Skip to main content

Musselman Library Services and Resources Summer 2021: Statement on Commercial Textbooks and Libraries

Commercial Textbooks and Libraries

Statement on Commercial Textbooks and Libraries

This language has been adapted with permission from Commercial Textbooks Present Challenges in a Virtual Environment from the University of Guelph Library.


As we begin the Fall 2020 semester, library staff are working hard to provide alternatives to our typical hardcopy course reserves system, including changes such as the open shelving of reserves texts. A significant portion of books on reserve are print copies of required textbooks, which students cannot access without coming into the library. To support instructors and students who are teaching and learning online, we are constantly looking for new approaches to how we acquire course textbooks, especially for digital spaces.

However, this work is hampered by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students. Despite this, we know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials represent a major financial and academic hurdle for many students at Gettysburg College.

Despite the library’s work to make copies of required textbooks available to assist students who are unable to purchase their own, we are unable to purchase an e-textbook version of many publications, due to restrictions from commercial textbook publishers, including:

  • Pearson;
  • Cengage;
  • McGraw Hill;
  • Oxford University Press USA, Higher Education Group;
  • Elsevier imprints (especially in the health sciences).

In courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, students who do not purchase the textbook will not have any alternative, digital 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Creating a custom, online alternative to a commercial textbook in your course’s Moodle space 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 use 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.

Efforts will be made to secure online materials that are free from digital rights management (DRM) restrictions 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.

If you have questions about your current textbooks or would like to explore alternate course materials, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your library liaison or contact