Free Textbooks? SGA looks towards open source

Members of SGA have started working with Wallace Library staff this year in the hopes of making textbooks more affordable for Wheaton students. Textbooks are one of the main expenses that college students incur during their time at Wheaton. Since 2007, SGA has funnelled $5,000 a year to the library for a program that purchases classroom textbooks to keep on reserve. These reserves are available to all students, but many complain that they are not readily available, and can only be checked out for small periods at a time.

Student Government Association President Mary Sasso ’18 and Vice President Maya Benson ’18 are working on spreading awareness about the library’s reserve system. Currently, both professors and students can request any book they wish to be put on reserve, and the library must then purchase it. However, very few students are aware of this system.

“That conversation about reserved books turned into talking about open source materials, and how Wheaton can make it so that students don’t have to buy their own textbooks,” Sasso said. Open source materials are books and other academic materials, typically online, that colleges and schools make available to the whole student population, at no cost to the students. “The shift towards open source has already been happening in high schools. The majority of texts are online and therefore free to all students,” Benson said.

Sasso and Benson have been working with Interim Dean of Library Services Lauren Slingluff to identify potential funding sources to make this shift towards open source. “The initial shift will span multiple years and require a large faculty push. There are a lot of grant opportunities available, but we need to create incentives for professors to apply since they will have to pick up the slack,” Benson said. “But, if that happens, there’s the potentiality for students to come in and not have to buy books.”

“There’s a big link between students struggling in the first few weeks and them waiting to make sure they have the money to buy their books. It’s a class and finance oriented issue, and that shouldn’t be a barrier for student success. This initiative could be a big equalizer,” Sasso said.

“The end goal is super ambitious, but it’s certainly doable,” Benson said. Benson and Sasso hope to continue to raise awareness for this initiative, and to get both SGA and the student population as a whole on board.