Librarians and the Open Educational Resource Movement

Open Educational Resources (OER) are not new to education. Some teachers have been using them since the late 1990s; however, there has been increased awareness in open education in the past couple of years as students, faculty, and administrators continue to run up against increasing textbook costs as a barrier to education. As educators and providers of learning resources, librarians cannot afford to ignore the growing number of voices behind the open educational resource movement.

Open Educational Resources Defined

OERs, as the Hewlett Foundation so aptly defines them, “are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” In other words, OERs are any material used for education where the restrictions of traditional copyright have been waived either by the creator or because the copyright law does not protect the work.

Using the Hewlett definition of OERs, we can identify some very important values for educational institutions. First, and most obviously, they allow for free or very low-cost distribution of materials. The argument for saving students money on textbooks gets to the heart of community college missions, which revolve around access to quality education. Another, potentially more significant, benefit of OERs is the re-purposing of open materials. David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning and longtime OER thought leader, describes five rights, called the 5-Rs of open education. Three of the 5-Rs—which include retention, reuse, revision, remixing, and redistributing—are associated with the ability to change open materials to fit specific learning objectives and class activities. For many institutions the power and value of a shift from conventionally published and copyrighted materials is in the ability to customize materials to the learning at hand. When asked about open practices, teachers who have adopted OER often describe success as the remixing of resources to best meet student goals. Other values of open education include the ability for students to keep and share electronic or printed copies of openly licensed works without worrying about access being revoked.

OER and Value

The value of open education has been discussed in many places. Interested readers can access the Open Education Group to find reviews of studies that evaluate the power of open education in a variety of settings. There is a growing collection of evidence that open education is a valuable tool as our institutions work to increase librarians’ impact in our communities and students’ lives.

OER and Librarians

If open education is an important strategy in building effective teaching and learning at our institutions, what remains to be discussed is the role that libraries and librarians play in the open education movement. There are a number of librarians who have led the open education initiatives at their institutions. In the past several years I have met librarians all over the United States and Canada who are working to support and lead shifts from more traditional education resources to OERs. These librarians work to carve out space in their already busy schedules to message openness to faculty, champion open textbooks to selection committees, help their colleagues review openly licensed works, and hold awareness events about open education. All of these efforts have been in service to librarians’ ongoing missions of improving access and use of learning resources.

It is easy to lose track of new initiatives when libraries and librarians have so much to focus on as we expand our instructional, outreach, collection, and institutional service commitments. However, open education can fit into all of these services, as long as librarians have a willingness to commit to these activities. In the following section, I would like to address how the efforts of librarians to support open education might fit within the missions and work that many libraries are already committed to.

Instructional Services

At my current institution, Pierce College, there seems to be a tie between teaching classes and staffing the reference desk for the most visible services that the library offers. In a recent College Success assignment a student referred to our college librarians as goodwill ambassadors for the whole college. He meant that he always felt he could approach our instruction and reference librarians for support in his educational experience. As an institution we highly value this central activity of the library, and we show that value by naming information competency as a central outcome for students who earn degrees from Pierce College. We further reflect our core value of information competency by making it a mission of our open education initiative. Our instructors are challenged to work information, competency-based activities and assessments into all of our open courses. We have focused on open education as a strategy for increasing student engagement with information-driven pedagogy. Taking this logic one step further, librarians can focus on working open education into information competency assignments when and where appropriate.

Outreach and Institutional Service

When I first started working in community college libraries, I was tasked with outreach to faculty who had general good feelings about librarians, but who might not have seen the library as a scholarly colleague. I found myself planning professional development and building partnerships with eLearning and curriculum committee members to grow the library’s visibility college-wide. I find that many librarians have done the same, which means that often our work is about staying involved in our campus communities. Open education is one place where we can be experts. Inspiring library leaders, like Regina Gong at Lansing Community College, have organized events to invite their colleagues to learn about openness in education. Amy Hofer in Oregon has worked tirelessly across that state to invite librarians and faculty to work together and increase the adoption of open practices. Interested readers can see Regina and Amy in an archived Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources webinar.

Collection Building

Finally, and certainly not least, libraries are dedicated to building strong instructional collections. Part of collection building, in this sense, is selection of materials. However, collection building also includes curating, cataloging, storing, and promoting the materials once they have been selected. The all-encompassing work of supporting a useful, organized, relevant, timely, and healthy collection of materials that both stimulates scholarly inquiry and meets student information needs is an ongoing challenge for all libraries. That very challenge has made us uniquely talented at helping our colleagues make decisions about educational materials. Librarians, after all, spend a great deal of time working with students on reading and interpreting information from a variety of disciplines. Readability, accessibility, usability, and interpreting bias are all areas where librarians have significant training and experience. It would be helpful for the open education cause at all institutions if college librarians established a set of criteria for evaluating open materials. No library team is on its own in this development work. The Open Textbook Network provides some excellent review samples via the Open Textbook Library. There are also a number of useful tools, including library guides, created by libraries all over the world to help curate and organize searching for open materials. Another activity that collection librarians can use to engage discipline faculty colleagues is what I call the “Cool Things List.” This list is a personally curated compilation of exciting open materials that might fit courses within a specific discipline for which the librarian does outreach. Periodically, although not too regularly, the librarian might share one or two cool things with teachers via email. It is an easy task to keep open education on the faculty members’ minds while staying up to date on new resources.

Getting Started

These suggestions are meant to help people who are trying to work open education into their regular library responsibilities. They are ideas that I have seen work. However, I want to encourage all librarians who are interested in open education to seek out the community of open education librarians who are interested in seeing this idea spread to more institutions. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has an open education initiative where librarians are invited to join a forum. The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources – CCCOER) is filled with librarians who are interested in promoting open education. If readers take one thing from this writing, I hope it is this: no one is on her own in the open education conversation. There are many of us here who are anxious to help you in exploring and understanding our open education practice.