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Commercial Textbooks Present Challenges in a Virtual Environment
September 21, 2020 About the library

In this virtual reality brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, students cannot access our very popular print course reserves collection. We are starting a book reserve system but that will only serve a few students per course per semester. In our library’s virtual chat system, we have received many inquiries from students who want access to their textbooks but cannot afford them or are waiting on copies being shipped to them. We would like to support instructors and students to ensure that students have access to textbooks.

However, this work is hampered 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. 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 any higher education institution 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 commitment to make 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:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press
  • Elsevier imprints
  • 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.

We would be willing to work with instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:

  1. Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the library’s e-book collection or requesting that the library purchase one. There are many academic e-books 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.
  3. Creating an online course reader by:
    • Linking to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials) or acquiring new content whenever possible.

If you are interested in learning about eliminating textbooks barriers for students, please contact Jenny and Heather at jyap@peralta.edu and hdodge@peralta.edu

This statement was adapted from the University of Guelph Libraries and Grand Valley State University Libraries.

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