Illustration by Christine Hipp

As information from movies to medical records goes digital in the 21st century, textbooks are following suit.

On Sept. 27, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law two bills — SB 1052 and SB 1053 — that will “establish development of open source digital textbooks,” according to the press release sent out by the California state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Digital textbooks will be created for 50 courses, free to students in an attempt to lower the cost of education to California students and to help bring education into the digital age.

“The senator was looking for ways to ameliorate the rising costs for students in California,” said Mark Hedlund, the communication director for Steinberg. “We really think this will be a game changer.”

Digital textbooks will be created as an attempt to lower the cost of education to California students, Hedlund said. According to the press release, once the textbooks go digital in 2013–14, the texts will be available for free digitally, and hard copies will cost $20. Students in four-year public universities spent an average of $1,194 on textbooks last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“[Students] are saving about $1,000 per year,” Hedlund said.

Dr. Michael Dine, the chair of the physics department at UCSC, said it is “desirable to provide textbooks at lower prices.”

“There are some quite good textbooks out there,” Dine said. “Some of them are quite expensive as well.”

Measures SB 1052 and SB 1053 will work in tandem. SB 1052 will create the California Open Education Resources Council (COERC) — a nine-person council made up of members from the UC’s, CSU’s and community colleges. This council will decide what courses the textbooks will be developed for and will set the standards for the material, Hedlund said.

SB 1053 will create a digital open-source library for these materials.

Creating the digital texts and an open source library to store them could cost up to $10 million according to SB 1028. However, Hedlund said, it won’t cost the public anything unless they choose to donate. A separate bill, SB 1028, allows up to $5 million to be taken out of the Golden State Scholarship Trust Fund to develop the digital texts, but money cannot be used unless it is matched dollar-for-dollar by funds from private organizations and individual donations.

“Any avenue towards reducing [higher education] costs opens more doors for students,” said Steinberg in his press release. “And that in turn continues development of the educated workforce we need to fuel California’s economic engine.”