Commercial textbooks present challenges in an online environment

As we approach the fall 2020 term, the Dal Libraries are working to provide alternative access to the print course reserves collection. 

Among the readings on course reserves, there are usually a number of course textbooks (e.g. items from the library’s collection, or books loaned to the library by an instructor).

With teaching and learning moving largely online for the fall term, instructors are asking that print textbooks on reserve be replaced by e-textbooks, to provide better access to students. However, there are numerous textbook publishers that do not permit libraries to purchase electronic textbooks.

Many existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to libraries in any other format than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling textbooks directly to students.

Academic publishers that do not allow libraries to purchase e-textbooks

Despite the Dal Libraries' commitment to make copies of required readings available to students where possible, the following publishers are examples of those that will not allow us to purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:

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

In courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, students who purchase the print or e-textbook will have access, but the textbook in its entirety will not be available via print or electronic course reserves.

Viable alternatives

The Dal Libraries encourages instructors to explore and identify viable alternatives to textbook readings, including:

  1. Using an existing eBook in the relevant subject area from the library’s eBook collection or requesting that the library purchase one. There are many academic eBooks that aren’t considered textbooks, and are therefore available for the library to purchase.

  2. 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. Resources for locating OER textbooks are available on the Dal Libraries Open Textbooks guide. However we realize that sometimes it can be difficult to find OERs and that OERs may not exist for every course.

  3. Creating an online course reading list through Brightspace by:
    • Posting individual book/textbook chapters or excerpts and scanned copies of the content, subject to copyright limitations. For reading requests sent via e-Reserves, copyright permission will be sought where feasible in cases where the excerpt falls outside of fair dealing guidelines. However, in some cases, it may not be possible to obtain permission or licenses.
    • Stable links to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (eBooks, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials) or, if needed, acquiring new content.

The Dal Libraries will seek to secure online materials that are free from digital rights management restrictions (DRM) in order to ensure relative ease of student access and use. 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.

Instructors who are teaching fall term courses are advised to submit course reading lists to the Dal Libraries’ Course eReserves submission form as soon as possible. If faculty wish to consult the Dal Libraries about specific resources, liaison librarians/subject selectors are available to provide support.

The above text was adapted with permission from a June 22, 2020 news post by the University of Guelph Library (https://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/news/commercial-textbooks-present-challenges-virtual-environment).

Released August 4, 2020.