As we continue to support online classes, library staff are 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. These library spaces remain temporarily closed in compliance with provincial public health requirements during the COVID crisis.
Library staff have continuously explored approaches to how we acquire required course readings, to ensure that students have access to material online. This work is complicated by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Many existing course textbooks are simply unavailable for any library to own in formats other than print. E-textbooks available for sale on publisher websites are for individual use only, and not available to the academic library marketplace.
Textbook publishers are building their business models around selling access to e-textbooks directly to students. Many textbook publishers do offer e-textbook rental for some titles as a somewhat more affordable alternative, but these rentals are term-limited and expire, depriving students of continued access to their learning materials throughout their student careers. This business strategy also serves to shrink the secondary market in used textbooks, which had offered a more affordable means for students to own or share their required texts.
We know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials are a barrier for students at every university. Despite the library’s commitment 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 purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:
- McGraw Hill
- W. W. Norton & Company
- Oxford University Press Textbooks
- 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. Publishers have the resources to support, even temporarily, the more equitable distribution of e-textbooks but have chosen not to allow libraries to make course materials available to students who need access. This negatively impacts student success, as studies have shown that equitable access to core learning materials correlates with improved student performance and course completion rates.
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-resource 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. Use the Open, Free, & Affordable Course Material guide for suggestions.
- Making your course readings available online using library services. Consider:
- Using the Syllabus Service to make your course readings available
- Uploading individual book chapters or excerpts of assigned course readings to Quercus, subject to copyright limitations. When assigned material exceeds the libraries’ current licences and U of T’s fair dealing guidelines, we may be able to negotiate copyright clearance for these items at no cost to you or your students.
- 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.
Any instructors teaching a fall course are also welcome to contact the library at any time for support with sourcing their course materials.
- Consult campus-specific resources that support teaching: at St. George | at UTM | at UTSC
- Email email@example.com and we’ll work with you to discuss options available, or direct your question to the appropriate library
- Reach out to your liaison librarian