Making Required Texts Affordable

The cost of textbooks and other required course texts has become a major impediment to affordability and student success across U.S. college campuses. The Barnard Library, the Dean of Studies Office, and the Empirical Reasoning Center are partnering to assess the issue of textbook and book affordability at Barnard and propose alternatives. As we gather data, we also want to point to ways that students can access course texts as well as methods for faculty to make their texts more accessible via the Library.

For Students

  • Check if the materials are on reserve, using our handy guide to course reserves: Book scanners (but not photocopiers) are available in the Barnard library, in the Library Instruction Lab (LeFrak 113) and next to the public computers on the north side of the library. There is no charge for scanning. Brief directions are available at each scanning station. If you need additional assistance, please ask at the Circulation/Reserves desk.
  • If it’s not on reserve, we might still have it in the library’s general collections: check  CLIO to see if the item is available at any of the Columbia University Libraries. For education-related items, you may also want to check the Teacher’s College catalog.
  • Even if we don’t have it (or it’s already checked out), you might be able to get it using one of the request services:
    • Check Borrow Direct to see if you can borrow the book from another institution. The loan period is 16 weeks with no renewal, and it usually takes 3-4 business days to arrive.
    • If the item is not available through Borrow Direct, try Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan can be more slow (particularly for textbooks) and uncertain than Borrow Direct (you will not be able to see whether an item is requestable), so if you need a book quickly we recommend another option. One advantage of Interlibrary Loan is that you can use it to request a scanned chapter of a book.
    • Here’s a helpful chart that compares the services offered by Interlibrary Loan and Borrow Direct.
  • If you still can’t get the item, or if you need it faster, try searching the catalog of the New York Public Library. Some materials may only be used at the research branches of the NYPL while others may be checked out. Follow these instructions to apply for a library card.
  • Students with financial need or insecurity can consult with the Dean of Studies about alternatives for getting access to course texts.
  • The Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) maintains a lending library of textbooks and other course texts inside the Milstein Library on the 4th floor of Butler Library. 
  • For lower-cost options, students have recommended the Barnard Buy Sell Trade Facebook group as well as textbook rental (via services like Chegg and Amazon Textbook Rentals). The Barnard Library has not reviewed any of these services.
  • Though not course-related, the Barnard Career Development Office has a library of books related to interview prep, workplace etiquette, women in leadership, specific careers, general career guidance, and graduate school guidance that students can borrow. For more information, contact

For Faculty

  • For books, films, sound recordings, and other library materials:
    • The Barnard Library will put any circulating, available items from the Columbia Libraries collections on reserve. We will also purchase items to put on reserve if we do not have them.
    • Instructions for placing library materials on reserve at Barnard.
  • For e-reserves and CourseWorks:
    • Please see this page from Columbia University Libraries for guidance fair use and copyright when putting materials up on CourseWorks.
    • Contact the personal librarian for your department with any questions about placing materials on e-reserves or finding online versions of articles, books, and more to link to from your CourseWorks page. The librarian for your department can also talk to you about alternatives to course packets.
    • More information about streaming media reserves can be found here.
  • The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 federally mandates that price information for any texts that students are required or recommended to purchase for a course must be made available during registration. This information should be listed in the Textbook section of Courseworks. For more information, see this FAQ or contact the personal librarian for your department.
  • In 2018, the Committee on Instruction and the faculty approved the following statement to be added to all syllabi. Please include this statement on each of your syllabi: 

All students deserve to be able to access course texts. The high costs of textbooks and other course materials prohibit access and perpetuate inequity, and Barnard librarians are partnering with students, faculty, and staff to increase access. Prior to registration, you should be able to view on CourseWorks information provided by your faculty about required texts and their prices. Once you have selected your classes, here are some methods for accessing course texts, recommended by the Barnard Library: find out if your faculty has placed the texts on reserve at Barnard Library or another Columbia library, and look for course texts using CLIO (library catalog), Borrow Direct (request books from partner libraries), Interlibrary Loan (request book chapters from any library), and NYPL. Students with financial need or insecurity can check items out from the FLIP lending libraries in the Barnard Library and Butler Library and can consult with the Dean of Studies and the Financial Aid Office about alternatives for getting access to course texts. Talk with your librarian and visit the Barnard Library Textbook Affordability guide ( for more details.

  • Contact the personal librarian for your department to discuss open educational resources and other alternatives to textbooks.