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Open Textbooks

A basic introduction to open textbooks and their use.


Looking for an open textbook in your discipline? Start with the Open Textbook Library
The Open Textbook Library provides a list of peer-reviewed and openly-licensed textbooks that are currently in use at multiple higher educational institutions, or affiliated with a higher education institution, scholarly society, or professional organization.

question mark What are you interested in doing with open textbooks?

Find and Use: Find open textbook collections under "Where to Find Open Textbooks."

Adopt/Adapt: Want to assign an open textbook, or make adjustments/add to one currently available? Find its Creative Commons license, then adopt/adapt and share the work accordingly. Check out the OpenEd portal for more information.

Create: If you're an instructor wanting to create an open textbook, contact Rachel Caldwell, Scholarly Communication & Publishing Librarian.

Question Mark Are you already using an open textbook or other open educational resource (OER)? Tell us! 

Use this online form so the university can estimate overall student savings, and know which departments are making use of these resources. We'll also tell the Bookstore (VolShop), so they can tell students about print options for those that wish to purchase a bound copy.


The 2016-17 SGA Open Education Awards were given to UT instructors who chose to assign open textbooks, saving students over $135,000 in just one semester.

STUDENTSNominate an innovative instructor who is using open educational resources (OERs), including open textbooks, for the SGA Open Education Award! More information...

About Open Textbooks

What Are Open Textbooks?

Open textbooks are a type of open educational resource (OER). OERs are "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”1

They are available for free online, and come in a variety of subjects. Although open textbooks are born digital, students who prefer print books can print all pages themselves or request a printed and bound copy from the university bookstore or other retailer for a small fee.2

Why Do They Matter?

It is increasingly difficult for students to buy all their required textbooks. A national study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that "textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041% increase."3 In recent surveys, students report not buying required textbooks for some courses despite concern for their grades, using student loan money to purchase textbooks, and making course registration decisions based on textbook costs.4,5

Did you know that Tennessee law requires that "Faculty members consider the least costly practices in assigning  textbooks  and  course  materials,  such  as  adopting  the  least  expensive  edition  of  a  textbook  available  when  educational  content  is  comparable  to  a  more  costly  edition  as  determined  by  the  faculty  member …” (Tennessee Code §49-7-141)? 

Open textbooks can help improve student access to textbooks and, as a result, improve student success. Researchers recently studied "nearly 5,000 post-secondary students using OER and over 11,000 control students using commercial textbooks, distributed among ten institutions across the United States, enrolled in 15 different undergraduate courses. In three key measures of student success -- course completion, final grade of C- or higher, course grade -- students whose faculty chose OER generally performed as well or better than students whose faculty assigned commercial textbooks."5a Though studies also show that open textbooks save students money -- one report estimated student savings of over $1.5 million dollars-- adoption of open textbooks remains low.7 

Are They "Real" Textbooks?

The quality of open textbooks, like traditional textbooks, varies widely. Knowing reputable publishers can help. Some major universities have undertaken open textbook publishing initiatives, including Rice University's OpenStax, the State Univesity of New York (SUNY), and the University of British Columbia. Additionally, some open textbook collections, including the Open Textbook Library, include faculty reviews. These reviews can help ease and expedite decision-making when considering the adoption of an open textbook for a course.

Open textbooks offer several advantages. Whereas traditional textbooks often include data that can't be quickly updated, open textbooks are licensed to allow addition of material so that current information can be added to the text. Open textbooks are also licensed to be "remixed" so that information from a range of sources can be combined by instructors and shared with students.

In addition, while not all open textbooks include supplementary materials, some do. Related supplementary materials may also be available for free from an OER repository (such as, or may be available for a fee from other providers.

Not ready for an open textbook, or is one not available in your field? Instructors, place an extra copy of your textbook on course reserve in the library, making it available to individual students for loan periods of 2 to 24 hours.

Find Open Textbooks

Where to Find Open Textbooks

Open textbooks and supplementary materials are also available in repositories that include other kinds of OERs:

Open Textbooks in the News

Open Textbooks in the News

Open textbooks are a viable response to rising textbook prices, with more effective savings than renting textbooks, using e-books, and using e-readers combined.Read about open textbook initiatives that are making the news:

The University of Tennessee Libraries joined the Open Textbook Network, which "promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks,"9 in 2016. Through the network, librarians are learning about open textbook initiatives at other institutions to identify and explore options that make sense for UT.


1The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. "Open Educational Resources.”  Accessed June 14, 2016,

2Senack, Ethan. 2014. "Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives." The Student PIRGs, January 2014. Accessed June 12, 2016,

3Popken, Ben. 2015. “College Textbook Prices Have Risen 1,041 Percent Since 1977." NBC, August 6. Accessed June 12, 2016,

4(Senack 2014, 12)

5Senack, Ethan. 2016. "Covering the Cost: Why We can No Longer Afford to Ignore High Textbook Prices." The Student PIRGs, February 2016. Accessed July 24, 2016,

5aFischer, Lane, John Hilton III, T. Jared Robinson, and David A. Wiley. "A Multi-Institutional Study of the Impact of Open Textbook Adoption on the Learning Outcomes of Post-Secondary Students," Journal of Computing in Higher Education 27 (2015): 159-172. Accessed May 26, 2017, doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x.

6Schaffhauser, Dian. 2015. “Open Textbook Network Saves Students $1.5 Million, Inspires OER Senate Bill.” Campus Technology, October 27, Accessed June 15, 2016,

7Allen, Elaine and Jeff Seaman. 2016. Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16.Babson Park, MA: Babson Survey Research Group. Accessed July 25, 2016,

8Allen, Nicole. 2010. “A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are the Path to Textbook Affordability.” The Student PIRGs, September. Accessed July 10, 2016,

9 The Open Textbooks Network. "Impact and Benfits." Accessed June 14, 2016

10(Senack 2016, 5)

11Wiley, David. 2014. “The Access Compromise and the 5th R, Open Content (blog), March 5.