Recently, the CSU Council of Library Deans shared “Statement on Textbooks in the Library Collection”, which articulates many of the constraints that Cal State LA library faces in providing service to our students. At Cal State LA, we are active participants in the CSU Affordable Learning Solutions initiative, which promotes the adoption of low or no-cost materials, but there are still many textbooks which students are unable to pay for. Typically, when instruction is on campus, the University Library provides access to many textbooks through physical and electronic course reserves. To replicate the same availability in an entirely virtual environment is near impossible, as most major publishers do not allow libraries to purchase digital versions of textbooks. This practice by publishers deprives students who cannot afford a personal digital edition of essential resources to their pursuit of an education.
Statement on Textbooks in the Library Collection
As we approach the fall 2020 semester, library faculty and staff are working hard to provide alternative access to the print course reserves collection. A significant portion of the books on reserve are print copies of required textbooks, and students cannot access them without coming into the library. Library faculty and staff have continuously explored approaches to how we acquire course textbooks, to ensure that students have access, even in a distance delivery environment.
This work is complicated by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Many existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to any library, regardless of budget, in formats other than print. Textbook publishers have built their profit models around selling e-textbooks directly to students. We also know that the cost of textbooks and other course materials are a barrier for students at every university and essentially sends taxpayer-funded student financial aid back to content providers, who further exploit faculty labor and research to monopolize and dominate knowledge production.
This is not a library problem. This is an industry problem that impacts everyone in higher education: students, advocates in support and success roles, faculty and institutional research output, grant funding, and confuses prestige and paywalls with quality in scholarship evaluation.
Despite the library’s commitment to making copies of all required textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own, the following publishers will not allow us to purchase an e-textbook version of their publications:
This means that in courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, students who do not purchase the textbook will not have any alternative access to the textbook content. These publishers have the resources to support a global reliance on flexible distribution and choose not to.
We are working with instructors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:
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.
Cal State LA Library Questions?
Acknowledgment: Grand Valley State University’s “Statement on Textbooks in the Library Collection"