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LibreTexts: The Definitive Guide

Billed as the world’s most popular online textbook platform, LibreTexts is an Open Educational Resource (OER) that publishes free textbooks used by millions of students. Here’s how LibreTexts works, who can use it and what comes next.

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What is LibreTexts?

LibreTexts is part of the LibreText Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization spearhead by the University of California Davis with a mission to “unite students, faculty and scholars in a cooperative effort to develop an easy-to-use online platform for the construction, customization, and dissemination of open educational resources (OER) to reduce the burdens of unreasonable textbook costs to our students and society.”

Its slogan is “free the textbook,” and it offers 398 free textbooks covering subjects like biology, business, chemistry, engineering, math, humanities, social sciences, statistics and medicine.

The LibreText Project is funded through federal Dept. of Education grants, UC Davis, the California State University System and private donations.

How LibreTexts works

LibreTexts features subject libraries organized into three resource types:

  • Bookshelves: LibreTexts’ core offering, Bookshelves are comprised of textbooks created by the nonprofit’s development team. Bookshelves also hold textmaps, which are OER textbooks that follow along with existing for-profit textbooks. They’re designed to make it easy for faculty to switch to OER when other alternatives do not exist.
  • Learning Objects: Ancillary content like laboratory experiments, interactive visualizations, math simulations, reference items, practice worksheets and assessment materials.
  • Campus Bookshelves: Customized, campus- and faculty-specific course shells curated and remixed from existing content.

Schools and instructors can curate, remix and adapt all LibreTexts materials for their own courses free of charge. A Remixer tool simplifies the process so faculty can quickly customize and deploy their own OER textbooks.

Students can access PDF and online versions 100% free, print book files and import content into Learning Management Systems (LMS). Printed softcover and hardcover versions are also available at low prices.

Users can highlight and annotate online textbooks, and a sidebar features interactive tools like glossaries, calculators, bookmarks and citation generators. The nonprofit is committed to accessibility and integrates assistive technology platform-wide, so readability tools like custom font sizes and color contrasts are also available.

Advanced features include:

  • Embedded multimedia like interactive videos
  • Interactive figures like 3D models
  • Jupyter code embeds
  • Hypothes.is annotation overlays
  • Print on demand for every page

A team of highly qualified academic faculty, students and outside experts collaborate to keep LibreTexts books current.

Who uses LibreTexts?

Anyone can use LibreTexts, including:

  • Colleges, instructors and their students
  • Businesses
  • Self-learners

Use cases include faculty who wish to build their own custom materials based on an existing content foundation, schools that want to offer free textbooks for their students, businesses that want to create their own training materials, and self-learners who want to explore expert-written academic content.

Some colleges are exploring LibreTexts’ feasibility as core content for entire degrees. For example, LibreTexts is partnering with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to develop a zero-cost chemistry curriculum.

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LibreTexts history and growth

LibreTexts was founded in 2008 by UC Davis Professor Delmar Larsen. Since its inception:

  • The library has grown to 398 books
  • LibreTexts content has been used in 154 courses at colleges nationwide
  • More than 223 million students have used LibreTexts
  • LibreTexts has saved students over $31 million

In 2019, the nonprofit reported 33% growth over the previous academic year. In all, LibreTexts boasts:

  • More than 130,000 pages of content
  • 80 million annual page views
  • 1 millennium of “confirmed reading”

The future

LibreTexts is more than free books; it’s on a quest to build a centralized OER platform predicated on the 5 R’s of OER:

  • Retain: The right to make, own and control content
  • Reuse: The right to use content in a variety of ways
  • Revise: The right to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the content
  • Remix: The right to combine original or revised content with other material to create something new
  • Redistribute: The right to share the content with others

As part of that initiative, LibreTexts has partnered with WeBWork and Rederly to develop an open source online homework and assessment platform that works directly with OER content. LibreTexts also plans for deeper LMS integration to help it transition from a content hub to an all-in-one learning solution.

LibreTexts is also focused on accessibility and awareness. It’s being reviewed for Online Educational Initiative (OEI) Compliance, a collaboration between California community colleges designed to foster education access and academic success for hundreds of thousands of students.

In 2019, the nonprofit was awarded a $1 million Innovation Grant from the California Learning Lab to develop editable, culturally responsible homework modules for introductory chemistry courses. The project will help combat declining STEM enrollments and high attrition rates for minority students on STEM tracks.

On the awareness front, LibreTexts hosts online webinars and conducts LibreFests at college campuses: workshops where students and instructors can learn more and give it a try.

Of course, content remains at LibreTexts’ core, and in 2018 the nonprofit received a $4.9 million Open Textbooks Pilot Program grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Those funds are deployed for programs like the University of Arkansas chemistry curriculum and expanding content with the goal to impact 1,000 classrooms and save students more than $50 million over 10 years.