In late August, at the start of the Fall 2022 school semester, Wiley Publishing Company abruptly withdrew 1,379 multidisciplinary titles from Proquest, a vendor for university ebook collections around the world. As a result, librarians and faculty members in the United States and internationally have scrambled to identify alternative textbook options for their students as the pandemic amplified the trouble with restrictive licensing and e-textbooks.
Library Futures and SPARC strongly condemn this action by Wiley, which seriously hinders students’ access to equitable, affordable course materials. The full list of titles and public contact information for their authors was compiled by Johanna Anderson of #ebookSOS.
Because these titles are no longer available for libraries to license or purchase, students will be forced to purchase access from vendors that license electronic textbooks directly to students, or to purchase their own print copies. When students are required to license books on their own, it interferes with their equitable access to education and has serious implications for the privacy of their personal data.
By unexpectedly withdrawing these electronic titles from university library collections, Wiley has effectively shifted the financial burden of course material access solely onto students, making it impossible to access course materials without paying—or in some cases, being automatically billed. At George Washington University, if an instructor selects one of these course texts for the curriculum, the only way for a student to get the title at no cost is to vie for access with 269 other students for the one print copy of the text that the library has placed on reserve. To quote Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC, “People can still get access to resources with a card, but it is no longer with a library card or a student ID: It’s with a credit card.”
“It’s challenging to work with a vendor who does not share our values… A key part of inclusion is affordability. Colleges are not cheap—even the most affordable colleges are not cheap. When you add in the cost of the learning materials, you impact students’ ability to pursue their true interests, and you really start creating a have and have-not kind of environment,” said Geneva Henry of George Washington University in Inside Higher Ed.
Library Futures and SPARC believe that it is vital to recognize the privacy implications of pushing students into purchasing access to vendor platforms that license electronic course materials directly to students. Because vendors are not bound by the same laws of confidentiality as libraries for keeping personal information private, requiring students to give their personal data to large for-profit companies skirts both student privacy as well as state library privacy laws that are intended to protect against for-profit and other inappropriate uses of personal information.
Finally, this removal demonstrates the unsustainability and unpredictability of content licensing for both students and libraries. Content is not interchangeable – for a vendor or publisher to remove titles from the library shortly before a semester begins would be impossible in print; this brazen move by Wiley should be concerning to academic libraries globally. Wiley’s actions are particularly harmful to the print disabled, the vulnerable, and to off-campus students in an age of expanded distance learning.
Advocates, policy experts, academics, and librarians must ensure that large corporations cannot interfere with curriculum and interrupt learning by pulling crucial educational materials from students when they are most in need. Wiley’s removal of over 1300 titles disrupts the role that libraries have traditionally played in providing course reserves as well as the rich secondary market that exists for course materials. Open and accessible books are a core issue for SPARC as well as for Library Futures, and we must hold vendors to account for making unilateral decisions that harm learning and information accessibility for all students.