Library Services endeavours to make content available digitally via our reading lists, but e-books are not always as straightforward as they might appear.

As part of our ongoing work to ensure all students can access their essential readings, we want to support academics as curators of reading lists.


A group of academic librarians, researchers, lecturers and students from across the UK have come together under the umbrella “ebookSOS”, and have compiled an open letter asking the government to investigate the academic publishing industry over its e-book pricing and licensing practices. To read and sign the open letter, and find out more, visit the Campaign to Investigate the Library Ebook Market. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using #ebooksos.

What to consider when recommending e-books

When adding e-books to your reading lists, you might want to consider:

  • libraries cannot purchase Kindle books. They are only available to individuals with an Amazon account.
  • some e-books are priced outside of our budgetary constraints and do not provide value for money. These examples are becoming more frequent as publishers continue to use licence restrictions to inflate prices.
  • some licence terms mean that the e-books on your lists are never actually owned by Library Services and need to be leased every year. Libraries cannot always choose between different e-book licence types - there is often only one model available.

Being aware of the above points when adding items to your reading list could help ensure students and researchers get fair and unrestricted access to useful material.

Talk to your librarian to find out more about what you can do to make sure the books you recommend can be accessed by your students.

E-book licences which make it harder for students to access e-books on your reading lists

  • Single-user licences: these e-books can only be read by one person at a time, removing a key benefit of online material.
  • Credit model: payment is for a certain number of ‘credits’, which limit the number of times the e-book is used. When these credits have been used up access to the book is withdrawn unless additional credits are purchased.
  • Licence changes: publishers sometimes stop selling the e-book version of a particular title, or may change the licence terms, without notice. For example, a 3-user licence for an e-book may change to a single-user licence mid-year.

E-book licences which make it harder for the library to purchase them

  • Subscription model: an annual fee is paid to access e-books, and we are not able to purchase the e-book outright. The cost often increases each year.
  • E-book packages: some e-books are only sold as part of larger packages. This means that Librray Services has to buy irrelevant resources in order to provide access to the few that are required.
  • E-textbooks: some textbook content is licensed on a one-copy-per-user model. These are very expensive and have to be renewed annually.

Because of these issues, there may be occasions when Library Services is not able to purchase online content for your course. In such circumstances your librarian will contact you to talk about alternative options.