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Open Textbooks/Open Educational Resources: Library eBooks as Textbooks

Unlimited License eBooks

To provide students increased access to required course texts, the library attempts to buy unlimited-user eBook licenses whenever possible. Some publishers don't offer unlimited eBook licenses to academic libraries. Unlimited-user licenses allow multiple students to access an eBook throughout the semester without causing access issues for other library users. Library eBooks with user limits only allow one to three people to read the book at the same time; anyone else who attempts to open it will receive a message that it is in use or unavailable.

Process for Adopting an eBook

 To see if your required texts can be purchased through the library:

  • First, check if the library already owns the eBook. If we have it but it isn’t readily apparent if the license is unlimited, please ask us.
  • Use our Check for eBook Availability form to see if we can purchase an unlimited license for your course. This allows us time to work with you to find alternatives if an unlimited license is not available. 
  • If a title is available to use, or we can purchase the title, we will send you the eBook link that you can share with your students. This process to obtain a link for a new book can take up to several weeks, depending on the publisher (see box below).
  • You will still need to work with your department to submit your textbook adoptions to the bookstore, even if you are only using library materials (you would select "no textbook required or available through the Library" on the adoption form. This allows students to know that your course will require no purchases.
  • The library receives the list of textbook adoptions from the bookstore, as well, and we also review each title to see what we are able to purchase with an unlimited license.
  • Also consider completing the course marking form to identify this course as a course which does not require students to purchase materials.

Purchasing Limitations

There are several factors that limit our ability to obtain certain textbooks and materials:

  • Campus-wide availability - Some book titles are only available for download as eBooks to individual devices, for example, Kindle eBooks or eBooks available through iTunes.  If we cannot provide campus-wide access to all users, we will not purchase the eBook title.
  • Licensing Terms - The purchase of many eBooks requires the completion of a license agreement with the publisher or vendor.  At times, we find that the licensing terms are too restrictive, or some vendors are unwilling to accept what the library requires in a license.  When this happens, we will not move forward with the purchase of the eBook content.
  • Cost - The library frequently pays more for an eBook than an individual student does for a print copy of the same title, as campus-wide access requires a greater investment.  However, there are times that the cost of a single title is prohibitive or requires such a significant ongoing expense that the purchase of the eBook is simply not feasible.
  • Publisher embargoes - Unfortunately, there are simply some titles the library cannot acquire as eBooks due to publisher embargoes.  Publishers embargo some of their eBook textbook titles from libraries and will only sell them to individuals (students).  Some publishers are worse about this than others.  Examples of publishers that are notorious for embargoing textbook content from libraries are Pearson, Cengage, McGraw-Hill, and SAGE.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we know for certain that these four publishers have been unwilling to sell their textbook content to libraries. 


Note: the language on this page was adapted from content produced by the University of Arizona Libraries, © 2024 The Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of The University of Arizona, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Original content can be found at and