Purchasing issues facing the Library

The current situation in the sector

The rising costs of textbooks, particularly eBooks, is creating a crisis of availability of core reading materials. This is impacting on academic colleagues’ ability to recommend textbooks and students facility to access core reading materials.

Publishers current supply models make it impossible for a library to provide textbooks on behalf of their students. Consequently, students are either forced to purchase expensive textbooks themselves or not have access to critical resources. This is all happening during a cost-of-living crisis when they are struggling to meet their basic needs to support their studies.

Therefore, the supply and pricing of textbooks, particularly eBooks, is one of the most difficult issues currently facing both libraries and universities. Further information on these issues is available in Jisc's Briefing for academic staff on Cost, affordability and availability of core reading materials.

Publishers are increasingly constraining our ability to provide equitable textbook access. Their actions include:

  • imposing stringent access requirements when providing eTextbooks
  • declining to sell their eTextbooks to libraries
  • not offering some textbooks in electronic format
  • escalating eTextbook costs for libraries
  • withdrawing sale of textbooks previously available electronically

Some publishers provide eBooks for individual private purchase only because that model is the most effective for them financially. An eBook being available for you to purchase via Amazon, for example, does not automatically mean that the Library can buy a copy for our students. We will always do our best to try to find an institutional copy to buy, but sometimes there simply will not be one on offer.

This issue has been picked up by several academic librarians, and the #eBookSOS movement has been gathering momentum on a national (and international) scale. It is now more important than ever that we do whatever we can to reduce our reliance on purchasing eBooks on these restricted models.

What are we doing in the Library at Salford?

The Library currently provides access to more than 800,000 eBooks and in recent months we have acquired a significant number of additional eBooks. We are also actively supporting open access book initiatives across the sector as part of the commitment to open pedagogy and open research.

Whilst acknowledging the issues faced around eBook and textbook supply, the Library is committed to working with publishers and eBook suppliers to negotiate the best possible access for our students. We will ensure we obtain the best value pricing and return on investment for the University.

eBooks can be excellent resources, often providing instant, remote access to academic literature at the point of need and the Library is committed to providing as many eBooks as possible for our students. However, the availability, licencing and pricing landscape is complicated and is in desperate need of fairer more sustainable pricing models. 

Sometimes an eBook is available, but the price makes its purchase simply unaffordable for us. We will always try to find a solution, negotiating with providers and looking at all possible means of acquiring an eBook, but there are unfortunately instances where, for reasons of price, we might not be able to purchase the book.

The Library purchases content for all of our students and teaching colleagues. As such, we need to ensure we both negotiate firmly with our suppliers to ensure the best value of spend for the University, and that we allocate our resources fairly across all of the student body.

What will happen next?

Over the course of the next academic year we will be contacting all of our academic colleagues across the University on issues around supply and pricing of textbooks and eBooks. Your engagement and participation with this will be greatly appreciated, and please contact your Academic Support Librarian to discuss any of the issues and solutions in more detail.

Indeed, libraries around the world continually campaign for better eTextbook access models and support for open access eBook publishing. University of Salford Library manages the publishing models as best we can but it’s not sustainable on a longer-term basis. We are committed to equitable textbook provision for students. To achieve this, we strongly encourage the use of open resources in the teaching environment at Salford.

Some of the potential solutions to combat the issues we have with textbooks include:

a) Looking at other potential resources we provide to our students via reading lists, so where possible, please think about alternative resources.

b) Potentially offering and creating our own Salford Open-source textbooks or working with other institutions on this. We can provide specialist advice and potential funding for these initiatives, and will be looking at this as part of the overall eBook/textbook engagement campaign we are running in the 22/23 academic year.

What can you do now?

In the short-term, please consider referring to multiple books, chapters, and articles - breaking the reliance on one single essential text wherever possible. This approach spreads use amongst a wide range of materials and allows use of the Library's licence for scanning single chapters from eligible textbooks.

When publishing your work, ask how the publisher plans to sell your book to libraries - will it be given a restrictive licence, or will it be sold at a fair price with unlimited access? Use your influence if you can.

For more information on the issues and how we can help, please get in touch with us.