Textbook Availability

The ASU Library continuously explores new approaches for acquiring course materials and textbooks to improve access and support student success. Historically, print copies were often placed on course reserve in one of our libraries for students to check out for a limited period of time. However, as ASU expands our online programs and global reach, as well as incorporates the ASU Sync modality, electronic versions of textbooks are often the best option for our students.

ASU Library’s ability to purchase textbooks is complicated by publishers who do not provide electronic purchasing options for libraries: 

  • Many existing textbooks are unavailable to any library, regardless of budget, in formats other than print. Textbook publishers have built their business models around selling e-textbooks directly to students. 
  • Furthermore, the cost of textbooks and other course materials represents a major financial hurdle for university students. The latest report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 65 percent of students reported skipping buying assigned course material, despite worries that it would affect their grade. That number goes up to 82 percent for students facing food insecurity. 

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, and grant funding. The current textbook market confuses prestige and profit with quality in scholarship evaluation. 

Despite our efforts to purchase digital materials to support ASU courses, the following publishers will not sell an e-textbook version of their publications to libraries:

  • Pearson: While Pearson does not allow libraries to purchase e-textbooks, ASU has a partnership with Pearson to provide digital content and courseware to students at no additional cost to them. For more information about this program, including what content is available, view the ASU-Pearson Affordability Program website.
  • Cengage
  • Houghton
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press (textbook division)
  • Many publishers of fiction and popular nonfiction won’t license ebook copies to libraries. Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster are among the publishers whose books are difficult to license.
  • Many health sciences texts, including Elsevier imprints.

For courses that have adopted textbooks by these publishers, there are no alternative methods of access for students who do not or cannot purchase the textbook.   

To ensure equity of access to course materials for all students, we recommend that instructors work with the library to explore and identify viable commercial textbook alternatives, including:

  • Use an existing e-book in the relevant subject area from the library’s e-book collection or request that the library purchase one. Many academic e-books aren’t considered textbooks, and are therefore available for the library to purchase.
  • Adopt an Open Educational Resource (OER). OERs are freely available educational materials that are openly licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. View Finding & Using Open Educational Resources for recommended sources.
  • Collect your own course materials in Canvas using ASU Library Reading Lists by:    
    • Linking to content from the library’s existing collection of electronic resources (e-books, journal articles, streaming media, and other digital materials).
    • Posting individual book chapters or excerpts, subject to copyright limitations

Instructors are welcome to contact the library for assistance. Library personnel are available to help instructors with questions concerning alternative course materials such as e-books, OERs, and course reserves and will make every effort to acquire resources that students can easily access. 

Thank you to our colleagues at the University of Guelph, Grand Valley State University, and Emory University for documenting these challenges and sharing their statements on textbook availability.