How to Cite Course Packs, Custom Textbooks, and Other Classroom Compendiums
by Jeff Hume-Pratuch
If you’ve taken a college course in the last 20 years, you’ve probably used a course pack—a collection of information put together specifically for your class. Course packs can be as simple as a stapled packet or as fancy as a hardbound book with a four-color cover. They’re usually compiled by the instructor from relevant articles, chapters, and original material; they may be printed by the college print shop, outsourced to a local copy shop, or ordered through a custom textbook manufacturer. It’s increasingly common to provide all or part of the book in electronic form as well.
Course packs are seldom cited in journal articles, but students are often given the assignment of writing on a specific extract from the textbook. The plethora of sources in a course pack often creates a conundrum for students: Who’s the author? Who’s the publisher? Below I suggest a technique for handling the types of sources most commonly encountered in course packs.
Previously Published Articles or Chapters
Let’s say you’re working from a course pack for a neuropsychology class, and you need to cite a journal article included in it. The source should be clearly identified as part of the copyright/permissions statement, which is required by law.1 In this case, you can eliminate the middleman—just cite it as if you found it in the original source:
Wenner, A. M. (1962). Sound production during the waggle dance of the
Original or Unattributed Material
Instructors frequently include unpublished material in their course packs, particularly in rapidly developing areas of research. Since the only source for this material is the course pack itself, treat it as part of an anthology compiled by the instructor and published by the university. If authorship is not stated, treat it as an unauthored work. The title of the compilation is whatever is on the cover or title page—often (but not always) this consists of the course name and number, as in the first example below:
Diagram of the tibia–basitarsis joint in Apis melifera. (2011). In B.
Many custom textbook publishers offer supplemental materials such as CDs, DVDs, or online materials that are accessible only with the purchase of the text. Since these are essentially extensions of the course pack or text itself, it makes sense to cite them as supplemental materials:
“Varroa mite blues” and other songs of the honey bee [Supplemental
If you find other challenges in citing materials from course packs, please let us know in the comments below.
1 Prior to 1991, course packs were often reproduced without acknowledging or obtaining permission from copyright owner(s), under the assumption that all copying for educational purposes qualified as “fair use.” Two federal cases (Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp, 1991, and Princeton Univ. v. Michigan Document Servs., 1996) established that there is no educational exception for course packs under U.S. copyright law. See https://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter7/7-a.html for a good overview of this issue.