California lawmaker seeks to create open-source library

Online texts offered by many publishers have slashed prices as much as 60 percent from the traditional print editions.

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Dec. 13 that he will push for legislation to create an online open-source library to reduce the cost of course materials for college students across the state.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the average student spends $1,300 a year on textbooks, a figure his staff said is based on projections the University of California, California State University, and community college systems provide to students for budgeting purposes.

Under his proposal, materials for 50 common lower division courses would be developed and posted online for free student access. Ordering a paper copy would cost $20, compared to the $200-plus price tag carried by some books.

Steinberg plans to seek $25 million to create his proposed Open Education Resources system, with some funding going towards soliciting course material contributions from academics, nonprofits, Silicon Valley developers, and the book publishing industry to be shared freely within the system.

A new council of faculty leaders from the California public higher-education system would be tasked with selecting the courses for the first round of open-source textbook development and reviewing and approving the materials added to the library.

“There would be no mandate for faculty to use these books, but when given a more affordable, a possibly free option that does not sacrifice quality, they will do the right thing for students,” Steinberg said.

The book publishing industry bristles at complaints of rising costs, arguing that advances in the digital realm have already reduced the cost of books for students nationwide.