Statement on Textbooks in the Library Collection

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Guelph Libraries for sharing their language documenting these challenges. We have adapted it with permission.

Library faculty and staff have continuously explored approaches to how we acquire course materials, including textbooks and media, to ensure that students have access to materials, even at a distance.

W&M Libraries is committed to providing resources to support teaching, learning, and research.  This work is complicated by publishers who either do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries or elect to provide materials in expensive formats with limitations on access (including DRM or short licensing periods). We face similar challenges when licensing films, as seen with Kanopy.


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 make copies of 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:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press 
  • Most publishers of ‘common reads,’ popular fiction, and popular nonfiction
  • Many health sciences texts

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.  

How we can help

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

  • Using an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the library’s e-book collection or requesting that the library purchase one. Many academic e-books aren’t considered textbooks and are therefore available for the library to purchase.
  • Creating an online course pack in Blackboard by:
    • Posting individual book chapters or excerpts. 
    • Linking to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials).

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. 

We understand that changing texts can be labor intensive. If you would like to explore lower-cost or open educational resources (OER) for future course offerings, we would be happy to help find possible titles. Virginia has a portal for OER works.

Instructors are also welcome to contact the library at any time for support with sourcing their course materials.


Please contact your liaison librarians.