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Myths & tips about e-books

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please note these pages contain out-of-date information and are in the process of being overhauled. In the meantime, please refer to this Reading List Guide for important dates, guidance, procedures and access to support. You can also reach out to the Library reading list team directly by emailing

The University aims for all students’ essential and recommended readings to be available online for 2020/21 to ensure flexibility and resilience in the current challenging circumstances.

As we work towards this goal, to make the process as easy as possible we thought it important to dispel some of the commonly-held myths / misunderstandings about e-books and to share our tips for success.


  • Myth 1: ‘Every book is available as an e-book’ – This is simply not the case. Many academic books (particularly core textbooks) are not published as e-books, so you cannot rely on all your usual recommendations being available electronically.
  • Myth 2: ‘Every book is available as an e-book and is cheaper than printed books’ – Often if books are available as e-books they are only available via expensive subscription models / as part of premium subscription packages. A recent example for which the Library received a quotation was a Politics textbook, costing £34.99 in print, but £19,000 per year as an e-book. (Subscription costs are usually made up of a unit cost multiplied by the number of students needing to use the book – making the most high use / most useful texts the most expensive).
  • Myth 3: ‘Everyone can access an e-book so you only need to buy one copy’ – licences and associated costs for e-books vary considerably – some do offer unlimited concurrent access (so only one copy would be needed) but others offer multiple concurrent access (which means 3 users at one time) or single access only (so only 1 concurrent access). We may need to purchase multiple e-book licences for large module groups or high demand titles. Again, this can be costly: a recent example is a popular marketing textbook where a single licence would be £700 and a multiple (3 user) licence would be £1050 - compared to a print cost of £55.
  • Myth 4: ‘If there is a version for Kindle or similar, the Library can purchase and make this version available’. This is also not the case – these e-books are licenced for individual purchase for a particular device. The Library can only purchase and make available e-books with an institutional licence allowing multiple accesses via University authentication (shibboleth). Not all academic books are published with such a licence.

Tips for success

So, given these constraints, how can you create a reading list which is fully accessible to all your students, wherever they are based?:

  • Tip 1: Talk to your ASL. Your Academic Support Librarian can offer advice on online resources for reading lists and can also advise on alternatives if your recommended readings are not available as e-books
  • Tip 2: Use existing Library collections to build your list. Try not to be too wedded to a particular book. The Library has over 1.1 million e-books in stock. If your preferred textbook is not available as an e-book, search our existing holdings – we may have a suitable substitute already available. View our e-book platforms – this enables you to search our content by publisher / platform
  • Tip 3: Make use of chapter scans – you can request a chapter to be scanned and uploaded to your Talis Aspire reading list. Selecting single chapters from a range of key textbooks enables you to build an online list based on printed books. (Note: only 1 chapter or 10% of any individual book can be scanned per reading list)
  • Tip 4: Consider Open Access options – there are a number of repositories of Open Access Textbooks which might provide an alternative to an expensive subscription e-book. Try: open text book resources for ideas and links to a wide range of platforms

What we are doing to help

  • Checking all Talis Aspire reading lists for e-book availability for all essential and recommended readings. Where they are not available as e-books, a Library Note is made to advise you that the e-book is not available. We’ll ask you to advise us as to what action we should take and what support you might need
  • The scanning team are returning to the Library building during the summer to enable the creation of chapter scans for reading lists
  • The Library subscribes to a number of large e-book packages from key publishers (Springer, CUP, Sage, Wiley, Elsevier, etc.) which provide extensive collections of e-books, all of which can be found via Library Search
  • The Library is urgently investigating the feasibility of providing access to a limited number of high cost key textbooks via subscription
  • Again, don’t forget your ASL. They might not currently be in their offices but Research and Academic Support Librarians can still help you to identify alternative sources for your reading list

How you can help in the longer term

  • When you write an academic book for publication, check the publishers’ plans for your book and insist that it is published in e-book format in an affordable way.
  • Could you make an Open Access copy of articles / chapters / books you have written available, for example, by depositing a pre-print / pre-publication version in WRAP? You could then link to them from your reading list.

Above all, remember to work with the Library on this: together we can provide successful reading lists online.