How much money did you spend on textbooks?

In March 2018 the Libraries' Alt-Textbook Project team placed whiteboards in the D. H. Hill Jr. and Hunt libraries with the question "How much money did you spend on textbooks?" Students answered.


Student-generated and annotated chart of textbook costs per semester

The NCSU Libraries has at least one copy of all required textbooks on reserve for students to use for short periods. The popularity of this service among students is unquestionable. But several members of the Libraries’  Alt-Textbook Project team wondered what kind of pain the textbook lending program was offsetting: back pain? financial pain? or both? That is, we wanted to know if students were borrowing textbooks instead of or in addition to buying them. And, when they were buying textbooks, how much they were spending per semester?

Inspired by a #textbookbroke project at Virginia Commonwealth University, NCSU Libraries staff decided to poll our students on this topic, at the very point where they borrow library textbooks: the Ask Us desks at the D. H. Hill and Hunt libraries.

We printed two posters, attached them to whiteboards, provided colored stickers and markers, and walked away. The students did the rest.

Reserve a Room grid on desktop

What we learned

The voluntarily-supplied data revealed that students say that textbook lending saves their wallets more than their backs at a 3:1 ratio. And the amount students spent during the Spring 2018 semester on textbooks varied wildly, from $0 to over $1,000! Students also used the supplied markers to volunteer many of their strategies for avoiding high textbook costs, including borrowing from friends, buying used or international copies, and even finding PDF downloads online.

In addition to being a tool to learn more about how students view the textbook market, the Libraries’ Alt Textbook project team hopes that this can be part of a larger conversation about Open Educational Resources and the impact the cost of textbooks has on student success.

How We Did It

We printed posters, attached them to whiteboards, and placed them in the lobby of the D. H. Hill Library and near the Ask Us desk at the Hunt Library. Students did the rest.

Reserve a Room grid on desktop

August 2019 Update

a graph showing the amount of money students spent on textbooks this semester