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Course Reserves

Faculty Guidance for Choosing Online Materials

In order to serve our students and faculty during COVID-19, the UW Libraries are purchasing as many electronic resources as our funding allows, with preference given to resources with unlimited access when available for 100% online or offsite courses. However, we are unable to purchase everything due to licensing restrictions and cost. We encourage faculty to use our existing collections as much as possible. When it comes to previously-planned physical texts and course reserves materials, we are encouraging a motto of “first alternatives, then equivalents.” 

Finding and incorporating e-resources can be a complex process, and we are here to help you navigate the system to find what you need. Please reach out well in advance to allow for adequate time to identify materials that will be the best fit, and to help achieve your course objectives. 

Open Textbooks and other Open Educational Resources (OER)

We encourage faculty to consider using an Open Textbook as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Open textbooks are books covered by an open copyright license and available freely to students, instructors, and members of the public. Most open textbook licenses allow the right to access, download, revise, or customize the content.

Why choose online alternatives to standard textbooks or physical course readings? 

1. Ease of use: These existing resources are immediately available and avoid potential delays (sometimes of several weeks!) that may occur in trying to source and license new electronic materials for courses. 

2. More equitable access: Open textbooks provide students with more equitable access to content in many subjects–they are available right away; are free online; and students can have copies printed locally at low cost.

NOTE: It is important to consider that not all eresources are accessible for all needs. Please see the following guidance to help select accessible course materials:  

3.  Less strain on limited resources: Using these existing alternatives limits additional expenditures from collections budgets and allows Libraries staff to support a broader number of courses and researchers. 

For more open textbooks options, or information about OER, visit the Campus Library Open Educational Resources guide. 


If you have questions regarding purchasing an ebook as required reading for a course, please contact Reserves staff.

Electronic books (ebooks) are generally not purchased for Course Reserves because they often have licensing restrictions that prevent multiple users from accessing the book at the same time or limit the overall number of times the item can be accessed.

The UW Libraries can buy ebooks *if* they are available for academic libraries to purchase. In most cases, commercial textbook publishers (e.g. McGraw Hill, Wiley, Prentice Hall) will sell or rent their ebooks to individual consumers only. If you are using a textbook that is published by a commercial textbook publisher, it is unlikely that your course textbook is available to purchase as an ebook for an academic library.

  • Licenses govern the use of electronic versions of UW-restricted materials. Links can usually be made to these resources unless prohibited by license agreements.
  • Not all print books have ebook equivalents, especially traditional textbooks
  • The library purchases ebooks with unlimited, concurrent user licenses when they are available, and as our funding allows - this isn't always possible
  • Many publishers restrict access to 1 or 3 concurrent users per ebook -  students may not be able to access the book at the time of need if the ebook license restricts the number of concurrent users
  • Popular, consumer-oriented ebooks for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are not available to the academic market - students have to buy those directly from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Google Play, as they are intended for one user at a time

Students will probably still need to purchase their textbooks from the University Book Store, Amazon, or other textbook vendor since most ebooks are not available for unlimited concurrent users. The guide for Online Learning Support: How to Access Library Resources (For Students) provides additional information regarding textbooks and electronic textbook purchase options.

Streaming Media

If you have questions regarding licensing a streaming video as required viewing for your course, please contact Reserves staff.

If you would like us to research a streaming license:

  • Contact Reserves staff at  and share as much information as you have about the film (title, director, website, etc.) at least four weeks prior to the date needed 
  • Streaming is available for Course Reserves only and must be required viewing for the entire class (i.e. we will not license films for a suggested viewing list)
  • Academic streaming licenses often cost $200-600 per film. Thus, requests will be purchased on a first come, first serve basis, contingent on available funding
  • Please have a contingency plan if we are not able to license a film, or meet your required timeframe. Your Subject Librarian may be able to help you identify alternate films.

Similar to ebooks, consumer streaming platforms (such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu) do not offer institutional licenses for academic libraries. Netflix does allow a few films to be used by educators for classroom viewing, but these are limited and difficult to find. If you see that a commercial streaming service is showing a film, Reserves staff can check to see if an academic library vendor also licenses that film. If not, students would need to rent the film through the commercial streaming provider. The guide Online Learning Support: How to Access Library Resources provides additional information regarding streaming media access and rental options for your students.

Please understand that streaming video is a very expensive resource for academic libraries, which will require us to resume our normal streaming purchasing guidelines whenever classes are again conducted in person (i.e. we prioritize fully online or offsite classes).

For additional information, visit e-Video: Streaming Video for UW Bothell Faculty.

Off-Campus Links

Stable off-campus links can be added to Canvas unless license agreements prohibit the use of links for Course Reserves. To create an off-campus link, visit UW Libraries' Creating Stable Links to Journal Articles or contact Reserves staff for assistance.

Getting Help

We are here to help. Reach out early to your subject librarians and our Reserves staff who can partner with you to identify online ebook/streaming resources that are already available. 

Finding and incorporating e-resources can be a complex process, and we are here to help you navigate the system to find what you need. Reaching out at least four weeks prior to the beginning of each quarter allows for adequate time to identify materials that will be the best fit, and to help achieve your course objectives. 

Where can I find out more information or get assistance?  

Chat with a UW Librarian