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Equitable student success via library support for textbooks

Laura Wimberley (University Library, California State University Northridge, Northridge, California, USA)
Elizabeth Cheney (University Library, California State University Northridge, Northridge, California, USA)
Yi Ding (University Library, California State University Northridge, Northridge, California, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 21 July 2020

Issue publication date: 25 November 2020




The cost of course materials to the individual student has increased over the past decade, contributing to educational inequity. Open educational resources (OERs) may be a solution and research validates their positive impact on student success outcomes (Colvard et al., 2018; Feldstein et al., 2012). Few studies, however, examine the role that library collections play in addressing course materials cost and student success. This paper aims to investigate whether materials costs are a significant factor in course pass rate and whether the library has a positive impact on pass rates.


Using required texts listed in syllabi for select undergraduate courses at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), the authors compare course materials costs for each course to the pass rate. The authors then measure the impact of course materials cost on the achievement gap between Pell Grant eligible and non-eligible students.


This study confirms previous research indicating that reduced course materials costs have a measurable impact on student success, in that the total minimum cost of required materials has a statistically significant effect on the percentage of students who pass a course. However, course reserves slightly increase the disparity between high-income and low-income students, suggesting that course reserves are a less effective way of supporting the latter compared to OERs.


This study is unique in examining the effect of the cost of course materials on students, regardless of the source of cost reductions. Most literature focuses on the qualitative efficacy of OERs instead of measured impact or the relationship between the cost of course materials and student success. The authors investigate the connection between OERs, library engagement and student success.



This study was made possible with funding from the Association of College & Research Libraries through a 2019 Academic Library Impact Research Grant. The grant enabled the authors to hire a research assistant, Francesca Diaz, who initially reviewed all the syllabi to identify required course materials and preliminarily researched the minimum cost for those materials. The authors appreciate the informational assistance from campus partners, including the CSUN bookstore, the Office of Institutional Research, Ross Kendall from the library reserves department, and several departmental coordinators and chairs to collect data.


Wimberley, L., Cheney, E. and Ding, Y. (2020), "Equitable student success via library support for textbooks", Reference Services Review, Vol. 48 No. 3, pp. 373-383.



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