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How the Library Can Help with Course Readings

December 4, 2020

Open book with tulips on it

As we prepare for the spring semester, Library staff are once again working hard to provide access to all required course readings. We work closely with the Huntley Bookstore to get lists of titles faculty submit there, and faculty can also send the Library any additional titles they want to make sure their students have access to using this Course Readings Request form

With the continued uncertainty about whether students will be able to return to campus in the spring, we are focused on providing access to online textbooks and course readings whenever possible. 

However, it’s important to understand that many textbooks are simply unavailable to any Library, regardless of budget, in formats other than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling both print and e-textbooks directly to students. Despite the Library’s commitment to make copies of all required textbooks and course materials available to ensure all students have equitable access, several textbook publishers will not allow us to purchase an e-textbook version of their publications. These include Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Sage, Oxford University Press Textbooks (not their regular monographs), Prentice Hall, and Pearson. 

There are also some publishers that only provide libraries with a one-user-at-a-time license to purchase, which mimics access to print books. Unfortunately, neither of these access models is ideal, especially when the majority of students and faculty are teaching and learning remotely. The only way around these limitations is for faculty to become aware of the available options and to make informed decisions about the readings they assign. This article outlines some of the factors to consider and how the Library can support you with this. 

Determining eBook Availability

Whenever we buy eBooks, we always opt for a multi-user or unlimited user license, if it is available. You can check to see if the Library already has an e-version of a required text for your class by searching the Library’s catalog. If you find an eBook, you can add a link to it in Sakai or Canvas so your students can easily find it (video instructions on how to do this); in some cases, you can even link directly to a particular chapter within the eBook.

If the Library does not currently provide access to an eBook you want to assign or if you want to confirm whether our license for an existing eBook allows for multiple simultaneous users, you have a few options: 

  • You can contact your Subject Librarian to have a conversation about your options.
  • You can fill out the Library’s Course Readings form and we’ll investigate e-availability. We’ll automatically purchase the best eBook option available (sometimes this will be only a single-user at a time option). If there is no eBook option we’ll purchase a print copy as a last resort.

Access to Print-Only Course ReadingsUnder normal circumstances, the Library would purchase a print copy of these textbooks and make them available to one student at a time to check out from the Library. With our move to remote or a hybrid model of instruction, and with the need to quarantine print books for 24 hours in order to ensure they will not spread the Covid-19 virus, the Library will not be able to provide students with access to print-only Course Readings (we can provide chapter scans, however. More on this below).

Again, because not all books are available as eBooks, Librarians can help you investigate online access to the texts you want to assign, and if none exist, suggest alternatives. 

Finding Affordable Course Materials or Open Educational Resources

Speaking of alternatives: if you are still deciding which texts to assign for your courses, Subject Librarians are available to help you identify high quality open textbooks or lower-cost textbooks, eBooks, journal articles, or other materials to use in your courses as alternatives to expensive textbooks/course readings. 

There is also a growing body of open textbooks, often referred to as Open Educational Resources (OERs), that are created by faculty and made available for others to use. These are 100% free for students, do not have copyright restrictions, and can be adapted to your class purposes. (For example, you can extract individual chapters, or even parts thereof, to mix with your own materials). Additionally, using an open textbook means that students will have access to the assigned readings on day one of your course.

Some places you might start to look for Open Textbooks:

  • Open Textbook Library via the University of Minnesota. All e-textbooks are under a Creative Commons license and are free to use and download. Many are peer reviewed by faculty members who have used these books in their own classes.
  • OpenStax via Rice University. Freely licensed e-textbooks available to read online or download in multiple formats. Also includes some classroom resources.
  • Open SUNY Textbooks via the State University of New York (SUNY). Produced as part of an open access publishing initiative by SUNY Libraries, these eBooks are written and peer reviewed by faculty, and they fall under a Creative Commons license.
  • InTechOpen. Home to nearly 3,000 open eBooks, InTech is the world’s largest science, technology, and medicine open access book publisher. It encourages teachers to use their materials in the classroom.

What if We Can’t Find a Suitable Digital Alternative?

The Library adheres to accepted copyright best practices that recognize the importance of fair use to teaching. If we are unable to find a suitable digital option for a textbook or course reading, we can scan portions of library owned print materials for courses. Please consider the following before making a scanning request:

  • If you are able to scan course materials yourself for sharing with your class through Sakai or Canvas, we encourage you to exercise your right to do so under the TEACH Act (Section 108). 
  • Somewhere in the system that you store the materials provide a notice to students that “materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection”.
  • If you do not have the time or capacity to do the scanning yourself and would like our help, we ask that you submit requests to us for only the portions of a given work that are needed for full participation in the course.
  • Finally, please only distribute the scans to students using Sakai, Canvas, or any other platform that requires students to log in (e.g., Box or Google Drive) in order to ensure that access is limited to those enrolled in the course.

Use this form to request scans of sections of print-only course readings