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Statement on Commercial Textbook Challenges for Online Instruction

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries for sharing their language documenting these challenges. We have adapted it with permission.

Since the Fall 2020 semester, Loyola University Chicago Libraries staff have been working hard to provide alternative access to the print course reserves collection. The decision has been made not to circulate print course reserves for the fall semester based on prevailing health and safety recommendations surrounding the transmission risks of COVID-19. A significant portion of the books on reserve is print copies of required textbooks. To support instructors and students over the next several months, we are developing new approaches to how we acquire course textbooks in order to aid in student access, even in a primarily online, alternative delivery environment.

However, this 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 a format other than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students. Despite this, we also know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials represent a major financial hurdle for students at all universities. The textbook publishing ecosystem funnels 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 a scholarly publishing industry problem that impacts everyone in higher education.

Despite the Libraries’ commitment to make copies of textbooks and course materials available when possible 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
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press (Textbook Division)
  • Many other textbook publishers with few current exceptions
  • Most publishers of popular fiction and non-fiction

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 from the Libraries. 

We are working with instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:

  1. Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the Libraries’ 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 Libraries 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 pack in Sakai:
  4. Linking to content from the Libraries’ existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials) or acquiring new content whenever possible.

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.

Faculty can make purchase requests for e-books by contacting the subject specialist librarian for their school or department, or by submitting a request via the library website. When the library buildings are permitted to reopen, in accordance with the campus reopening plan, we will distribute information for requesting scans of book chapters and other physical materials.

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