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Copyright: Textbook Alternatives

Textbook Alternatives

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. We are also seeing a greater number of publishers offer libraries textbook "leasing" or rental options, which can be costly and does not provide sustainable access to resources.  

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. 

The following publishers are examples of those that will not allow the Library to purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • Elsevier textbook imprints (such as Mosby and Saunders) 
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill
  • Nelson
  • Oxford University Press Canada (Textbook Division)
  • Thieme
  • W.W. Norton
  • Many health sciences texts

This means that in courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, students who purchase the print or e-textbook will have access, but the textbook in its entirety will not be available via print or electronic course reserves.

The Geoffrey R. Weller Library encourages instructors to explore and identify viable alternatives to textbook readings, including:

  1. Using an existing ebook in the relevant subject area from the Library's ebook collection or suggest that the Library purchase one. There are many academic ebooks that aren't considered textbooks and are therefore available for the Library to purchase if they fit within collection development policies.  You can also reach out to your subject librarian for advice on ebooks available for purchase by the Library.
  2. Adopting an Open Textbook or Open Educational Resource (OER). OERs are freely available educational materials that are openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. Resources for locating OER textbooks are available on the Copyright Libguide, Open Access webpage or Open Textbook tab on the Scholarly Communication Libguide  However we realize that sometimes it can be difficult to find OERs and that OERs may not exist for every course.  You can also reach out to your subject librarian for advice.
  3. Creating an online course reading list on Moodle by:
    • Scanning book chapters and excerpts, subject to copyright limitations.. Copyright permission will be sought where feasible in cases where the excerpt falls outside of fair dealing guidelines. We use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology to convert scanned content into accessible PDFs
    • Linking to content from the existing collection of electronic resources (ebooks, 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. However, often publishers only offer ebooks with DRM.

Instructors are advised to submit course reading lists to the UNBC Copyright Office as soon as possible.  The UNBC Copyright Office will:

  • review your syllabi,
  • arrange copyright permission where feasible in cases where the excerpt falls outside of fair dealing guidelines, and
  • create PDFs and/or permanent links for your Moodle shell. 
  • However, in some cases, it may not be possible to obtain permission or licenses.

If faculty wish to consult the library about specific resources, subject librarians are available to provide support.

The above text was adapted with permission from a June 22, 2020 news post by the University of Guelph Library ( Last updated Jan. 2024