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CSI Library News and Events

CSI Library Statement on Textbooks/Required Course Materials Access During COVID-19

by Maureen Garvey on 2020-08-24T12:09:00-04:00 | Comments

Below is a repost of a broadcast email sent by Associate Dean & Chief Librarian, Amy Stempler, on August 24, 2020 

Library faculty and staff continuously explore approaches to how we acquire course textbooks, to ensure that students have access. Student success is contingent upon access to required course materials. CUNY students faced challenges accessing textbooks even before the pandemic, and this challenge has only increased in our remote learning environment.

We are exploring options for alternatives to the print course reserves collection, which is inaccessible during closure. CSI Library faculty encourage active input from campus faculty to address identifying alternate or low/no cost online textbooks and resources to facilitate student access to required course materials.  

This work is complicated by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries at the institutional level. Many existing traditional course textbooks are simply unavailable to any library, regardless of budget, in formats other than print. As the University of Guelph Library pointed out in their statement on this issue, “Approximately 85% of existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to libraries in any other format than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students, via individual purchases or rentals. We also know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials are a barrier for students at every university, but especially CUNY, and essentially sends taxpayer-funded student financial aid back to content providers, who use faculty labor and research to monopolize and dominate knowledge production. See SPARC's recent statement about this phenomenon.

This is not a library problem. This is an issue within the scholarly communication system 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 copies of required textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, publishers often do not allow libraries to purchase single institutional copies of an e-textbook version of their traditional course publications. Examples of some publishers that libraries can have difficulty obtaining e-texts from include,    

  • Pearson 

  • Cengage 

  • McGraw Hill 

  • Oxford University Press  

  • Most publishers of ‘common reads,’ popular fiction, and popular nonfiction 

  • Some 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. This is why the Library faculty was so thrilled to be recipients of the NY State OER grant, to assist discipline faculty in moving to openly available course materials. 

We are here to help instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including: 

  • Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the Library’s current e-book collection or requesting that the library purchase one. Many academic e-books are not considered textbooks, and are therefore available for the library to purchase. 

  • 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. 

  • Creating an online course pack in Blackboard by: 

    • Posting individual book chapters or excerpts, and scanned copies of 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). 

Under these circumstances, we also hope faculty will be flexible and allow students to use older editions of assigned textbooks that can be purchased at a much lower cost.

Efforts will be made to secure online materials that are free from digital rights management restrictions (DRM), when available, 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 teaching a fall course are welcome to contact the Library for support with sourcing their course materials. 

Interested? Further information and options:

For OER, 

  • Contact our Emerging Technologies Librarian, and OER Coordinator, Prof Christina Boyle, 
  • If you are interested in exploring Open Educational Resources for your class, see our OER Guide to start. 

To use existing library content, 

For more information generally,

If you want to use your traditional course textbook,

  • If you want to find out if we can purchase an e-version of your text, use the Reserves Request Form.
  • If the Library cannot purchase it, contact the publisher and/or the campus bookstore directly to find out about instructor-led course registration on publisher platforms where the digitized version of a text can be linked from, and /or the availability of digital access per student purchase.


Acknowledgement: Statement adapted with permission from statements by University of Guelph LibrariesGrand Valley State University, and Lehman College, CUNY, and therefore under the same Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. 


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