Where to Find Free Online Textbooks

Where to Find Free Online Textbooks
The Editorial Team November 1, 2013

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Today, more than ever, technology is central to education at all levels. Having textbooks available online makes them easy to use in any situation. Access to free options also enables school districts, teachers, parents, and students to save money or otherwise conserve resources. Here are some reliable resources for finding free online textbooks covering a variety of subjects and levels.

Core Knowledge

An established nonprofit organization, Core Knowledge believes that expertise builds upon itself and emphasizes learning a core set of knowledge at early stages of education to help individuals live and thrive in society. It also accepts that every child should have access to this information, no matter their background. 

The company publishes its own teacher reference materials, textbooks, and other educational books. The majority of these are available at no cost through its website. The company also provides a full free curriculum for language arts, history and geography, science, math, visual arts, and music for grades pre-K-8. This curriculum is free to use for anyone and follows the ideals of knowledge-based schooling upon which the organization is based.

OER Commons

With little more than the creation of a free account, educators can access a wealth of open educational resources from OER Commons. A custom search engine finds materials in the library based on school subject, grade level, or instructional standard. In addition to textbooks, the site contains case studies, lesson plans, lectures, homework, and full courses.

OER Commons doesn’t stop at offering free educational materials, though. A thriving community of educators cultivates hubs, which are collections of resources centered around a certain topic or project. Member groups further allow like-minded educators to collaborate with one another. Any member can create a group with options ranging from educators in a specific state or even a certain hallway to those teaching a given subject or skill.


More than just a source for digital textbooks, OpenStax calls itself the “future of education.” It focuses on high school and college-level texts, and all material is peer-reviewed by fellow educators. As an instructor, you can create a verified account and access additional materials for the textbook, including online course templates for Blackboard and other systems, presentations, premade Google forms, and quizzes. Because the textbooks available at OpenStax aren’t overly confined by copyright restrictions, instructors can modify or adapt the content as needed to fit their purposes. 


The MERLOT system, which stands for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, features a curated list of over 100,000 items of learning material for all grade levels. Managed by California State University Long Beach, the site offers free textbooks along with online courses, syllabi, tutorials, and presentations. 

One unique feature of MERLOT is that materials go through a peer review process in which editorial boards made up of over 20 academic disciplines evaluate the quality of submitted materials. In addition to these reviews, MERLOT maintains its own set of awards for the very best materials and authors on its platform.


Focusing on electronic college textbooks, TextBookGo maintains an extensive library for immediate download. Users can locate books by subject, title, author, or relevant keywords. The site focuses only on open source materials approved as free to use by publishers. It also accepts submissions of additional free e-textbooks, though each is reviewed and verified as legally accessible for no charge before its addition to the library.

Open Textbook Library

With over 1,000 open textbooks currently available, the Open Textbook Library began as a way for professors at the University of Minnesota to find free and editable textbooks for use in their classes. The library was then opened up to the wider educational world, providing that same access to higher education instructors everywhere. This site is focused solely on college-level textbooks, with many disciplines represented, as well as resources for student success.


In addition to being an extensive library of open textbooks for all levels of education, LibreTexts also offers a platform for open textbook creation. Many libraries are available, including a pre-K-12 library and several focused on higher-education topics such as humanities, statistics, and medicine. The library bookshelves can be accessed in just a few clicks, while the LibreText website format provides links for resources, readability, and other tools.

For educators who decide to use these texts or want to adapt them to their own classes, it’s simple to create a remix of a textbook. This allows the text to be customized specifically for a given course or instructor. The LibreText platform has many special features that include 3D modeling, code boxes, LMS integration, and printing on demand. 


Provided for free to students throughout the United States, Bookshare has digital textbooks, literature, and other offerings. Its platform was originally intended as an assistive learning technology for individuals with dyslexia, blindness, or other conditions that may interfere with easy reading. The texts on Bookshare can be customized by changing color schemes and font size, highlighting text, and providing audio recordings. The platform is available on most devices for reading on the go or in the classroom.


CK-12 is another organization that provides not only free textbooks and curriculum but also its own format for presenting this information. Its main focus is on K-12 education, with curricular offerings that align with Common Core and other state standards — although it’s beginning to expand into college materials as well. 

Its free textbook solution is called a FlexBook. This is described as an answer to the question of how to bring technology to a textbook instead of just bringing a textbook to technology. Each FlexBook can be customized by the teacher and features interactive content across multiple modalities. CK-12’s mission is to reach every learner at their level and for everyone to have access to high-quality educational materials.

Open Culture

The entire Open Culture site is dedicated to providing access to cultural and educational media at no cost. It’s unique from other resources in this list as it operates more like a blog, with frequently posted information on a variety of subjects. It gathers together material from around the web and offers it in one central location for ease of use. Beyond the extensive list of free online textbooks, Open Culture also gives links to free courses, other e-books, and even other educational resources for K-12

There are many reasons to use free textbooks online in today’s educational system. Simply saving money is a large motivating factor, but there’s so much more. Many of these providers, whether they are authors, educators, or the platforms offering the information, believe in every person’s right to a high-quality education. By making textbooks and other curriculum tools available at no cost and, in many cases, with permission to edit and revamp the content, these resources let educators from around the world and from every grade level collaborate and give their students exactly what they need. 

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