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Library Ebooks as Course Materials

Library resources as course materials

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!


This guide primarily focuses on using library ebooks as course materials, but there are many other resources in the library which can be used in the classroom, including databases and digital collections. You can explore some of these options using the link below. 

Guidelines for using library ebooks as course materials

To determine whether an ebook is recommended for classroom use, evaluate it across the following four categories:

  • Number of users: how many people can access the book at the same time?
  • Type of access: does VCU Libraries own the material permanently or is it available through a subscription?
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM): have the publishers implemented technological measures preventing users from undertaking certain actions (Here's additional information on DRM from the American Library Association)
  • Editions: how often is a new edition released? Does which edition you are using matter? 

Number of Users

The number of users is the most important factor when considering using a library ebook as course materials. We own a number of unlimited ebooks, which means that everyone in the class can access the book at the same time, no matter how large the class. Unlimited user books are the only ebooks we recommend for classroom use.  Other common licenses are 1 user or 3 users. Books with these limited user licences function much like their print counterparts: if one (or three) person is using the text, no one else can view it. Even with small classes, we do not recommend using these books as required materials due to the inability to guarantee access to all in the class.

Type of access

Some VCU Libraries ebooks are purchased while others are delivered as a part of a subscription.  Purchased books will be permanently available through the VCU catalog and are recommended for use as course content. Titles available through subscriptions can also be used as course materials.  However, faculty should be aware that titles may be withdrawn from the subscription without prior notice. Faculty should check to make sure that the book is still available prior to the beginning of each semester and, if it disappears, please contact the library to explore purchasing a copy.


Understanding an ebook's Digital Rights Management (DRM) is important to understanding its usage terms. Publishers' DRM restrictions can limit how many pages students can print, save, or download. While ebooks without DRM are best for classroom use, ebooks with DRM restrictions (e.g limits on printing or saving) are ok for use as course materials, although students should be aware they may not be allowed to print or save the whole text.


Faculty should evaluate how important using a certain edition is to their classroom. If there are frequent edition changes, VCU Libraries cannot guarantee access to the designated edition because 1. we may not purchase new edition (either due to collection guidelines or lack of availability), or 2. books that are part of a subscription may automatically update to the newest edition. 

Which ebooks are recommended for classroom use?

Some platforms provide information to help evaluate some of the above criteria alongside the ebook. For example, ProQuest's Ebook Central includes a clear statement about number of users and DRM alongside each book:

However, most often, details on number of users, type of access, and DRM is not easily found. The E-Book Platform Comparisons_Classroom use table (found below) provides some basic information to help you evaluate whether to use ebooks as course content for a number of common platforms. 

As a general guide, ebooks from the following platforms can be used as course content: 

  • AccessPharmacy
  • O'Reilly for Higher Education
  • ScienceDirect
  • SpringerLink
  • Wiley

For the following platforms, we do not recommend using ebooks as course content:

  • AccessAnesthesiology, AccessMedicine, AccessPediatrics, AccessSurgery
  • R2 Digital Library

If you would like assistance evaluating ebooks for use as course materials, contact the Open Educational Resources Librarian.

E-Book Platform Comparisons_Classroom use