Why is it difficult for the library to the most current textbook edition for my course in ebook format?
Libraries operate by providing access to digital resources that are available across campus to multiple individuals at the same time with off-campus access. This is referred to an institutional access granted by an institutional license. In the past, textbooks (print) were the exclusive purview of the local campus bookstore and/ or a library’s Reserve collection. As publishers and companies like Amazon started converting their print collections to digital books, the latest published e-textbook edition would often be published well after the print edition (many times a year or more) with costs often prohibitively more expensive than the print edition, which means less bought with the same amount of funding. Hence, the lack of current availability would cause a delay.
In addition in recent years, publishers are starting to target students directly through e-book rentals, possible access if they purchase a print book, as well as faculty gaining access/ signing up for their e-commerce platforms with the assistance of the local bookstore, bypassing libraries ability to provide all-inclusive access altogether. Since digital access is sold exclusively as individual access (e.g., like a Netflix or Kindle account with an individual subscription), this prevents involvement by a library whose mission is to provide access to multiple users. There are also some textbook publishers who are planning on stopping print publications altogether, which has upset some textbook authors. See article.
Hence, the business model for textbook publishing is starting to change to digital only ‘individual only’ across e-commerce platforms as describe below (aka., Gale Unlimited, McGraw Hill Alek’s, Cambridge Higher Education). Due to the COVID-19 crisis, vendors and publishers were temporarily allowing free individual and settling up some institutional access but whether they start changing this new business model, with the pressure of libraries, remains to be seen.
What is the ability of the library getting an e-textbook for my course?
From my experience of purchasing and searching for e-textbooks over many years, in a search for a course e-books (there are many different varieties- a traditional textbook versus supplemental readings), roughly one of every ten titles can be found in the institutional format described, as well as with the various factors mentioned above. This is supported by the latest research coming from other academic institutions nationally and globally. See article 1 and article 2.
Should I even try to search for my textbook or request my textbook from the library?
The answer is yes. In general, supplemental and literary readings are more prominently found as e-books than a typical Introductory textbook or a text that changes editions often. By searching CUNY’s OneSearch tool and/ or going directly to the library’s institutional ebook databases (e.g., EBSCO, Gale, Rittenhouse), you can see if the library already has the ebook version. If not, you can also request that the library do a further search to see if that textbook is available as an e-book to be purchased using the library’s Reserve form.