Â Â Â One of the most consistent complaints students have about university is the outrageous cost of textbooks. In a few years, however, most textbooks could well be available for under $25 — and printed right on campus.
Â Â Â The University of Saskatchewan is currently considering adopting a system of open access publishing that would allow students to use free academic works available on the Internet instead of the costly textbooks currently required for most classes.Â
If the university embraces open access, students would be able to view texts for free online or have them printed for a fraction of the cost of existing textbooks.
Â Â Â To that end, the U of S Bookstore is looking at buying its own book printing machine.
Â Â Â The Espresso Book Machine, made by New York based On Demand Books, is a self-contained book-making machine and costs up to $130,000. It prints over 100 pages per second and binds a professional book “indistinguishable from their factory made versions,” according to the On Demand Books website.
An on-demand printing machine would allow students to choose what works they want printed and walk away minutes later with a brand new textbook in hand — saving lots of money at the same time.
Â Â Â Espresso Book Machines are already in use at bookstores and libraries around the world, including at the University of Alberta and at McGill University in Montreal.
Â Â Â Before any equipment is purchased, however, the university still needs to adopt an open access policy. Open access is not firmly defined, but it entails making academic works freely available without restrictions on how people distribute, transmit or display the work. This in turn allows students and professors to download free texts from the Internet and only pay for the printing.
Â Â Â Daniel McCullough, University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union vice-president academic affairs, has been pushing for open access for the last year and is very close to seeing it become official university policy. He says there has been a lot of enthusiasm on campus from faculty as well as administration.
Â Â Â “A lot of people who are in upper administration… have all been in favour of open access at the University of Saskatchewan,” he said.
Â Â Â The enthusiasm is understandable. After all, faculty would also benefit from open access publishing, because publishing their work is important professionally, if also expensive.
Â Â Â “That’s how, in the academy, your career advances. How many times are you cited? How many times are you published?” said McCullough. “And that’s what open access really allows, is increased citation, increased publishing and increased access to information.”
Â Â Â McCullough is confident that students will embrace open access as well, if only for the economic benefits.
Â Â Â “The cost for the students, for accessing work online, is nothing…. The cost to students for having a textbook is the cost of production, which is basically $20 to $25,” he said.
Â Â Â McCullough has been working with an e-text task force for the better part of a year, drafting open access recommendations for the university.Â
Â Â Â To reach fruition, their recommendations will need to earn the approval of a series of administrative bodies. First, the Academic Support Committee of University Council, then they will go to University Council, which will then forward them to the University Board of Governors for final approval.
Â Â Â If the open access recommendations survive this bureaucratic circle-jerk, they could potentially become university policy as early as the September term, although McCullough admits this is an optimistic time-line.
Â Â Â There are several open access initiatives available to the university. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals, started in 2002, currently has thousands of peer-reviewed academic articles freely available online. Connexions, another open access service, operates much like Wikipedia but has much higher standards for inclusion. Indeed, Wikipedia itself is fully licenced under Creative Commons, a copyright scheme that allows for the free distribution of digital materials online.
Â Â Â Open access, therefore, is not a new idea. It just needs to be put into practice in a different setting — the U of S.
Â Â Â With barriers to publishing and sharing academic works being lowered, there could soon be an abundance of work cheaply available for students and cheaply produced by faculty. The increase in published work is only a good thing, says McCullough, who argues that more published work does not necessarily mean poorer work. He points to the video sharing site YouTube as example of an open access model at work, and one students are already familiar with.
Â Â Â “Anyone can post anything on YouTube but it’s only videos that are phenomenally funny or thought-provoking that actually start rising to the top.”