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Open Educational Resources

Library Ebooks

It's possible that the CU Library may have an ebook version of a title you assign for a course, or may be able to purchase an ebook version. If you would like the library to purchase an ebook, please contact your lead librarian.

This page describes some of advantages and disadvantages of using library ebooks as course readings, and provides some best practices.

Things to Consider when using Ebooks as Course Material

Library ebooks can be helpful when academic or trade books are assigned for course readings.

Not every title is available for purchase as a library ebook, and standard textbook publishers rarely offer library ebooks.

Library ebooks have some advantages and disadvantages:

+ Students can access them for free with an institutional login from off campus.
+ No particular ebook reader or other special device is needed: Library ebooks can be read via an internet browser on  a desktop computer or laptop.
+ Unlike print reserves, no staff intermediation is required.
+Some library ebooks can be purchased in unlimited multiple user versions which allow simultaneous access.
+Some library ebooks may be accessible to students with special needs.

- National surveys show that students prefer studying with print books that they can highlight and annotate. Some students will still opt to purchase the print book, while some students are very happy with a free library ebook. The library ebook provides an option for low income students that may otherwise try to get by with just lecture notes.
- Many library ebooks must be read online and have only limited options for downloading or printing content.
- Many ebook titles are only available in a one-person at a time version.
- Although ebooks work well on computers and laptops, they don't always work or display well on phones, ipads, and other devices.

Ownership vs access

Many ebooks in library collections are purchased and owned by the library in perpetuity; while some others are accessed as part of subscription services rather than owned by the library.

For the typical researcher it doesn't really matter--if they can read the book, they have what they need. For an instructor who is using a book for course readings, it can make a difference. There is a small chance that books accessed via a subscription service will "disappear" from the collection. 

Let your librarian know when you are planning to use a library ebook for course readings, as they may be able to point you to a more stable version.

Multiple user ebooks vs. Single user ebooks
Some library ebooks allow any number of readers to access the book simultaneously. Some can only be purchased as a single user book, where only one user at a time can access the book and a 2nd simultaneous user must wait for the first to stop reading the book. Ask your librarian whether the book you want to use is available with a multi-user option.

Using ebooks as Course Reading
When assigning a substantial number of chapters from a book, it's helpful to also place orders for a print version with the university store. This provides an option for students who prefer to purchase a print copy.  If you are assigning just one chapter from an ebook, consider also placing a print copy of the book on library reserves, as this provides an option for students who are less comfortable using ebooks.

If assigning an ebook, it is important to understand access procedures. Most important is to provide a fail-safe link that works from off campus. Consult with your librarian on the best way to provide ebook links.

Unlike with most web pages, referring students to the link you see in your browser address window is likely to fail. The link from the browser might not work at a different time and place. It also might not work from off campus.

When assigning a library ebook, your librarian may be able to provide advice that could prevent access headaches. If you experience problems with accessing an ebook, discuss this with your librarian. We've seen cases where faculty assumed that the problem was limited access to the book, but it was actually a different problem that could be remedied.

One issue we've seen:
In some cases, the professor provided the correct link and students accessed the book without problems. However, some students tried to add the book as a "favorite" or "bookmark" in the browser on their computer after accessing the book--this added a a web address that would not work correctly (the URL changes after you access the book). One possible work-around may be to use the library catalog record URL as the bookmark/favorite link--this creates "two-click" access: 1. link to catalog record 2. use link to book in catalog record.