet as freely distributed materials. Of course, some of these are pirated and illegally uploaded (and downloaded!) but many are specifically written and/or posted online as free.

In preparation for my upcoming statistics course, I did some looking around on the internet and found a site called OpenIntro. This organization was founded by a Harvard professor and a Google analyst with the aim of providing free, open source textbooks to students. It sounds too good to be true, but the site really does provide high quality educational texts free of charge, written specifically for OpenIntro. At the moment, the only free textbook is on statistics, but it is a well written, 400 page text authored by professors from Harvard and Duke universities, complete with graphics and problem sets. I currently use this book as the main textbook for my statistics course within the chemical and biosciences coop program. It can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF at the OpenIntro website. I recommend that anyone with an interest in stats have a look at the site and see what they think of the book. We can only hope that free open source textbooks are the way of the future! – Michael Judge.