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Finding and Accessing Content for Courses: Free, Open, and Affordable Resources: Home


Welcome to the NIU Libraries' Finding and Accessing Content for Courses: Free, Open, and Affordable Materials LibGuide. For general information about free or low-cost resources, please contact Dee Anna Phares ( or Kimberly Shotick ( For information on subject specific resources, please reach out to your subject specialist librarian

Why Use Free or Open Materials?

Inforgraphic on NIU textbook costs. A red rectangle on the left features a black and white icon of cash in an envelope; the text to the right of the icon reads: 95% of full-time NIU undergrads received financial aid during the 2019/2020 school year. At dark blue rectangle at the right featured a white circle with the the amount, $1400, at its center; the text to the right of the image notes that this is the average annual cost of textbooks and supplies at NIU. Just below this in the blue rectangle in another circle with an image of a person with a gear for a head and the number 127; the text to the right of the image reads: number of hours working at current minimum wage to cover these costs.

Phares, D. (2021, July 8). NIU Textbook Costs. CC BY 4.0. Information from Northern Illinois Tuition & Cost, CollegeSimply. 

Blue bar graph on a white background delineating the impact of textbook costs on students. 64.25% did not purchase the required textbook; 42.76% took fewer classes; 40.55% did not register for a specific course; 35.62% earned a poor grade because they could not afford to buy the textbook; and 22.91% dropped a course

Florida Virtual Campus. (2019, 8 March). Chart for Key Finding 3: The impact of textbook cost, In 2018 Florida Virtual Campus Student Textbook & Course Materials Survey,  CC-BY.

Advantages of Free & Open Materials

  • Equityrequired course materials available for ALL students from day one (or before)
  • Accessibilitymany open materials are more accessible than traditional textbooks and can be used with screen-readers
  • Customizationexactly the materials you want for your specific teaching needs 
  • Currencyfaculty can find or create materials that reflect the most up-to-date work in their fields; rapid dissemination not hampered by the lag associated with traditional publishing
  • Student Successunrestricted access to course materials eliminates an important barrier to retention and degree completion
  • Innovationopen materials provide opportunities for creative pedagogy and practice

What is OER?

UNESCO (the Unites Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions."

OER exist to ensure educational accessibility and equity.

Where to Go for Help at NIU

University Libraries Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL)
Phone: 815-753-0595 Phone: 815-753-0595


Ask a Librarian URL:



Quick Guide

Interested in shifting to low or no-cost course materials? There are three ways to do it:

Adopt: find, evaluate, and select the free or inexpensive materials that meet your instructional needs.

Adapt: edit, customize, or combine existing content to satisfy your learning outcomes.

Createauthor you own bespoke materials that are available for free to students or that are openly licensed resources available to all.

Recommend a Free, Open, or Low-Cost Resource

Quality & Effectivness

There are a great many misconceptions about free and open materials, most notably that because they do not go through the same process as commercially published materials, they are not of comparable quality. However, free or open resources are often as good as those produced for-profit publishers. In fact, many works were created for commercial purposes, but are now in the public domain, such as older editions of Shakespeare's plays edited by eminent scholars or images of classic works of art. And the new materials that are produced are frequently the creations of faculty at colleges and universities--the same individuals who are responsible for writing commercial textbooks.