Commercial Textbooks and Course Readings This Fall

Published on August 11, 2020

We’re committed to providing the highest level of service to our communities. As part of these services, we provide online Course Readings through a variety of means: linking to online articles and e-books in our collection, licensing new items where possible, and scanning print chapters and excerpts where allowed by copyright. However, a significant portion of course materials have traditionally been textbooks, and even in our current environment we are unable to purchase or licence these e-books consistently for use by our students.

The vast majority of course textbooks are not available to Western Libraries in any format other than print. For example, textbooks published by Pearson, Cengage, Houghton, McGraw Hill, Oxford University Press Canada (textbook division), many Elsevier imprints, and Thieme, are generally unavailable for library purchase in electronic format.

If a course uses textbooks by these publishers, the only way for students to get access to the content is to purchase a print copy or e-book licensed for individual use. Print course reserves will not be offered in any of our library locations this fall or winter. Public health guidelines require libraries to quarantine library materials for 72 hours after they have been used. This makes offering a print-based, short-term loan service impractical. In addition, with the majority of students studying remotely through online learning, we’re focusing our resources on a digital-first collections strategy to provide equitable access to course materials to all students, regardless of where they are working.

In the spring we began working with faculty on how to choose and provide access to course readings. Through a series of educational videos we recommended alternatives to textbooks where possible, such as:

  • Selecting an existing e-book we currently license
  • Requesting we license an e-book that is not traditionally considered a textbook
  • 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
  • Allowing us to create online course readings through our Course Readings Service

Instructors are welcome to contact us at any time for support sourcing course materials. Students are welcome to contact us for help sourcing their course readings.

This page acknowledges and borrows extensively from Guelph University Library’s page “Commercial Textbooks Present Challenges in a Virtual Environment.” We are grateful for their leadership on this issue.