Higher Education

Coronavirus: Publishers Open Digital Access to Students

By Henry Kronk
March 18, 2020

As North American universities continue to close classes to stop the spread of coronavirus, many students have been advised to continue their studies from home. Dozens of large American schools have been affected. CNN published a partial list on March 12. To ensure this transition will be smooth, many major college textbook providers have opened up access to their online libraries for students.

Since the coronavirus reached the U.S., Wiley, Barnes & Noble Education, Cengage, Scholastic, VitalSource, and Elsevier have all made some content freely available.

Providing Digital Access for Coronavirus Closures: Cengage and Gale

Cengage has made access to their online textbook subscription service, Cengage Unlimited, available to all American college students for the rest of the spring semester. The service includes access to over 14,000 academic titles, along with other educational platforms. Information for faculty, students, and institutions can be found here. The publisher has also created a webinar for instructors to help maintain instructional continuity.

Gale, an educational publisher with a focus on library services that is owned by Cengage, has created a separate resource center for librarians and instructors.

Barnes & Noble Education

Campus bookstores remain a large portion of Barnes & Noble Education’s business. On March 17, the company announced it was making free ebook access available to its institutional parter schools throughout the rest of the spring semester.

The company also said that it would provide free online tutoring and writing services to students via its bartelby platform.

The company also took the opportunity to announce it was withdrawing its fiscal outlook for 2020.

“Our top priority remains providing schools and students with solutions during this time of unprecedented disruption, while simultaneously protecting the health and safety of our employees and customers,” said Barnes & Noble Education CEO Michael Huseby, in a statement. “As an organization, we are closely monitoring the continuing developments and following the guidance of the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local health authorities. While we cannot predict how long this situation will last, BNED remains committed to actively supporting our students, faculty and the educational institutions we serve during this time. Given the economic uncertainty associated with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, including the continued closures of educational institutions nationwide, we are limited in our ability to accurately predict what the negative financial impact to BNED will be in fiscal 2020, and therefore believe it is appropriate to withdraw financial guidance for fiscal 2020.”


The digital publisher and platform developer VitalSource also opened up access to their digital content for students at partner institutions on March 16. This will also last throughout the rest of the spring semester. Students can access this simply by logging in to VitalSource’s app.

“With colleges and universities making the difficult decision to move to online learning in the wake of the global pandemic, we join the community in a shared commitment to help provide students access to the immediate resources they need to adapt to a new way of learning,” said VitalSource President Kent Freeman, in a statement. “At VitalSource, we know successful digital learning means that every learner can access the materials they need to succeed – anytime, anywhere. Through this initiative, we are adhering to that promise and helping to support students, faculty, and postsecondary institutions under these extraordinary circumstances.”

Access to COVID-Related Academic Research

Numerous publishers, including Wiley and Elsevier, have also opened access to thousands of journals and articles relating to coronavirus for researchers. Elsevier has established a Coronavirus Information Center while Wiley has opened a similar page compiling free-to-access coronavirus research.

Scholastic, meanwhile, has created an online learning platform for grades K-12 involving curated lessons and communications components.

Featured Image: Jacoblund, iStock.