Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries and the Grand Valley State University Libraries for sharing their language documenting these challenges. We have adapted it with permission.
UTRGV University Library has been purchasing e-textbooks with unlimited concurrent user licenses as an affordability project for over a year, and demand for ebooks has only accelerated during the past semester. We anticipate a continuing high demand for Fall 2020. Library staff are also working hard to provide alternative access to the print course reserves collection. A significant portion of the books on reserve are print copies of required textbooks, and students cannot access them without coming into the library. Library staff have continuously explored various approaches to acquiring course textbooks which ensure students have electronic access while the library's physical collection remains inaccessible.
This work is complicated by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Many existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to any library, regardless of budget, in formats other than print. Even when these are available as ebooks, they are often not available with unlimited user licenses, which makes them unsuitable for replacing a course textbook. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students. We also know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials are a barrier for students at every university and essentially sends taxpayer funded student financial aid back to content providers, who further exploit faculty labor and research to monopolize and dominate knowledge production.
This is not a library problem. This is an industry problem that impacts everyone in higher education: students, advocates in support and success roles, faculty and institutional research output, grant funding, and confuses prestige and paywalls with quality in scholarship evaluation.
Despite the library’s attempts to make copies of required textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, the following publishers will not allow us to individually purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:
Oxford University Press
Many health sciences texts
This means that in courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, students who do not purchase the textbook will not have any alternative access to the textbook content. These publishers have the resources to support a global reliance on flexible distribution, and choose not to.
We are working with instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:
Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the library’s e-book collection or requesting that the library purchase one. Many academic e-books aren’t considered textbooks, and are therefore available for the library to purchase.
Adopting an open educational resource (OER). OERs are freely available educational materials that are openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors.
Creating an online course pack in Blackboard by:
Posting individual book chapters or excerpts and scanned copies of the content, subject to copyright limitations.
Linking to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials).
Efforts will be made to secure online materials that are free from digital rights management restrictions (DRM) in order to ensure unfettered student access. DRM includes limits on the number of users that can access a resource at any one time, as well as limits on copying, printing and downloading.
Departments are encouraged to send letters to these publishers to request that they allow the Library to license their ebooks with an appropriate, DRM-free license.
Any instructors teaching a Fall 2020 course are also welcome to contact the Library at any time for support with sourcing their course materials. Email Justin White (email@example.com) or Gabby Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) for support with library licensed and OER suggestions.
You can also request required course materials through our improved purchase request form: [URL placeholder]