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Commercial Textbooks Challenges in an Online Environment

We know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials can represent a financial hurdle for students at Toronto Metropolitan University. As we approach the fall 2020 semester, Library staff are working hard to provide alternative access to the print course reserves collection in order to help mitigate some of the cost and obstacles present in our current environment. 

This fall, short-term loan print course reserves will not be available because of health considerations. A significant portion of the books on reserve are print copies of required textbooks.  To support instructors and students over the next several months, we are developing new approaches to how we make available course readings; however, textbooks remain a challenge.

Most textbook publishers do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. 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. 

Despite the Library’s commitment to make copies of all required textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, publishers such as the following, will not allow us to purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill
  • Wiley
  • Wadsworth
  • Oxford University Press Canada (Textbook Division)
  • Elsevier imprints (especially in veterinary and health science) such as:
    • Elsevier Health Science
    • Mosby
    • Saunders
  • Thieme

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. 

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 Library’s 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 library to purchase. Please contact your Subject Librarian to help you.
  1. 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. You can find more about what is available at our OER Library Guide.  You can also consult our new OER by Discipline Guide
  1. Creating an online course pack through Library Digital Course Reading service (eReserve) by:
    • Posting individual book chapters or excerpts and scanned copies of the content, subject to copyright limitations. Copyright permission will be sought where feasible in cases where the excerpt falls outside of fair dealing guidelines.
    • Linking to content from the Library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials) or acquiring new content whenever possible. Contact

Efforts will be made to secure online materials that are free from digital rights management restrictions (DRM) when possible 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. DRM-free content is also accessible and can be used by screen readers. 

Any instructors teaching a fall course are also welcome to contact your Subject Librarian  at any time for support with sourcing their course materials 


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Thank you to University of Guelph Libraries for sharing their language in  documenting these challenges. We have adapted their notice with permission.