Responding to Criticism, Publisher Reinstates Blocked Ebooks

After scrambling fall courses by withdrawing more than 1,380 ebooks, Wiley now says it will restore access to the course materials. Its short-term solution leaves many librarians unsatisfied.

October 6, 2022
Close-up of a person's hand touching an e-ink digital screen.
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Wiley, a publisher that scrambled fall courses at many institutions with its late-August withdrawal of approximately 1,380 digital books from a large subscription collection used by many libraries, has reversed course and now says it will restore access to the ebooks “as soon as possible.”

Once the books are reinstated to ProQuest Academic Complete, the multidisciplinary subscription collection, they will remain there through June 2023, according to a statement on the company’s website from Matt Leavy, executive vice president and general manager at Wiley.

“We sincerely apologize for any disruption this may have caused students, instructors and libraries,” Leavy wrote. “We are reviewing the process of updating collections to avoid similar situations in the future.”

Wiley had informed ProQuest in June 2020 of the plan to remove the large collection of in-demand ebooks, according to Leavy, but delayed the decision until August 2022 “to provide time for customers to make any necessary adjustments.” Despite the delay, “many customers were caught off guard,” Leavy acknowledged.

An Inside Higher Ed article last month highlighted some of that upheaval, including a geography course at George Washington University in which 269 students discovered after the course had started that they did not have free access to their textbook via their library, as expected.

Librarians, however, are unconvinced that the publisher is committed to offering students affordable textbook access options.

“A day late and a dollar short,” Steven Bell, associate university librarian at Temple University, said of Wiley’s Wednesday announcement. “It may be too late for our faculty colleagues to now insert these materials back into their courses, and some librarians have already gone out and purchased copies.”

Wiley’s statement quoted Leavy saying that the company will continue to explore more affordable ebook options, including “through initiatives such as our inclusive access and course materials affordability programs.” “Inclusive access” is a textbook sales model in which the cost of digital course content is added to students’ tuition and fees, according to inclusiveaccess.org. In short, students still pay for the books.

New publisher business models like inclusive access will never be an adequate substitute, though, for those librarians who see it as their institutions’ mission to provide instructional materials free or at the lowest possible cost to students.

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“‘Inclusive access’ sounds good, right?” said Geneva Henry, dean of libraries and academic innovation at George Washington University. “Terminology gets used that makes things sound very attractive and equitable, and it absolutely is the opposite … That’s a little squirrelly … as it does not address the affordability and true inclusiveness for our students.”

The inclusive-access textbook sales model also does not let students retain the rights to, and resell, the ebooks.

“After the course is over, it’s vaporware,” Robin Delaloye, George Washington associate dean for student success and communication, said.

Bell would like to see Wiley and other academic publishers be more transparent with the library community.

“Talk to us about our needs and the needs of our students,” Bell said. “Why remove these materials in the first place if they’re serving a good purpose in there helping our students to have an affordable education?”

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Susan D'Agostino

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