Dear LMU Faculty,
As we approach a predominantly-online fall 2020 semester, the librarians and staff of the William H. Hannon Library are working to provide alternative access to our print course reserves collection, which are unavailable for fall semester 2020. A significant portion of the books typically placed on reserve are print copies of required textbooks, which faculty place on reserve to provide a free alternative for their students. But students cannot access these texts without coming into the library, and copyright law prohibits us from continuing to offer the emergency digitization services we were able to implement in Spring 2020 to assist our students and faculty with access to required materials.
As health recommendations continue to change in light of new information about the spread of COVID-19, the library is planning for a variety of scenarios, some of which include restricted physical access to materials. Even if access to physical course materials is possible, those text may need to be quarantined for up to 72 hours between uses, reducing access and dampening the benefits that physical reserves often provide to students.
Library access to course materials is complicated by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic, institutional 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 using single-user licensing for a limited period of time. The cost of textbooks and other course materials is a barrier to success 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, and faculty. Of particular concern is the conflation of prestige and paywalls with quality in scholarship evaluation; an issue that extends into scholarly communication beyond course materials.
Over the last three years, Hannon Library has committed substantial resources to the Course Adopted Text (CATS) e-book program, in which we seek to acquire copies of all required textbooks and course materials available to assist those students who are unable to purchase their own. But as of AY 2019-2020, we were only able to provide students e-access to approximately 25% of adoptions, due to limitations in access to content from some of the following major publishers:
This means that in courses that have adopted textbooks for which we cannot license a library copy, with inaccessible print reserves in the library, students who do not purchase the textbook will not have any options for alternative access to the textbook content. (More information about the impact of textbook costs on students.)
Librarians and staff at the William H. Hannon Library are committed to working with faculty to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:
We will make all efforts to secure online materials for the library collections 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 also recognize that there are courses and disciplines where changing from a standard textbook is not feasible. There are still ways that you can help keep costs down for your students, including flexibility in adopting older editions, avoiding loose-leaf editions with no resale value, and (most importantly) early communication with our partners at the LMU Bookstore to maximize options for rentals or other affordable access.
Still have questions? We would love to hear from you.
Jamie Hazlitt's contact information in the original letter has been replaced with contact information for Merced College Libraries.
Used by permission from Jamie Hazlitt and thanks to Grand Valley State University and University of Guelph Libraries for their contributions to the author and to OER.