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Our Services: Reading Lists: E-textbooks warning

A guide on how to create and maintain reading lists using Talis Aspire


Many titles, especially textbooks, cannot be purchased in an ebook format suitable for library use because the publishers do not sell a library licence. E-textbooks are usually sold either on an annual one-copy-per-student pricing basis or as part of expensive larger packages, neither of which are affordable under current funding models.


As we approach Michaelmas term 2020, library staff are working hard to provide the best possible access to materials supporting reading lists for taught courses. However, this work is hampered by textbook publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries. Approximately 85% of existing course textbooks are simply unavailable to libraries in any other format than print. 

Most publishers do not sell library-suitable e-textbooks

Most publishers of online textbooks build their sales models around selling:

  • Individual e-textbooks directly to students
  • Institutional subscriptions, typically on a one-copy-per-student pricing basis
  • Multi-title collections on a package basis

This means that, for modules that rely on textbooks, students who do not purchase their own copy may not have any alternative access to the textbook content. The cost of textbooks and other course materials presents a major financial hurdle for students but, despite the library’s commitment to provide support for students who are unable to purchase their own, many publishers will not enable us to purchase a library licence for their most popular publications. The ebooks found on publisher sites are usually consumer versions that cannot be shared or an institutional version sold at prohibitive cost. These are not designed to be shared.

Possible contingencies

We can work with tutors to explore and identify viable textbook alternatives, including:

  1. Using alternative e-books in the relevant subject area from the library’s existing online collection
  2. Scanning extracts from the Library’s existing print collections, subject to the restrictions of UK copyright law and the terms of the UK Higher Education copyright licence.
  3. Linking to alternative academic materials, such as journal articles, streaming media, and other digital material
  4. Identifying open access alternatives