We Helping You Save Time & Money!

Open Textbook Library: The Ultimate Guide

The Open Textbook Library is a repository where schools, faculty and students can find free Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks. Here’s how it works, who can use it and what’s coming next.

Read Also: Free Textbooks: 10+ Places to Get Them

What is the Open Textbook Library?

The Open Textbook Library (OTL) is a referatory for OER textbooks covering subjects like business, computer science, education, engineering, science, law, humanities, journalism and law. It doesn’t publish its own books; rather, other OER publishers list their books in the searchable library.

The initiative is supported by the Open Education Network, a collaborative community based at the Center for Open Education in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development.

Other contributors include Colorado State University Libraries, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).

How the Open Textbook Library works

All books listed in the OTL are free. Authors and publishers determine available formats, which include online, PDF, XML and EBPUB. The Library requires publishers to provide at least one portable format for each book.

Some publishers also offer low-cost print editions, and faculty can arrange for campus bookstores to print loose copies for a fee – though students can always access the books digitally or print their own copies for free.

Students can browse the library by subject or search by title, author or ISBN. Individual book pages feature links to each format, book descriptions, author information and ancillary materials when available.

Some books offer interactive features like in-text review questions that test students’ knowledge.

Academic experts at leading universities write and edit the books, just like for-profit books. Around 60% of the books are peer-reviewed. Faculty can also submit reviews for any book via the Open Education Network.

Most books are released under a Creative Commons Attribution International (CC BY) license, which means faculty can retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute Open Textbook Library content. A few older books were released under Creative Commons No Derivatives licenses, which restrict revising and remixing. However, the Open Textbook Library stopped accepting CC ND books in 2016.

Who uses the Open Textbook Library?

The OTL is free for anyone to use, including:

  • Schools and faculty members
  • Students
  • Businesses
  • Self-learners

Faculty members can adopt books or revise and remix them into custom editions that better suit their courses. Students money with free open textbooks. Businesses might use the books for training purposes, and self-learners can read them to learn more about any subject.

Need Help With Your Homework? Find Help Here


Open Textbook Library history and growth

University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Chief Technology Officer David Ernst founded the Open Textbook Library in 2012 in response to the negative impact high textbook costs have on academic success.

Other institutions expressed interest in the project, and in 2014 Ernst created the Open Textbook Network to facilitate discussion about open education.

In 2017, the Open Textbook Network launched a multi-school publishing cooperative to share open publishing expertise in higher education and increase availability of open textbooks.

Two years later, it began offering a Certificate in OER Librarianship that trains campus librarians to develop open education programs. Librarians can find a full list of Open Textbook Library books in MARC, CSV, JSON API, RSS and WorldCat formats here.

In 2020, the organization renamed the Open Textbook Network to the Open Education Network to better reflect the organization’s mission.

The Open Textbook Library currently offers 857 textbooks, and the Open Education Network boasts a community of more than 2,500 faculty across 1,147 college campuses.

The future

The OTL is part of the Open Education Network, which is working to increase awareness and adoption of OER materials. Ongoing initiatives include:

  • An active community that collaborates to make higher education more open
  • On-campus workshops that introduce faculty to open textbooks and invite them to review books
  • An annual summit where open education leaders congregate and explore strategies
  • The OEN Hub, which provides resources to develop open education programs plus a data dashboard to manage workshops and track outcomes

Given those initiatives, it’s likely the Open Textbook Library will continue to grow as more schools and faculty adopt open textbooks as part of their core curricula.