Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



DIY Electronic Course Packs:
A Free Alternative to Commercial Products

This past March, I was member of a panel presenting information about e-books at Boston College’s eTeaching luncheon.  My contribution was a summary of the library’s current activity in acquiring e-books.  Next to me sat a sales rep for a company marketing a service which creates print and online course packs.  While she was describing what sounded like a potentially useful resource, I began to think of an alternative, one that is free or, more accurately, already paid for: the library’s e-book and e-journal collection.  This approach could be supplemented by high quality material on the World Wide Web.

As an example, here is a selection of texts that could provide the readings for a course on Christian mysticism. Not all of them are owned by the library, but could be purchased as e-books.  Some are free, some are purchased, and the links are either to the complete full text of the work or more information about the item.  When the library purchases e-books, librarians check the purchase agreement to see if use of e-book material in course packs is permitted.

Cutsinger, James S. Not of this World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003.  This volume contains selections from a number of translated primary texts.  The translations are for the most part quite good.  The link is to the Google Books site which permits browsing through a portion of the text.

De Conick, April D. Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006. The link is to the Google Books site which permits browsing through a portion of the text.

Harmless, William, S.J.. Mystics. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.  The link is to the Google Books site which permits browsing through a portion of the text.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Modern Library, 1936.  The link is to a digitized copy of this classic made available by the HathiTrust, “a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future.”

King, Ursula. Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages. Mahwah, N.J: HiddenSpring, 2001.  The link is to the Google Books site which permits browsing through a portion of the text.

Louth, Andrew. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition - From Plato to Denys. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Scholarship Online. The link is to the Google Books site which permits browsing through a portion of the text.

Perrin, David B. "Mysticism." The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality. Holder, Arthur (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Blackwell Reference Online.  The library owns Blackwell Reference Online which includes over 425 handbooks, companions, dictionaries, and one-volume encyclopedias in the humanities and social sciences.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness. New York: Dutton, 1911.  This copy is available from the HathiTrust Digital Library.

There are a number of resources one could check to see if a book is available as an e-book.  Amazon is not one of them because its emphasis is its own Kindle formatted e-books available only to individual customers.  However, the following resources can be consulted:

Quest: Click on the Advanced button.  Enter the appropriate search terms.  Pull down the Format menu and select EBooks.

HathiTrust Digital Library: Only pre-1923 books and journal volumes will be fully accessible, but that includes over 2,000,000 volumes.

Global Books in Print: Click on Advanced Search.  Enter the appropriate search terms. Check the box next to E-Book.

ebrary: This vendor has a catalog of over 400,000 e-book titles.  Use the Search box to find potentially useful works.  ebrary permits visitors to its site to preview the first few pages of every chapter as well as all front matter.

Publisher web sites: Use Google to find publisher e-book catalogs on the Web.  For example type Cambridge e-books in the Google search box and one of the first links on the first search results page will be

Subject Librarians!: The library staff will gladly check to see if particular books and journals are available on the Web.  They will also start the order process for any of the titles found in Global Books in Print, ebrary’s online catalog, or publisher’s catalogs.

It’s still very early in the development of an e-book market, and as a result it’s not as easy to find the right course pack material online as it is in print.  But that is changing.  For example, the academic e-book marketplace is about to expand to include a sizable list of university press publishers from Project MUSE and the University Press e-Book Consortium.  So stay tuned!


Jonas Barciauskas
Head, Collection Development