Skip to main content

Campus Library addressing commercial textbook-access challenges in online environment

Students in Campus Library

The traditionally high cost of textbooks and other course materials represents a major financial hurdle for many university students. As part of Ontario Tech University’s commitment to encouraging an engaging and barrier-free student learning experience, the university’s Campus Library offers a print Course Reserve service. Each semester, more than 900 items are available for students to borrow for a one- or three-day period.

For the last several months, the Course Reserve service has been unavailable due to the closure of Campus Library buildings. The Library anticipates reopening in Fall 2020 with restrictions and limitations on services and hours; however, with classes moving to primarily online delivery, many students may not be able to visit the Library in person to borrow printed materials. In addition, returned Course Reserve materials will be subject to a 72-hour quarantine requirement before other students can borrow them, which may present further access challenges.

The Library is developing new approaches to ensure students have equitable access to materials over the next several months. One alternative is to offer e-textbooks through the Course Reserves service. However, approximately 85 per cent of existing course textbooks (including those published by the companies listed below) are only available to libraries in print format:

  • 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 do not purchase the textbook will not have any alternative access to the textbook content. 

Even if an electronic version of a textbook is available for library acquisition, it is often prohibitively expensive ($1,000 or more for a single-user license). Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students.

To address these challenges, the Library is 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 asking the Library to purchase one (many academic e-books aren’t considered textbooks and are available for the library to purchase).
  • Adopting open educational resources (OERs): free educational materials hosted online and available to anyone. OERs are licensed under Creative Commons, allowing instructors to re-use and modify them.
  • Creating an online reading list using the Library’s electronic reserves system 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) or acquiring new content whenever possible.

To ensure unfettered student access, the Library will make effort to secure online materials that are not subject to digital rights-management (DRM) restrictions (such as limits on the number of users that can access a resource at any one time, or limits on copying, printing and downloading). The Library’s ability to obtain DRM-free material is subject to availability and cost.



This content was adapted, with permission, from a statement issued by the University of Guelph Library.