Open Educational Resources for Teaching and Learning: Open Textbooks

Open Textbooks

Open textbooks are academic texts published with an open licence. This means they can usually be shared, downloaded and freely accessed online, or via reading lists. This has real benefits for ensuring equitable access for all students to their learning materials.  

In some instances, open textbooks can also be edited or modified. So updating or adapting a portion of the text to reflect recent research or tailoring reading for a specific course is possible. This applies to everything in the text including images, figures and diagrams. Open textbooks are made available in a variety of file formats to allow for this adaption. To understand the what is possible under the different open licences, refer to the 'Licensing and attribution of OER' section on the OER homepage. 

General sources of Open Textbooks

Below are a list of some of the key places to look for open textbooks. Some sites are discovery hubs searching a range of repositories containing texts and supplementary materials. Others are the host repositories and feature curated texts accompanied by academic review.  

You can search for open-access textbooks in the Library Search discovery layer.

Look with your topic keywords in the 'Search All' box, and select the filters, 'Full Text Online', 'Open Access' and the content type 'Book/Ebook' To browse what is available. 

Image of textbookOpen Textbook Library
The Open TextBook Library is based at the University of Minnesota.  It provides lists of open textbooks in a range of disciplines, accompanied by reviews from staff at academic institutions. It is a requirement of the site that texts are available to download in a range of formats and that all books submitted are either used at multiple higher education institutions; or affiliated with an institution or scholarly/professional organisation. 

Image of textbookDirectory of Open Access Books

This discovery hub searches for open access texts in publishers such as Springer & Taylor and Francis. Advanced search filters allow you to limit your search by licence type, year and publisher. 

Image of textbookBCCampus OpenEd

Based at the University of British Columbia this collection includes around 320 accessible open textbooks reviewed by academic faculty, and shared in a range of subject areas. The site also includes some extra materials, such as quizzes, slides and videos, as well as help guides and documentation on using and adapting open textbooks. 

Image of textbookOER Open Textbooks

Collated by the non profit Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, this site is a discovery hub for open textbooks and open courseware. 

Image of textbookOAPEN
​OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) is an organisation which promotes open access in Europe. The OAPEN Library searches for and hosts thousands of freely accessible academic books, mainly in the area of humanities and social sciences drawn from scholarly publishers and repositories.

Image of textbookOpen Research Library: Knowledge Unlatched 
Knowledge Unlatched is an initiative where libraries work together to enable open access book publishing. In this model, books are made available when libraries share the cost of the funding fee.  Books are available on a Creative Commons licence via the Open Research Library site.

Image of textbookProject Gutenberg 
Project Gutenberg contains over 70,000 free eBooks which can be read online or downloaded.  It specialises in older works where copyright has expired, and contains many classics of world literature. Books on this site have been digitised, rather than designed as textbooks.  

Image of textbookInTechOpen Books

This site contains more than 6,600 books and book chapters, with a strength in physical and health sciences. Texts are peer reviewed and published using a Gold Open Access model under the Creative Commons licences. 

Image of textbookOpenStax 
OpenStax is hosted at Rice University and contains peer-reviewed, open textbooks in the areas of Maths, Science, Social Sciences and Humanities. Texts are supplemented with instructor resources and student learning tools. 

Image of textbookMilne Open Textbooks
Milne Open Textbooks is run by the State University of New York libraries. This smaller repository offers downloadable textbooks for adoption on a course.

Image of textbookOpen Book Publishers
Open Book Publishers is a not for profit organisation that publishes a small number of open access monographs and textbooks every year. 

Image of textbookPressbooks Directory
Pressbooks is a platform that enables the publication of online textbooks. The directory allows you to search these publications, across a range of organisations and disciplines. 

Evaluating open textbooks

Before considering adoption of an open textbook, as with all textbooks, there are a few things you might consider as part of your evaluation:

Is the content current? 

Like any textbook, open textbooks are subject to revisions and new editions. An advantage of open textbooks is that revisions can happen as part of an iterative process when feedback is given to the author and corrections can be made almost immediately. This might mean new versions of an open text appear frequently in some cases. Even so it is important to check how up-to-date the information and example used are and how the it reflects current thinking in the field. 

Is the content appropriate?

  • Does it cover the areas you would like students to learn more about in their module or block and align to the Learning Objectives? It might be appropriate to use more than one open textbook to ensure you have the right mix and coverage. Or to add additional digital readings or articles to supplement the OER.
  • You might also find the open textbook is pitched at students studying within a particular setting, such as a geography, that might not have relevance for students at Brunel.
  • On some sites it is also possible to consult reviews of the open textbooks written by academic peers to gauge the quality of the text. 

Is the reading level pitched at your students? 

OER and open textbooks are created with varying audiences in mind, at all levels of education, so some content might be too technical or too basic. 

Is the open textbook accessible?

What formats does it come in? Most open textbooks will be available online, and in a downloadable file. It might also be possible for students to buy a print-on-demand copy. 

How can the contents to be used?

At a basic level, most OER are shared with an open licence, requiring you credit the author and display the licence details. So how will you be able to make that use visible? If you are considering adapting or adding to the content you must also check the licence by which it is shared by to ensure it allows for remixing or revision.

To help answer some of these questions, there are several rubrics and accessibility checklists that have been developed. To consult them please go to:

Achieve OER Rubrics - A comprehensive set of assessment rubrics that cover deeper learning, instructional and practical exercises and accessibility. This is a US based organisation and some of the requirements might be specific to that context.

BCOER Librarians Faculty Guide for Evaluating OER  - BC Campus are one provider of open educational resources. This short checklist includes some key considerations when evaluating open resources.

Curating OER Accessibility Checklist - This adapted guide based on the more extensive BC Campus Accessibility Toolkit suggests some useful accessibility checks. 

Open Education Network

Open Education Network logo

Brunel is now a member of the Open Education Network (OEN). The OEN is a community working together to inspire and facilitate the use and publication of open educational resources in education. 

Open textbooks made available through the work of the OEN can be found in the Open Textbook Library. The Open Textbook Library has a wide range of academic textbooks in most subject disciplines.

Expert and scholarly review of open textbooks on this platform are an important way of ensuring the quality of the materials available. If you would like to contribute a review of one of the texts via the Open Textbook Library site please contact the Open Textbooks email or speak to your Academic Liaison Librarian

More information about the OEN can be found on the website

Open Textbooks FAQs

1. Do open textbooks include additional teaching and learning materials?

Many open textbooks are accompanied by additional learning objects and instructor resources. These may have been included by the authors, or created and shared by the wider educational community. 

2. Are open textbooks all digital?

Open textbooks are usually created as digital files, but they can be converted into other formats such as print and audio. To print an open textbook may require a print-on-demand service, which would carry an additional cost. 

3. How do I navigate the copyright and licensing on using open textbooks?

Creative Commons licensing has been designed to give clear parameters on what is permissible when using an open textbook. Consult the license by which a resource has been shared. Take a look at our Licensing and attribution guidance. You might also want to speak with your Academic Liaison Librarian. 

5. Are open textbooks free?

The term 'open' in open textbooks means more than just cost free. Open means that you have permission to freely use and download an open textbook. Other permissions can also mean you are free to adapt, modify and share when the licence allows.  

6. How academic and high quality are open textbooks?

Open textbooks are written by academic and expert authors. Although they don't go through a commercial publishing process they are still subject to peer review as part of the publication cycle. One of the benefits of open textbooks is that any amendments can be made quickly, and don't have to wait for later editions of a text. 

Publisher/Discipline Specific sources for Open Textbooks