EKU Libraries Launches First Open-Access Textbook in African American Studies

Published on February 26, 2020

As a school of opportunity, Eastern Kentucky University makes affordability a priority. That’s why the African and African American (AFA) studies department and EKU Libraries have partnered to publish “Slavery to Liberation: the African American Experience,” the university’s first open-access textbook, and the first-ever open-access textbook in the field of African American studies. The Crabbe Library hosted a launch party for the book on Thursday, Feb. 20 in the Grand Reading Room. 

The textbook was edited by five EKU faculty: African and African American Studies faculty Ogechi Anyanwu, Gwendolyn Graham, and Joshua Farrington;  associate professor of education Norman Powell; and director of women and gender studies Lisa Day. The book features chapters by faculty from EKU, Georgetown University, University of Texas, and other institutions in the U.S. and abroad. It has garnered 311 downloads internationally since its Dec. 15 release. 

Though the launch event was held this month, the process of bringing “Slavery to Liberation” to life began back in August 2015. Citing the rising costs of textbooks, Anyanwu pitched the idea of an open-access textbook to fellow AFA faculty. They jumped at the idea, and he chose his fellow editors and began collecting chapter submissions. 

“The idea of the textbook is to save money for our students and to serve as a recruitment tool for the program,” said Anyanwu. “We want more students to pursue African or African American studies.” 

Free access to textbooks is a significant selling point. An estimated 1 in 6 students at EKU face food insecurity, and 65% reported not buying all the required textbooks for the semester at some point in their college career. Faculty and staff see students’ struggles firsthand.

“In the library, we are often asked by students to borrow or buy textbooks for our reserve collection, so we know they are having trouble buying them,” said Kelly Smith, Coordinator of Collection Services for EKU Libraries.

Farrington echoed those sentiments. “It breaks down any barriers between students who can afford textbooks, and students who are debating between buying a textbook and buying groceries for the week,” he said.

Farrington implemented the text this semester in his section of AFA 202: The African American Experience. In his class alone, students have saved an estimated $10,000.

One such student, Nathan Ritchie, shared his thoughts at the launch party. As a non-traditional student commuting from Lexington and a student parent, the open-access text has been vital to his success in the class.

“It’s nice to have a free textbook because that’s just more money for my family,” he said. 

Smith and EKU Libraries faculty are hoping that other university departments will also adopt open source textbooks.

“Open educational resources, also called OERs, are a growing area of publication for universities and libraries,” said Smith. “The impact on students has already been seen at some of our benchmark universities that are adopting open textbooks in many of their courses. For example, East Tennessee State University saved their students $200,000 in the first year that they incentivized this model for faculty.”

“Slavery to Liberation: the African American Experience” is available for download on Encompass