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Course Textbooks Online

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The Challenges of Commercial Textbooks in a Virtual Environment

Reg Erhardt Library staff have spent the summer working hard to support instructors and students who are now teaching and learning online. We are also preparing for the fall semester, looking at ways to provide alternative access to physical equipment and print materials for students. One of our most popular print collections is our Course Text Collection (CTC) which allows students to check out current textbooks for short term use. We know that the need for these materials will not diminish because students learn online or via hybrid environments.

Not surprisingly, a common question we hear from both students and instructors is “Can you get my textbook as an ebook?” While we are developing new processes to provide access to these high-use items, our work is hindered by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. According to the Libraries at Guelph University, “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.” 1 The same is true at SAIT, with publishers such as Pearson, Cengage, McGraw Hill, and Elsevier not allowing the Library to purchase e-textbook versions of their titles. Additionally, services such as RedShelf and VitalSource sell only to individual students with no re-sale or reuse opportunities. This is occurring even as we know the cost of textbooks and access codes continues to grow, causing major concerns for students. 2, 3

The Reg Erhardt Library staff is committed to providing learning materials that are free of cost to students in whatever format is most accessible in today’s learning environments. We look forward to working with instructors to identify possible print textbook alternatives, including:

  1. Locating an existing ebook title from the Library’s current collection or a new title for the Library to purchase from an ebook publisher. There are many technical and academic ebooks that are not considered textbooks and are therefore available for the Library to purchase.
  2. Locating electronic resources from the Library’s collection such as online articles, streaming videos, and conference proceedings. Links for these materials can be added into a Brightspace course shell.
  3. Adopting an open educational resource (OER). OERs are freely available and open licensed so that they can be customized, expanded, and shared without issue. Many OERs have been added to the Library’s new search platform or can be found through repositories.

If you’d like to source new learning materials for your fall semester course, please contact your Library liaison this summer.

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries for being the first to share these concerns on their blog. We have adapted their language with permission.



3 Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. (2019, December).  Open Educational Resources Electronic Textbook Survey.

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