Meera Nair

the $16 textbook

In Posts on July 15, 2011 at 7:45 pm

The first textbook I bought for my university studies was Calculus with Analytic Geometry, by Howard Campbell and Paul Dierker, or C&D as students dubbed it. It was an 800+ page tome priced at $48. At the time I thought this was outrageous; an unbelievable demand of cash from first-year mathematics students. Later, as I confronted slimmer, yet more expensive books, I developed an affection for C&D. Serving as it did for three consecutive courses, it became the most economical purchase of my undergraduate studies.

But not everyone bought their books.

There were many for whom it was simply not viable. Years later a friend told me that during her first winter in Canada, a stark choice presented itself: buy boots or buy a textbook. She opted for the boots and managed her coursework by going to the library frequently and reading a copy available from the reserves. She was by no means the only one to do so, but the limiting of borrowing time mandated by the library effectively ensured access for everyone in need.

As Michael Geist reported this week, the University of Calgary, Queen’s University and the University of Waterloo all signaled their intent to move away from collective bundled licensing of copyrighted material. Allied to this movement, post-secondary institutions are becoming more aware of fair dealing. However, as I wrote before, the leading institutional policy on fair dealing, by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC),  sets a very narrow interpretation of fair dealing. Their apologetic tone could have the undesirable effect of establishing practices that undermine the discriminating power of fair dealing. Only time can tell; much will depend on how faculty members respond.

But an even more deleterious policy is finding voice through these measures — students cannot rely on library reserves for their required course reading. The AUCC fair dealing policy explicitly addresses what material can be borrowed. In Section III University Library Reserves, instructions are given toward the creation of paper or electronic copies of course material. It is AUCC’s directive that only optional reading material should be included in reserves; “no more than 25% of the required reading.” Of any material (required or optional) up to three copies can be deposited in reserves, allocated on the ratio of one copy per 30 students.

However, that instruction is followed by this canonical statement:

(16c) The use of library reserve must not substitute for the purchase of books, coursepacks, or other published materials.

What is the purpose then of library reserves, or indeed libraries in general?

This same language has made its way to Queen’s University; see Schedule B, Fair Dealing Copying Guidelines – Interlibrary Loan, Library Reserve and Document Delivery of Copyright At Queen’s Policy.

In many respects Queen’s copyright policies are laudable,  but that the university supports limiting reserves in this way is disappointing. Moreover, following AUCC in situating the restriction as allied to fair dealing is disturbing. Fair dealing may arise from a use of material, borrowed or otherwise; fair dealing is not the filter by which to limit access to the material.

If post-secondary institutions insist that course materials cannot be borrowed, that is their prerogative. But to represent that policy as related to fair dealing only further undermines fair dealing in the eyes of the very constituent body that can most significantly benefit from it: the post-secondary community.

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