Free eTexbooks for BU Students

Free eTextbooks for BU students

Barnes & Noble has worked with VitalSource to provide free access to eTextbooks to students and campuses affected by COVID-19 campus closures.  Boston University students qualify for this access. For students who need assistance accessing free eTexts, view this page. Read about the program in BU Today.


Who is eligible for the VitalSource Helps program?

You are eligible if you meet the following criteria:

  1. You attend Boston University/4 year institution on a semester-based schedule.
  2. You have a school-provided email address.
  3. You are currently enrolled in or teaching a semester-based course(s) that began prior to March 16, 2020.

How do I access VitalSource Helps content?

To get started, visit Before you begin searching for and reading course materials, you will need to log in to an existing Bookshelf account with your institution-provided email address or create a new account.

It is important to note that, while you may use Bookshelf today as part of an Inclusive Access program, your account may not be linked to your institution provided email address. To access VitalSource Helps content, you must use your institution-provided email address.

For students and instructors accessing Bookshelf for the first time

Here are instructions on creating a Bookshelf account. Once you create an account with an institution-provided email address, log in and click on the “Explore” tab in the upper left corner of the screen.

For students and instructors with existing Bookshelf accounts linked to their institution-provided email address

Students and Instructors with existing Bookshelf accounts linked to their institution-provided email address will see a new tab called “Explore.” This tab provides access to the freely-available ebooks.

For students and instructors with existing Bookshelf accounts NOT linked to their institution-provided email address

Here is an article explaining how to check the email account associated with your Bookshelf account, and how to change it to an institutionally provided email account to access VitalSource Helps ebooks.

What type of content is available as part of the VitalSource Helps ebook program?

VitalSource, publishers, and resellers have worked together to provide access to an expansive catalog of ebooks allowing students and instructors to find their required learning materials. Students and instructors may access up to seven titles.

Content from publishers that is interactive and/or used for assessment purposes, often referred to as “courseware”, is not included. Courseware items commonly known are Pearson MyLab, Cengage MindTap, WileyPlus/NextGen, etc.

How many titles may be accessed for free as part of the VitalSource Helps ebook program?

You may add up to seven (7) titles to your account. Please pay attention to the “counter “in the lower-left corner of your account to keep track of the number of free ebooks you’ve accessed.

What if I cannot find the ebook(s) I need?

If you can’t find a required course material by searching for its ISBN, title, or author, then that material is not available as part of VitalSource Helps. Most custom content is not included in VitalSource Helps.

How long is the VitalSource Helps program available?

VitalSource and participating publishers are offering free access to ebooks through May 25, 2020 for US Students, to ensure affected students and instructors are able to use required learning materials through final exams. Once the free access period ends, you will maintain access to their Bookshelf account. However, ebooks provided during the VitalSource Helps program will no longer appear.

Why am I not seeing the Explore Tab when I log into my account?

There can be a few reasons for this:

  1. Is your institution on the list of approved institutions? Yes, Boston University is an approved institution.
  2. Are you using your institution-provided email address to access
  3. If you logged into your Bookshelf account through your institution’s Learning Management System (Blackboard), check your account information; you may need to link your account to your institution-provided email address. Learn how here.

My school email address isn’t working.

If your school is on the list of approved institutions, and you are unable to access your free content, please first make sure you created your account with the university-issued email address (most likely an email ending in .edu). If more support is needed, you can contact our Support team to help.

Can I access ebooks included in VitalSource Helps from Blackboard?

Any content typically accessed via Blackboard, such as Inclusive Access content, will still be available on Blackboard connected accounts. However, ebooks that are part of VitalSource Helps are only available through the Explore tab at and within all native Bookshelf apps (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, etc.).

Can I download ebooks for offline use?

Yes! To access ebooks offline, download the Bookshelf app on your computer or mobile device. The Bookshelf app is available free on all major app stores. Learn more about the Bookshelf app here.

Can I print my books?

In most cases, yes. However, printing restrictions are set by each publisher.

Is the Bookshelf platform accessible?

Yes. We take accessibility seriously. You can find our VPATs here, and relevant support articles here. We ensure all materials meet a minimum standard of accessibility, and the Bookshelf platform supports even more accessibility features, but publishers determine enhanced accessibility for their own content.

Will my data be used for marketing purposes or sold to third parties?

No. VitalSource does not share user data and all participants of the VitalSource Helps program will automatically be opted-out of marketing initiatives. To learn more, click here to view our privacy FAQs.

For more detailed information regard what data VitalSource collects, what we do with it, and how long we keep it please see the VitalSource Privacy Policy.

What personal data of mine do you collect? 

To opt-in to free access to the VitalSource Helps Content, you must provide your valid university email address.  For details of how VitalSource handles that data, click here.

I have unanswered questions, can you help? 

Yes, we have more support articles for you to find immediate questions on the help page.

For Additional Information or Consultation, Contact

Additional Boston University Remote Teaching Resources