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Ebooks as Textbooks part 10: Getting a Textbook (for free)

“A textbook can do much more than be on the one hand a mere statement of the results of reasoning such as the ordinary geography or German grammar is, or on the other hand a mere statement of problems, such as the ordinary arithmetic or German reader is” (Thorndike, 1912, 165-166)

 Historically textbooks have been fixtures in education. Stein, Stuen, Carnine, and Long estimate that "textbooks serve as the basis for 75 to 90 percent of classroom instruction" (2001, p. 6). This is understandable in the times before the information as often the textbook was the only resource, outside the teacher that delivered content, as content area information was so scarce. Still today for many courses, textbooks are a default part of the curriculum's instruction often provide the facts learned in most subjects. For many students, textbooks are sometimes only content area reading, leading many to think of them as the authoritative tool, a font of accurate information and necessary to instruction, indeed many teachers do rely on them to organize lessons and structure subject matter (Tyson-Bernstein 1988).  In many classes textbooks provided the framework, objectives, standards alignment, assessments, and more that student and teachers use to guide their curriculum and provide the daily concrete teaching materials to the students. And while some have claimed that books are not needed in education, such as Thomas Edison in 1913 with his statement that “books will soon be obsolete in the public schools” (Smith 1913), the textbook has remained and appears that it will remain in education, but today those books themselves are undergoing a shift from a static paper based tool, to one which is more dynamic and digital.

Historically if you were looking to learn more about a topic in an organized way, you could take a class or you could ask a teacher if you could borrow one of their textbooks, you might also search libraries or in used book stores for such textbooks and hope that they have some on that topic. Today though, textbooks for such self-learning or to be used in classes can much easier to access, with the open textbook movement. Accessing textbooks for your own learning is becoming more important all the time, as learning is moving to a lifetime activity. One of the reasons for this constant need of learning is caused by how fast information, facts and concepts are changing. Information changes, think of how dinosaurs were once cold blooded, slow tail draggers, and a dull green, but today they are warm, fast with tails up and colorful (many with feathers) or how my own textbooks of my youth had things like the Soviet Republic and Pluto as a planet as information in the world doubles every four years. One nice thing with digital textbooks is how they can be constantly updated and distributed. A print book is limited by it publication. It goes through a review process for purchase on about a five year cycle, and once purchased is locked in for at least the next five years if not longer. But with open source digital textbooks you can access constantly updated textbooks to learn from or refer to. 

A good textbook should provide the student with a framework for understanding the content, one where the book supports the learning from the teacher through it's design along with the questions, topics, and additional material that it provided. Thoughtful and effective teaching or learning requires good resources (such as textbooks), and these resources should be organized and have just enough of facts, features and graphics to support learning, but not be distracting or confusing. While textbooks have their limits and for some classes can be underused or overused. A well designed informative textbook is a great find. I personally love a good textbook even if just browsing through for a while looking at the pictures, maps, charts, illustrations, and diagrams. A good textbook provides the other voice and chorus to a teacher, giving alternative views or providing additional information about the subject.  For an in-person class the textbook can be like a person next to you, so that when you don't understand the teacher you have someplace to go to "hear" it explained in a different way.  You can also use a textbook on your own, it could be just for learning about a topic without taking a formal class or using an additional textbook that might be more understandable to you than the textbook that was assigned for a class. So before you dismiss textbooks as being too complicated or not understandable, remember that there are a lot of good textbooks out there with lots of good information presented in an organized understandable way.

All across the nation and world there is a movement known as the Open-Source Textbook Movement, providing a free digital textbook option. These books, some created through state education sponsorship, can be used in classes just as classical textbooks were, but in a freely distributed and share-able format. Actually one of the big pushes for school districts to start using open source textbooks is the cost. These text are also excellent to use for home schooling or students who are hospital/home bound, giving them access to textbooks that they might otherwise not be able to obtain or use. Just consider that you can get an ebook reader device for a cost of less than $100, and often many college first year classes' textbooks cost over $100 per book, then you can add as many free textbooks to that device as you like. One of the other advantages about using such textbooks is that they don't have to be returned at the end of the year, instead the student can keep them and review or refer as needed. So if you are in a class now and are not using such a digital resource, make sure you ask your teacher about open etextbooks for that class.  And even if your class doesn't have such an open source or digital textbook, don't let that stop you. Look at the texts available, as you might find one that is better for how you learn that you can use as an additional resource for your class. - an open source textbook collection for science, math, and more.

Usually when you find one of these etextbooks that you want to learn with you will have to move that textbook to your device using methods such as side-loading or network transfer. Side loading is when you connect your ereader device to a computer using a cable. Your computer will see the device as another memory location and you can browse to where the ebook files are stored. Then you can transfer the ebook file that you downloaded from your computer to your reader, whereupon it will be in the ebook's library the next time you use your device. Depending on the ebook files that you downloaded, you may need to convert them to the appropriate format to use with your reader. 
Sideloading a downloaded textbook to a kindle using drag and drop.

The other way to move your etextbooks to your device is using a network delivery service like Send to Kindle or email the ebook file to your device's special address. I usually try to use the Send to Kindle application as it will convert the document if it is not already in an ebook format, such as a Word document (.doc) and delivers it wirelessly to the selected device. This will also make the ebook available through my online Kindle library allowing me to send it to my devices or read it online. To use the Send to Kindle application go to, then download and install the appropriate software. This will add an option so that wen you are on your computer you will be able to right click the ebook file and have it sent to your cloud library and device. Of course many of the open source textbooks are also free from a number of online bookstores, such as, so you can purchase them directly from them at no cost and begin using them right away. This has the added advantage of allowing you to retrieve your highlights and notes online.

Right clicking to start the Send to Kindle process.

Using the Send to Kindle application to send the textbook to multiple devices. 

 One advantage of using a network application like Send to Kindle, and not all devices have such applications, is that the book is now available in your online library storage for later reading online or sending to other devices.

Etextbook now available in online personal ebook collection.

Here are 15+ free sources of digital textbooks that you can adapt to work with your reader device or software. Some can directly download and then be moved into your device (side load or upload to your account), others will require you to use conversion software like Calibre or other online applications to convert the files into a format that will work with your chosen device/software.

  • (
    Etextbooks in PDF focusing primarily on accounting, economics, engineering, IT, marketing, and management. The books are relatively short (50 to 100 pages) — but does have advertising.
  • California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) (
    In the "Learning Resources" is the "free textbooks" link, where CLRN currently has 30 books listed. Topics include: math, science, and history and social science, for both K-12 and higher ed.
  • (
    Adaptable textbooks covering the topics of: Mathematics, Measurement; Science; Statistics & Probability; Economics; Engineering; Technology; English; History; and Test Prep. Books available as PDF, MOBI, and EPUB.
  • College Open Textbook Collaborative (
    Large number of textbooks are listed by subject: Anthropology and Archaeology, Art, Biology & Genetics, Business, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Education, Engineering & Electronics, English & Composition, Health & Nursing, History, Languages and Communications, Law, Literature, Math, Music, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Science, Sociology, Statistics & Probability. Etextbooks available online, DOC, and PDF
  • connexions (
    Look for the module collections to find the full textbooks. There is over 1300 items in their collection.  Topics include: Arts, Business, Humanities, Mathematics and Statistics, Science and Technology, and Social Sciences. Etextbooks available as PDF, EPUB, and more.

  • Flat World Knowledge (
    Free online textbooks in business, the humanities, mathematics  and the sciences that are available to both teachers and students.
  • Everything Maths/Everything Science (
    Extensive collection of free science and mathematics texts that are appropriate to high school. Formats are PDF or Zip.
  • The Global Text Project (
    Digital textbooks in Chinese, English, and Spanish (not all titles available in all languages). Topics include: business, computing, education, health, science, and social science. Etext available as HTML and PDF.
  • Ohio Digital Bookshelf Project ( pilot project for the Ohio Textbook HQ, the Ohio Digital Bookshelf aims to provide inexpensive textbooks. Free registration required to view textbooks.
  • Open Academics: Open Textbook Catalog (
    Collection of digital textbooks appropriate to post-secondary education from multiple sources. Topics include: Accounting & Finance, Business, Management & marketing, Computer Science & Information Systems, Economics, General Education, Humanities & Language, Law, Mathematics & Statistics, Natural & Physical Science, and Social Sciences. Books available in various formats - so some conversion may be needed.
  • Open Culture (
    160 free textbooks links for topics of Art, Science, Business, Economics, Education, History, Mathematics, Music, Political Science, Technology and more (various formats)
  • Open Education Group (
    Six downloadable science texts intended for middle and high schools, but useful for lower level college classes. Topics include: Biology; Earth Science; Physics; and Chemistry.   Available as PDF.
  • OpenStax (
    Provides 13 textbooks on these topics: Anatomy and physiology; Biology; Chemistry; Economics (micro- and macro-); Psychology; Physics; Pre-calculus; Sociology; Statistics; and U.S. history. Formats are HTML, PDF, and EPUB
  • Project Gutenberg (
    Lots of good source material books to use with humanities classes, just about any classic you can think of (at least classics before 1921). Books available as EPUB with or without images, HTML, Kindle, plain text, and more.
  • (
    Saylor is a free online course provider, that also has a bookshelf section with a good number of textbooks. Textbooks are available in different formats including PDF, DOC, EPUB, HTML, iBooks, and more - so some conversion may be needed.
  • Textbook Revolution ( student-run site dedicated to increasing the use of free educational materials by teachers and professors


Stein, M., Stuen, C., Carnine, D., & Long, R. (2001). Textbook evaluation and adoption practice. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 17, 5-23.
Smith, F. J. (1913 July 9).The Evolution of the Motion Picture: VI - Looking into the Future with Thomas A. Edison. The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York. (Old Fulton), Page 24, Column 3.
Tyson-Bernstein, H. (1988). A conspiracy of good intentions. America’s textbook fiasco. Council for Basic Education, Washington DC.
Thorndike, E.L. (1912). Education: A first book. New York: The MacMillan Company


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