Determining Textbook Cost, Formats, and Licensing with Google Books API: A Case Study from an Open Textbook Project


The rising cost of textbooks for students has been highlighted as a major concern in higher education, particularly in the US and Canada. Less has been reported, however, about the costs of textbooks outside of North America, including in Europe. We address this gap in the knowledge through a case study of one Irish higher education institution, focusing on the cost, accessibility, and licensing of textbooks. We report here on an investigation of textbook prices drawing from an official college course catalog containing several thousand books. We detail how we sought to determine metadata of these books including: the formats they are available in, whether they are in the public domain, and the retail prices. We explain how we used methods to automatically determine textbook costs using Google Books API and make our code and dataset publicly available. 


Stephen L. Baglione and Kevin Sullivan, "Technology and Textbooks: The Future," American Journal of Distance Education 30, no. 3 (Aug. 2016): 145-55,

Etan Senack and Robert Donoghue, "Covering the Cost: Why We Can No Longer Afford to Ignore High Textbook Prices," Report, The Student PIRGs (Feb. 2016),

Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, "Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16," Report, BABSON Survey Research Group (July 2016),

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (2019),

Paris OER Declaration,

Mary Burgess, "The BC Open Textbook Project," in Open: The Philosophy and Practices That Are Revolutionizing Education and Science, Rajiv S. Jhangiani and Robert Biswas-Diener (eds.). (London: Ubiquity Pr., 2017): 227–36.

Nicole Allen, "Congress Funds $5 Million Open Textbook Grant Program in 2018 Spending Bill," SPARC Open (Mar. 20, 2018),

Jennifer Ma et al., "Trends in College Pricing," Report, The College Board (Oct. 2017),

Kaitlyn Vitez, "Open 101: An Action Plan for Affordable Textbooks," Report, Student PIRGs (Jan. 2018),

Mark Brown, Eamon Costello, and Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, "From Books to MOOCs and Back Again: An Irish Case Study of Open Digital Textbooks," in Exploring the Micro, Meso and Macro. Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2018 Annual Conference, Genova, 17-20 June, 2018 (Budapest: The European Distance and E-Learning Network): 206-14.

Google Books API (2018),

Eamon Costello and Richard Bolger, "Textbooks Authors, Publishers, Formats and Costs in Higher Education," BMC Research Notes 12, no. 1 (Jan. 2019): 12-56,

Jody Condit Fagan, "An Evidence-Based Review of Academic Web Search Engines, 2014-2016: Implications for Librarians' Practice and Research Agenda," Information Technology and Libraries 36, no. 2 (Mar. 2017): 7-47,

Anne Christie, John H. Pollitz, and Cheryl Middleton, "Student Strategies for Coping with Textbook Costs and the Role of Library Course Reserves," portal: Libraries and the Academy 9, no. 4 (Oct. 2009): 491-510,

Eamon Costello et al., "Textbook Costs and Accessibility: Could Open Textbooks Play a Role?" Proceedings of the 17th European Conference on eLearning (ECEL), vol. 17 (Athens, Greece: 2018): 99-106.

How to Cite
Costello, E., Bolger, R., Soverino, T., & Brown, M. (2019). Determining Textbook Cost, Formats, and Licensing with Google Books API: A Case Study from an Open Textbook Project. Information Technology and Libraries, 38(1), 91-99.