40 Stuck Between a Rock and a Publisher: Impacting Affordability During a Pandemic

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries for sharing their language documenting these challenges. We have adapted their publication with permission. This text was originally published by Katherine Willeford on UTA Libraries’ blog  in 2020. Many thanks to Michelle Reed, Peter Zhang, Sara Ann Stinson, and Alexandra Pirkle for their work toward this blog post.

Academic libraries across the country are looking for new ways to provide access to course materials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to public health considerations, there is a 7-day quarantine period for all print materials returning to the Libraries. This means providing access to short-term loan print reserves will not be an option for our students during the Fall 2020 semester.

UTA Libraries understands the costs of course materials are significant. As instructors have adjusted their syllabi to a hybrid learning environment, we have worked to identify required course materials that may be purchased to lend in a digital format.

As Libraries staff have attempted to ensure equitable access to course materials for UTA students, we have unfortunately run into barriers that give us limited or no options to impact affordability.

Challenges of the system

Our work is hampered by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. According to The University of Guelph, approximately 85% of existing course textbooks are unavailable to libraries in any other format than print. This lack of availability exists because textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students.

The following publishers will not allow us to purchase many e-textbook versions of their publications:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill (with the exception of AccessEngineering textbooks)
  • Wiley
  • Wadsworth
  • Oxford University Press
  • Elsevier imprints (especially in veterinary and health science) such as:
    • Elsevier Health Science
    • Mosby
    • Saunders

During a time when many UTA students are deeply concerned with the cost of course materials, we had hoped to significantly impact affordability for our students through strategic purchasing. Although we have the funds, the lack of available options for purchasing has been frustrating. What options we do have are often licenses that only allow for one user at a time to access the online content, limiting the overall impact of this work.

We hope shedding light on this issue will bring about change where it matters most, as this issue impacts those within higher education and our UTA community.

What we can do

Libraries staff are working with instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:

  1. Adopting an open educational resource (OER). OER are freely available educational materials that are openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors.
  2. Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the Libraries’ e-book collection or requesting that the Libraries purchase one. There are many academic e-books that aren’t considered textbooks and are therefore available for purchase.
  3. Identifying materials for electronic reserves:
    • Posting individual book chapters or excerpts and scanned copies of the content, subject to copyright limitations
    • Linking to content from the Libraries’ existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials)

Next steps

Instructors are encouraged to reach out to the Libraries for assistance locating alternative course materials:


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A Guide to OER Creation with Mavs Open Press Copyright © 2021 by Mavs Open Press is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.