UB students save money with electronic textbooks

Darwinson Valdez pictured in the Silverman Library.

UB's new e-textbook initiative has made affording textbooks easier for students like Darwinson Valdez.

Digital textbooks allow libraries to take a more active role in the textbook market

Release Date: April 18, 2013 This content is archived.

“The e-textbook initiative has the potential to make education at UB more affordable and improve student learning and success at the same time. ”
H. Austin Booth, vice provost for university libraries

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Darwinson Valdez figures he shaved $200 off the cost of textbooks this semester. Yet unlike his peers, some who don’t buy textbooks at all due their cost, the cash-strapped senior acquired everything his professors asked him to read.


Valdez is enrolled in a new University at Buffalo Libraries program that makes electronic textbooks, also known as e-textbooks or digital textbooks, available to hundreds of students at no cost. The effort, which has the potential to save students money and boost their grades, reflects changing dynamics that make it easier for university libraries provide textbooks to students.

“Some students simply cannot afford to buy all the textbooks required for their classes,” said H. Austin Booth, vice provost for university libraries. “The e-textbook initiative has the potential to make education at UB more affordable and improve student learning and success at the same time.”

UB Libraries launched the program last fall by offering e-textbooks in five courses. Roughly 800 students participated. It switched gears this semester, opening the program to roughly 300 students in the university’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which supports students who have educational, economic or personal hardships.

Valdez doesn’t consider himself disadvantaged, however, his parents divorced when he was young. With his mother as his sole caretaker, Valdez grew up in the Dominican Republic and The Bronx and before landing at UB where he is majoring in political science and philosophy.

He signed up for the e-textbook program this semester and liked what he saw. UB Libraries buys access to the textbooks and makes them available online via computer, tablet, smartphone or e-reader to students.

“A lot of the books that I needed were available,” Valdez said. “I think I probably saved $200 this semester.”

Other students in the program could save even more money, Booth said.

According to a 2008 report from the New York State Comptroller’s office, freshmen in New York’s public colleges and universities pay $400 to $800 each semester for textbooks. Other studies suggest that 70 percent of college students have, at some point, decided against purchasing a textbook due to its cost, and that 15 percent do not buy textbooks at all.

Traditionally, UB Libraries has played a marginal role in the provision of textbooks to students. The multiple copies needed combined with high prices and frequent new editions made the practice cost-prohibitive, Booth said. E-textbooks offer an alternative, she said, essentially allowing students to “rent” access to textbooks instead of buying them.

UB Libraries will offer the program next academic year and, afterward, prepare a report based upon ongoing surveys that seek to determine how useful it is, Booth said. So far, student opinion is mixed. Some enjoy e-textbooks while others struggle to remain focused when reading from the computer.

The e-textbook program is part of an in-house grant initiative at UB started by President Satish K. Tripathi called the “3 E Fund” – the “3 E’s” stand for excellence, engagement and efficiency. The grant program, which funds everything from bioinformatics research to creating a center for excellence in writing, aims to make UB one of the nation’s premier public research universities.

“We are committed to making UB a top-tier research university that provides its students a world-class education,” said A. Scott Weber, PhD, senior vice provost for academic affairs at UB. “And we’re also committed to making that educational experience affordable, especially for financially disadvantaged students.”

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