At the start of each semester, students face an intimidating list of price tags including tuition, housing, and groceries or a meal plan. For many, the cost of new textbooks is the last straw. Some go without, putting them at significant disadvantage; others are forced to drop a course.
One Humboldt State University donor understood the challenges facing students and decided to make a difference.
A $10,000 gift from the estate of Charlynn Johnson, and her wife Suzanne Moore, will help expand the HSU Library’s Textbook on Reserve program. Charlynn and Suzanne specifically earmarked their gift to support HSU’s Nursing program students, who face some of the highest costs for textbooks and instructional materials across disciplines.
A family nurse practitioner who briefly taught in the Nursing program, Charlynn saw firsthand how her students struggled to purchase medical textbooks.
“Charlynn was a faculty member who really cared about her students,” says Roberta Welty, a longtime friend of the couple. After Charlynn passed in 2009 following a lengthy journey with cancer, Moore was instrumental in ensuring that the couple’s trust included funds to help Nursing students at HSU. Moore passed away in 2018.
“Paying for textbooks can be a significant barrier to students’ path to graduation,” explains Cyril Oberlander, Dean of the University Library. “This gift will truly and positively impact Nursing students and have a lasting impact on our community.”
Oberlander points to a recent study that found that 65% of college students have skipped purchasing a course textbook, even when they were worried the decision would negatively impact their grade. In addition, many students will take fewer courses due to costs, delaying their graduation.
The Library’s Textbooks on Reserve program is a useful alternative. Offering both a digital and physical collection of titles, students can check out books for up to four hours, and overnight as needed. Many textbooks are available via library e-books with no waiting period and 24/7 access.
“We’re able to serve most students who want to access our course reserves,” explains Victoria Bruner, Library access services coordinator. “Our goal is to keep adding content, and offer some required course materials for every major.”
The Library has been building their course reserve collection each year but $10,000 is the largest gift the program has received to date. With a renewed focus on expanding the digital archives to support remote learning, the timing of Johnson and Moore’s gift is perfect.
“About 20-25% of our textbooks are now available digitally,” says Bruner. This has been particularly impactful throughout the ongoing pandemic, she explains.
Overall, the Library’s Textbook on Reserve program saves HSU students over $200,000 per year across the University. “It’s clear that this donor wanted to support Nursing students, and understood the impact that access to textbooks can have,” says Oberlander.
A 2019 Library survey found that students list financial and food insecurities as the top two reasons students borrowed free textbooks and course materials.
“With growing housing insecurity and other issues, we don’t want textbook costs to be a barrier to graduation,” says Oberlander.