The University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst Libraries Statement on Textbooks

August 3, 2020: As fall semester 2020 approaches, library, faculty, and staff are working to provide alternative access to print course reserves. To support instructors and students over the next several months, we are utilizing different approaches to how we acquire course textbooks to ensure that students have access to needed resources in alternative learning environments.  

The cost of textbooks and other course materials are a barrier for students at every university. To avoid fees, some students don’t purchase textbooks, instead, they use a copy on reserve. A significant portion of print books on reserve are required textbooks, which students are unable to use without coming into the library building. Complicating this work are textbook publishers, who often do not make electronic formats available to libraries for purchase as they have built their business models around selling e-textbooks directly to students.  

Unfortunately, this is not solely a library problem. Textbook costs impact everyone in higher education: students, faculty, advocates in support and success roles, institutional research output, and grant funding. 

Despite libraries’ attempts to make copies of selected textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, the following publishers will not allow libraries to purchase e-textbook versions of their publications: 

  • Pearson 
  • Cengage 
  • Elsevier imprints (especially in veterinary and health science) such as Elsevier Health Science, Mosby, and Saunders
  • McGraw Hill 
  • Most publishers of ‘common reads,’ popular fiction, and popular nonfiction 
  • Thieme 

Due to these constraints, we are working with faculty and instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including: 

  • Adopting open educational resources (OER). OERs are freely available educational materials that are openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. 
  • Creating digital course materials lists in Blackboard or Moodle by requesting scanned individual book chapters or excerpts subject to fair use determinations and licensing availability.
  • Linking to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials)
  • Requesting that the library purchase new e-books (many academic e-books aren’t considered textbooks, and are therefore available for the library to purchase).

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

Questions? Any instructors teaching a fall course are welcome to contact the library at any time for support with sourcing their course materials. Contact your departmental liaison librarian.  

Thank you to our colleagues at Grand Valley State University Libraries and the University of Guelph Libraries for sharing their language  documenting these challenges. We have adapted their statements with permission.