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Open-Access Textbooks Are A(n Awesome) Thing

Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

Traditional college textbooks are, to say the least, problematic. Many students can’t afford even introductory-level texts, which can cost hundreds of dollars, and college textbook pricing represents a serious barrier for first-generation and low-income students. Luckily, open-access textbooks, which are written and reviewed by accredited volunteers and made freely available on the Internet, represent a free, high-quality option that works for everybody. In fact, one of my favorite database engineering textbooks, Database Design by Watt and Eng, is free and open forever! Check out these sources for open-access textbooks to continue your own education or make your class accessible to all economic strata.


This resource is structured to the gills, so expect to poke around a little. That said, it’s a great institution with an amazing selection of books. To start, roll over “Explore The Libraries.” As in the case of many of these resources, LibreTexts is an aggregator that may pull books from many other resources, meaning that you may both see repeats and encounter new books. There’s also a section just for open textbooks in Spanish!

Favorite find: Introduction to Botany by Alexey Shipunov


Merlot hosts over 400 unique open textbook selections, which is part of the reason why you see it used so much in college classrooms. It also means you’ll encounter material beyond your standard “Intro To XYZ” freshman starter pack. Also, I just love the interface. Not only can you get free textbooks, but it’s a rich resource for all kinds of free, high-quality educational materials on the Web—think Harvard Extension videos and entire recorded courses.

Favorite find: Philosophy of Computer Science by William J. Rapaport

Open Educational Resources Commons

This is the mother lode. It may be the most comprehensive open textbook resource on the Web. This isn’t to say that it has everything—every year there’s another college or professor that hosts their own open-access textbook—but it’s a darn good place to start.

Favorite find: Beginning Japanese For Professionals, Book 1 by Emiko Konomi

You, Writing by GlynnOpen Textbook Library

I love the quirky stuff I always seem to find here. Every little college across the nation and a huge handful of earnest professors publish open-source textbooks now, and the eclectic bunch seems to end up right here.

Favorite find: You, Writing! A Guide To College Composition by Alexandra Glynn


Want a Canadian-focused open-access textbook collection? Look no further! Though this collection be tightly curated, it be mighty, especially if you’re trying to learn history in the wintry north. As with all of these collections, this is an aggregator with a particular range and curation.

Favorite find: From MSA to CA: A Beginner’s Guide for Transitioning into Colloquial Arabic by Lina Gomaa


My goodness, do these guys have cover design down! Also introductory textbooks and rigorous collective authorship and review. If you need a basic, competent college or AP physics text, this is the place. It’s a small but potent collection that will suit your 101 class.

Favorite find: Calculus, Volume 1 by Gilbert Strang et al.

OpenSUNY Textbooks

Full disclosure: I’m a SUNY alum, so I’ve got a soft spot for this nascent platform of open-access textbooks. The browsing interface is less intuitive than some of the others we’ve reviewed, and not all of the open textbooks are available to read online, but it’s got some useful information nonetheless. More than a few of these books don’t turn up anywhere else. Plus, you can browse by SUNY affiliation!

Favorite find: Introduction to the Modeling and Analysis of Complex Systems by Hiroki Sayama

Intro to Art by Sachant and BloodUniversity of Minnesota Open Textbook Library

The really nice thing about this site is that they give you a sneak preview of upcoming textbooks. (I like to read textbooks. So sue me.) The “In Development” column on the right of the screen helps hype some great upcoming features from across the academic world, and the collection itself is a wonderful resource for all types of college textbooks.

Favorite find: Introduction to Art: Design, Context, and Meaning by Pamela Sachant and Peggy Blood

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