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St. Clair County Community College Library

Textbooks and course materials

This guide provides and overview of the types of content that faculty may consider utilizing in their courses.

Textbooks and other course materials are an essential tool for any instructor. The recent proliferation of content types and access models can make navigating the selection of appropriate resources a challenge. SC4 library has created this guide to support faculty in understanding the options available to them, define content types and content models, and communicate some potential benefits and challenges of each. 

Alternatives to traditional textbooks

SC4 faculty can address textbook affordability through the creative selection of class resources. 

Open Access Texts

Open access textbooks are openly licensed books that mimic a traditional textbook, aside from the licensing.These books are available freely online and print copies are often available for purchase at a reasonable cost. More and more, supplemental resources for instructors are becoming available for these texts.

University Press and Trade books

University Presses publish high quality texts that are often more reasonably priced--the same can be true of scholarly associations and some small academic or technical publishers that specialize in a particular subject area. Trade books are usually less expensive than traditional texts and may work well for some classes.

Library ebooks

SC4 Library purchases and subscribes to more than 800,000 unique ebook titles. 

Online Articles

SC4 Library subscribes to over 65,000 electronic journals, and indexes many open access publications as well. 

Open Educational Resources

In addition to open access books and journals, there are many forms of openly licensed resources available, including open courseware, syllabi, images, videos, learning objects, and learning platforms. 

When deciding on course materials, consider...


  • Does the content meet standards of accessibility set by the college and its accrediting bodies?
  • Is the method of content presentation appropriate for all learners in your class?
  • Does the material accommodate learners with diverse learning styles?


  • What is the total cost of access per student per course?
  • Is a used option or rental option available at a lower cost?
  • Can a student sell back the materials at the end of the semester?
  • What variation in cost models are available?
  • What models/format is the bookstore willing to stock?
  • Who is paying for the material?
  • Can students use financial aid to pay for?
  • Is there a cost associated with providing instructors access to the materials?
  • Will students be required to purchase specific technology (or have specifically updated technology) to access the materials?

Format & Flexibility

  • Does the format fit the course setting? 
  • Can the content be integrated into course management systems?
  • Can you change the format of the content? Is it available in multiple formats?
  • Do you have permissions to adapt content to meet the needs of your students?


  • What are the Terms of Use required to utilize the resource?
  • Does the licensing allow for reuse, modification, or adaptation of the materials?
  • Does the use retain ownership of the materials after the course is complete?
  • Does the faculty member retain access to content after the course is complete?

Quality of content

  • Relevance and appropriateness to course 
  • Accuracy of information presented
  • Authority of authors
  • Currency of information presented
  • Quality of production
  • Quality and consistency of platform, associated documentation, and support. 


  • How completely does this material meet or match the goals of the course or intended learning outcome?
  • Does the material provide an interesting and engaging experience for the student?
  • How does the student interact with the material?
  • Is the content east to get to, navigate, and browse?
  • Is the platform or format compatibile with most technologies? 

On Textbook affordability

The estimated average cost for books and supplies for 2 year college students for 2018-2019 was $1,440.[College Board summary report]

65% of students decided not to purchase a text when the price was too high--and a majority of those students were "significantly concerned" that not purchasing the text would harm their performance. [2013 Survey by Public Interest Research Group]

From 1978 - 2005, textbook prices rose at rates higher than new home prices, and even higher than medical expenses. [BLS] 

From 2002-2012 textbook prices rose 82%, tuition and fees 89%, and general consumer prices 28%. [GAO based on BLS data]

The effects on students are severe: Frequently texts for even 100-200 level classes fall in the $100-300 range, presenting a formidable barrier for low income students. 

Many students immediately fall behind, while waiting for financial aid payments or for a cheaper text ordered online to arrive.

Some use out-of-date previous editions or cheaper foreign editions, which may omit content found in U.S. editions.

Many students attempt the courses without a text, relying solely on lecture notes. Others postpone courses due to expenses.

In U.S.PIRG's 2013 poll, "nearly half of all students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks impacted how many/which classes they took each semester." 

Students report emotional stress related to acquiring textbooks: “It’s not just a massive economic cost, but it’s also a massive mental cost. Oftentimes you don’t know what textbooks you need up until the very first day of class. Trying to scrounge … to find a book you can afford if your budget is pennies on the dollar can be very mentally taxing.”[source]

If we can lower the textbook expense barrier, more students may succeed, we can relieve some student (and faculty) stress, and we may improve time to graduation rates.

A note about academic freedom

SC4 Library recognizes and appreciates faculty rights and responsibilities in reviewing and selecting appropriate resources for their courses. The purpose of this guide is to provide information, context and support for faculty during the materials selection process. 

affordable materials

Affordable course materials: understanding your options