Everyone Wants the Libraries to Acquire Textbooks for Student Use, Including Us

By Anne Rauh, Head of Collections and Research Services

One of the most frequent requests we receive, from both students and faculty alike, is that the Libraries acquire textbooks. We certainly recognize that textbooks are an enormous expense and financial burden on students. In an ideal world, the Libraries would be able to alleviate that.

Now, in this era of COVID-19, when online learning has become much more prevalent, the Libraries have prioritized ordering electronic materials when available. Unfortunately, textbooks are often unavailable for purchase electronically by libraries. In those instances, the Libraries are working to provide alternative access in a safe and legal way.

Even with our desire to support student textbook needs, our work is hampered by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Approximately 85% of existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to libraries in any other format than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students.

The following publishers will not sell us e-textbooks:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press Canada (Textbook Division)
  • Elsevier imprints (especially in health science) such as: Elsevier Health Science, Mosby, Saunders
  • Thieme

This means that in courses that use textbooks by these publishers, SU Libraries is unlikely to be able to provide students with electronic access to the textbook content. 

So, are there other options?

Yes! Subject Librarians are happy to work with faculty to explore alternatives to expensive textbooks that are freely available to students and can make ideal course readings. They can find links to existing electronic resources and can determine if there are appropriate multi-user or unlimited user e-books that can be added to the Libraries’ collection.  They can also help identify open educational resources (OERs) that are freely available online for reuse. The more that these types of course materials are used, the greater cost savings there will be to students.

Faculty may also request electronic scans of articles from journals and chapters from books in our collections through SU Libraries’ Interlibrary Loan service. Faculty and instructors can then place the scanned content in Blackboard. However, due to volume and resources, scan requests can take 2-3 days to process. Adding e-books and streaming media to the collection can take even longer, depending on the licensing process.

Although it may not be the ideal scenario, the Libraries is committed to helping our students as best we can. Working together with faculty, we can alleviate some of the financial burden that students encounter when accessing textbooks with alternative options.

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries and Grand Valley State University Libraries for outlining these challenges and allowing us to adapt their statements on electronic access to textbooks.