Musselman Library of Gettysburg College does not generally purchase textbooks for its collections.

There are a number of reasons for our not doing so

  • Textbooks often include exercises, workbooks, quizzes, and lab manuals, which students need to complete coursework. Library books can't be written in or have pages removed, so textbooks often are not appropriate materials for long-term use in library collections.
  • Libraries generally only purchase one or a limited number of copies of works. A library would not be able to purchase enough copies for the work to be available to all students.
  • Textbooks are updated frequently, often annually or biennially. It would be a strain on library collection budgets to constantly purchase new textbooks for library collections. In addition, library staff would have to spend an inordinate amount of time on maintaining textbook collections, adding new textbooks and withdrawing older, outdated editions.
  • Textbooks are designed to be used by students for courses of study. Students refer to them often and need them throughout a course. As students use textbooks throughout a course, they need them longer than the loan period for most library materials.
  • Purchasing textbooks places the library in direct competition with the college bookstore, which libraries aim not to do.

Ultimately, it is the student's responsibility to acquire the resources needed for her or his education. It is expected that students will purchase the required texts for their courses through the college bookstore or from other sources.

Academic programs or departments needing textbooks for review or for other uses by department staff should acquire the needed materials with departmental funds. Library collection development funds or faculty allocations should not be used to purchase textbooks for these needs.

What constitutes a textbook?

Sometimes the word "textbook" is used to mean any required book for a course of study. However, for the purposes of collection development, the library more narrowly defines what qualifies as a textbook.

In ODLIS-the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (, author-librarian Joan M. Reitz defines a textbook as "an edition of a book specifically intended for the use of students who are enrolled in a course of study or preparing for an examination on a subject or in an academic discipline . . . sometimes published in conjunction with a workbook, lab manual, and/or teacher's manual."

Reitz further states that textbooks are distinct from the trade, mass-market, and scholarly editions of the same title in that the latter are produced by publishers for sale to booksellers and libraries and are intended for a reading audience consisting of the general public, scholars, and researchers.

Works of literature, histories, and scholarly studies, among other types of texts, may be required reading for a class, but they do not qualify as "textbooks" as defined above. Thus, sometimes required texts for a course are part of the library's holdings already because of their fit with our general collection policy, not because they are required texts for classes being taught at Gettysburg College.

Gifts and textbooks

Libraries may acquire some textbooks as gifts or donations. A library staff member may evaluate the textbook and consider it for inclusion in the collection. However, because textbooks are updated so frequently, they go out-of-date quickly. Thus, it may not be in the best interest of the library's long-term collection goals to add textbooks.

Course reserves and textbooks

For the reasons mentioned above, textbooks are not purchased by the library to meet students' course reserves needs. Course reserves aims to provide supplementary materials for instruction and education, not texts required for the class. Again, this library service does not act in competition with the bookstore.

However, a faculty member may choose to add a personal copy of a textbook to course reserves readings. A publisher may provide this copy for free. The faculty member then should contact the Reserves Office to have the materials added to the course reserves for the class. The title will only be offered for use while the course is active; the textbook will be returned to the faculty member when it is no longer needed for course reserves.

Interlibrary loan and textbooks

For the reasons mentioned above, textbooks are not borrowed from other libraries through interlibrary loan services. In particular, students often need textbooks for longer than most interlibrary loan periods allow.

Again, it is expected that students will acquire the required texts for their courses by purchasing them through the college bookstore or other bookstores.

Internet textbooks

At this writing, there are a growing number of free, internet-based textbooks produced by scholars for use with introductory courses. Because of the high cost of commercially published textbooks, faculty members are encouraged to consider these alternatives to traditional textbooks.

Links to these resources may be provided through academic program websites or through a faculty member's course management portal. At a faculty member's request, the library will consider adding links to such textbooks in its online catalog.

Exceptions to the rule

Exceptions to the no textbooks rule are rarely made. From time to time, a librarian may choose to add a general, introductory work to a collection, which will provide basic information to patrons. However, this introductory text may not be the specific textbook being used for a current class. It may only be any general, introductory work on a topic that would be useful to students or other patrons.

Policy revision schedule

This policy statement will be reviewed every five years from the date of approval.


Author: John Barnett, Director of Collection Development, Musselman Library
Date of approval: 4 September 2006