Skip to Main Content

Open and Affordable Course Content

VCU Libraries can help with course material selection and sharing

Guidance on this page can help instructors think through both selecting and sharing their course materials, and includes additional resources from VCU Libraries to help with both processes. 

After the difficult process of selecting the perfect materials for your courses, you likely want to ensure that students have the ability to access the resources no matter their financial situation. VCU Libraries can help you:

  • Place materials on course reserves
  • Think through the copyright implications for uploading materials to Canvas
  • Find a free version of the materials you currently use
  • Locate free alternative resources

Putting textbooks on reserve at VCU Libraries

Through Course Reserves, students can access their course materials for free for a limited time period through VCU Libraries.

Faculty have to request that materials for their courses are put on reserve each semester. Materials can include books, textbooks, VHS tapes, and DVDs, and can come from VCU Libraries' print collections or be donated by the instructor or department. Please note that VCU Libraries assumes no liability for damage to or loss of personal items placed on reserve.

For more information, visit

Please note that VCU Libraries is only able to provide print Course Reserves. We are not able to provide a similar service for our electronic collections. However, an increasing number of our electronic library materials have the usage rights which enable their use in courses. See the "Using library materials in your courses" box for additional information.

Uploading and sharing materials through Canvas

Unless your course materials specifically say otherwise (see the "Looking for no-cost resources" for an example), you should assume that any course materials you're assigning are copyrighted, especially if your textbooks are produced by one of the large publishing houses. Copyright limits how users can use and share the materials without permission from the copyright holder (typically the publisher or author). 

When sharing copyrighted materials with students through Canvas, instructors should get permission to do so. Services like Barnes & Noble's XanEDU can help faculty obtain and license permissions.

Fair Use

Alternatively, instructors uploading materials to Canvas can rely on fair use, a part of copyright law that enables certain uses without permission. Fair use claims must always be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. You should not rely on blanket rules--such as the concept that copying 10% or less of a work is allowed--because these do not have legal force. 

If you want to copy and share content found on the internet, review the website’s terms of use to make sure this is allowable. Even if you are only copying a small portion, which might otherwise qualify as fair use, website terms of use can override fair use.

For more information and guidance on how to perform a fair use analysis, visit: 

Alternate Solutions

Instructors can avoid copyright concerns by linking to copyrighted content found on the internet or by using built-in website features to share (such as embedding a video in your Canvas course), rather than making and sharing copies. However, you should not share links to materials that you know are illegally made copies.

Link to library resources, like articles or book chapters, rather than downloading and sharing copies, so students can access the resource in whatever format works best for them.

For more information on sharing links to materials, visit:

Using library materials in your courses

VCU Libraries are a great resource for course materials. Our materials come in a variety of formats, from books to articles to films and a lot in between, and cover a wide breadth of disciplines. Plus, they are freely available to VCU faculty and students.

Videos and Music

VCU Libraries also subscribes to a number of streaming media databases which can be used as course content. These databases provide video or audio, both popular and educational, in a variety of disciplines. For more information, visit

For films not readily available in VCU collections, faculty can also request VCU Libraries investigate the acquisition of such materials. 

To request a streaming film from VCU Libraries, please fill out our Film Streaming Request Form. Requests for films in Kanopy or Swank can be placed directly through the Kanopy and Swank platforms. These requests must be placed by faculty for course instruction.

We encourage faculty to place streaming requests as early as possible. Kanopy and Swank requests should be placed at least one week in advance. Films that are not available from any of our academic streaming platforms can take up to two months to acquire and host, and some films are not available for academic streaming at all.


VCU Libraries owns a number of ebooks with unlimited user licenses, which are great for use as course content because all students will be able to access the title, no matter the size of the class. Only unlimited user ebooks are recommended for use as required course content. Ebooks with 1- or 3-user licenses are not recommended for required course use because only 1 or 3 users can access them at a time, which may result in turnaways when assignments are due or exams are approaching. If it is not clear how many user licenses are available for an ebook, please reach out to your subject specialist or the open educational resources librarian for verification.

If you would like to see if VCU Libraries can purchase an unlimited ebook, faculty are first encouraged to consult the VIVA Faculty Portal, which is part of a state-funded initiative to provide no-cost and barrier-free access to course curriculum resources for students and researchers. Ebooks that are successfully purchased through this resource will be added to VCU Libraries’ collection. If the title cannot be found through the portal, you may submit a purchase request to VCU Libraries to see if it can be directly purchased as an unlimited ebook, or to ask whether a 1-user or 3-user ebook can be upgraded to an unlimited license. Please note that titles purchased by VCU Libraries must fall within collection guidelines and budgetary constraints. Additionally, some publishers do not permit libraries to purchase certain titles as ebooks, or as ebooks with unlimited licensing. VCU Libraries also does not purchase traditional textbooks (e.g. Algebra 1, Introduction to US History). For these types of resources, we recommend working with Course Reserves to make print copies freely available to students. See the "Putting textbooks on reserve at VCU Libraries" box for more information.

For more information on using, requesting, or sharing library ebooks, visit

Please note that, unless otherwise noted, everything in VCU Libraries' collection is protected by copyright. This means that even if you are able to download a whole book, uploading the book/PDF into Canvas or another LMS would be in violation of copyright. Instead, please share links with students to point them to the resource. See the “Uploading and sharing materials through Canvas” box for more information.

Digital Collections

VCU Libraries provides a number of digital collections, which include documents, images, videos, and audio. These materials represent sets of digitized materials from VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives or partner community organizations; digital exhibits and projects, which tell stories using innovative technologies; and institutional repository materials, which represent the scholarly output of the VCU community. 

All these materials are freely accessible, and we encourage the use of these materials in your class.  

To view the VCU Libraries Digital Collections, visit

Interlibrary loan and delivery

VCU Libraries does not fill interlibrary loan requests for materials that are on Course Reserves.

Faculty may request scans of book chapters from VCUL's collections for use in their classes, but should review the "uploading and sharing materials through canvas" box before submitting the request. Faculty are strongly encouraged to use links to online library resources instead in order to avoid copyright concerns (see the "Alternative solutions" section of the "Uploading and sharing materials through Canvas" box). VCU Libraries reserves the right to deny requests based on their own copyright analysis.

For more information on VCU Libraries' interlibrary loan and delivery services, visit:

Looking for no-cost resources

If you are unable to locate a free version of the materials you are currently assigning in class, you might consider using an open educational resource instead.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching/learning materials that are free to access (digitally) and have open licensing which allows for unrestricted use, retention, sharing, and editing, so they can be uploaded to Canvas without worrying about infringing on copyright. OER can be any type of teaching or learning materials, including textbooks, images, videos, slide decks, assessments, syllabi, and whole courses.

There are three ways to use OER: 

  1. Adopt existing resources without making changes. 
  2. Adapt or customize existing resources by adding, removing, combining, or editing content
  3. Author new resources. 

Learn more: