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Books for 'Cats

What is the Books for 'Cats program?

The Books for ‘Cats program loans course materials for selected introductory courses to first-year eligible undergraduate students at Northwestern University. First-year students are particularly vulnerable as this is their first encounter with purchasing course materials and their performance in their initial year on campus often sets the stage for future academic outcomes. The high cost of course materials can place excessive stress on students with financial constraints. By providing course materials to students by the first day of class the Books for ‘Cats program offers essential support for these undergraduates academic success at Northwestern.

Who is eligible to participate?

The Financial Aid Office identifies eligible first-year students, although financially eligible sophomores are invited to participate in the program for two chemistry courses.

Will participating in Books for 'Cats impact financial awards?

No, participating in Books for 'Cats will not impact financial aid or other scholarship awards, because students borrow the material and return it to the University Bookstore when they no longer are using the materials.

How does participation work?

Entering first-year students receive a message over the summer describing the Books for ‘Cats program and inviting them to participate. The University Bookstore receives the enrollment of eligible students in Books for ‘Cats courses, and after pulling the Books for ‘Cats materials for each student, emails students they can come pick up their materials. Students return these course materials to the University Bookstore either at the end of the quarter or by the end of the academic year.

What are other options to secure course materials if not considered eligible to participate in Books for 'Cats?

All Books for 'Cats classes have course materials in the Library Course Reserves. Students can check out the material for a pre-determined amount of time (2 hours, 4 hours, or 1-day) to complete their readings. The Library also has free scanners available for student use.

Course Reserve

What kinds of materials can be put on reserve?

Physical books, DVDs, digitized book chapters, journal articles, and streaming audio and video are all materials that can be put on reserve--books and DVDs physically at a library circulation desk, chapters, articles, and streams digitally in your Canvas course site.

How do I request items to be put on reserve?

All requests are placed via the course reserve tab in your Canvas course site. More information and video tutorials are available on the Libraries' faculty reserve pages.

Who can put items on reserve?

Instructors, teaching assistants, course designers, and course developers with access to the Canvas course

How do students access reserve items?

Students access digital reserve items directly within Canvas. Physical reserve items are available at University (main), Mudd, or Schaffner Library's circulation or service desk, depending on where the instructor chooses.

What is the loan period for physical reserve items?

We offer 2-hour, 4-hour, and 1-day loans. You'll specify the loan period when you place the request in Canvas.

What if the library doesn't have a physical copy of a book I need for my class?

Make the request in Canvas, and the library will purchase a copy of the book to be put on reserve. The same goes for streaming video, articles, and book chapters. You place the request, and we'll take care of the rest.

Open Educational Resources

Where can I find an open textbook for my class?

We recommend you browse the Open Textbook Library or OpenStax to start. If you’d like to meet for a consultation to get 1:1 assistance, contact  

Is the quality the same as other textbooks?

The primary value proposition of open textbooks is that all students will be able to view, download, and retain copies of the textbooks on the first day of class for free. Just like any other textbooks, we leave quality judgments to the faculty with expertise in the subject area. There are a growing number of studies that show that students have the same or better learning outcomes when using open textbooks, and we like to point faculty to sources of faculty-reviewed textbooks found in places like the Open Textbook Library and OpenStax, which are two of the most well-known and highly regarded OER platforms.

If you’ve found an open textbook that you want to use, but it isn’t quite up to snuff, the open license allows you to edit it to fit the needs of your course.

Can students order a print copy?

Yes, there are on-demand online print services available, or students could print out only the sections they want at home. We recommend Lulu or the Northwestern Bookstore as a third-party printing service, but can work with you to determine the best printing option for your needs.

Who writes open textbooks? How do they get paid?

Open textbooks are free for faculty and students to use, but they’re not free to produce. Typically, authors are faculty or other subject experts who are paid through grant support via:

Why would a textbook author want to give away content for free?

Many authors have been paid for their work, but giving away the content with an open license has many benefits:

  • Authoring a textbook is a form of scholarship. Sharing open content is a contribution to an academic discipline that has the potential to be widely read and shared.
  • Sharing open content promotes the building of expertise.
  • The open education movement is part of a larger social justice issue in which education and knowledge is made available to everyone. This has the potential to make the greatest impact on historically marginalized groups, or those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a college degree.
  • For those who use OER to teach, sharing open content with your class ensures all students will have full access to course materials on the first day of class. Considering 45% of Northwestern undergraduates have reported not purchasing required textbooks because of cost, providing the text for free greatly increases the chance of student success.

Do open textbooks have ancillary and supporting materials such as presentations, tests and quizzes, and homework sets?

Like commercial textbooks, some open textbooks have ancillary materials, but overall there is a need for new ancillary materials to be developed for many open texts. If you'd like to browse existing ancillary content, visit the OER Toolkit for a list of links and resources. If you're interested in developing openly licensed ancillary materials for your class, contact us at

How often are open textbooks updated?

It depends on the book. OER search engines (such as the Open Textbook Library) work to provide the most recent edition of its textbooks. One of the benefits of OER is that you have the power to update and adapt textbooks yourself.

I assign various readings in my class such as journal articles, book chapters, and stories from the web. Can I combine the readings to create one cohesive OER textbook?

That depends on the license of the materials you've assigned. Articles published in open access journals have Creative Commons licenses that allow for reproduction and sharing, and all OER textbooks (such as those found in the Open Textbook Library) can be reused and adapted for your purposes.

If the materials are not openly licensed, your best bet is to make the materials available via Canvas using the Libraries' Course Reserve system. If you're unsure which option is best for you, contact with your reading list.

How can I edit OER?

The vast majority of open textbooks have a Creative Commons license that allows for editing, adapting and making derivatives in any file format. The Libraries offer editing and formatting support. If you need assistance, contact Digital Publishing Librarian Chris Diaz at

Are there accessible versions for students with disabilities?

Open content has huge potential to increase accessible content on campus. Unlike traditional materials, it is not locked down and can be adapted and reformatted without extra permission, and is usually available in different formats.

I am thinking of writing an open textbook or creating OER. What are my rights? Could I sell my materials to a commercial textbook publisher later if I want?

If you write a textbook, you hold the copyright and have the power to share, edit, and sell your book as you wish. If you choose to make your textbook open, you would designate a Creative Commons license, which would give others the right to copy, share, and modify your work. Creative Commons licenses work in parallel with copyright, so you would retain copyright even when assigning a Creative Commons license. We are happy to meet with you to discuss copyright, publishing, and licensing in more detail.

Why is the OER faculty grant program only available for projects that will be used in undergraduate courses?

The OER Faculty Grant Program started as a way to lower the cost of high-cost, high-enrollment courses, which are primarily offered to undergraduate students. If you only teach graduate courses but would like to participate in the program, you might consider partnering with another faculty member to create an OER that can be used at multiple levels of study. Contact to discuss your idea.

Publishing Course Material Information

What is the deadline for getting course material information into CAESAR?

The deadline is the day that the course opens for pre-registration. You can check the dates on the academic calendar

All my material is available on Canvas and the students don't have to buy anything. How do I note that in CAESAR?

When filling in information on course materials, write, "All materials available in Canvas at no cost."

Why should I worry about getting this information into these systems now, when I won't be teaching the class for several months?

There are many reasons to get this information into student-facing systems well before the course starts. First, it's the law. Second, it allows students time to comparison shop for materials and save money. Third, it can provide useful information to students considering registering for your class.

Some questions have been adapted from the Open Textbook Network and BCcampus resources. Don't see your question on this list? Email us at