• Joana Jebsen

Are Campus Libraries An Untapped Partner for Advancing Higher Education OER Initiatives?

In 2014, Babson Survey Research Group stated, “The most significant barrier to wider adoption of open educational resources (OER) remains a faculty perception of the time and effort required to find and evaluate it.”

Enter the campus library. Already a repository of materials sought for information, knowledge and entertainment, and now indicated by community college students as their top destination for services. At many institutions, whether two- or four-year, librarians are the connector for all parties interested in reducing the cost of educational materials necessary to secure a degree.

Some institutions have made large investments and found great success at housing OER initiatives in the library. Take the University of Texas. In addition to offering a summer workshop to help faculty get started with OER (Austin campus), the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is investing $500,000 to fund OER in the 2019-20 academic year, an initiative that will be led by the UTA Libraries. This isn’t UTA Libraries’ first foray into supporting the use of OER. Over the past three years, UTA Libraries awarded 14 grants to help support “educators adopting, modifying or creating free teaching and learning materials licensed for revision and reuse.”

UTA also has a full-time Open Education Librarian, Michelle Reed. A search of open library positions reveals similar positions being created on campuses across the US. What does an Open Education Librarian do? According to an EdSurge article, Reed brings focus to OER through workshops and individual consultations about sourcing high-quality OER, measuring the success of OER in use on campus, and tracking the savings to students. “They didn’t have anyone to monitor the progress and report out,” says Ms. Reed. “Any of those things are required to build momentum and build their reach.”

At Penn State, Penn State University Libraries has partnered with Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology to develop OER initiatives and offer faculty support. Two years ago, they joined the Open Textbook Network (OTN), a network of libraries overseen by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Open Education. They’re not alone. Over 600+ campuses are represented in the network, half of them joining in just the last year.

“Campus libraries can also offer OER access through campus-wide licenses to journals, e-books, videos and other resources not normally available to faculty or students on an individual basis.”

According to the OTN website, the network “promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks. We believe in the power of open education to transform higher education. Open textbooks not only contribute to student academic success, but also offer faculty the chance to reclaim their courses based on their expertise.” Is the OTN effort paying off? Of the faculty that attend an OTN workshop, 45% adopt an open textbook.

The Center for Open Education is also home to the Open Textbook Library (OTL), a repository for over 678 openly-licensed textbooks available for anyone to download and use, free of charge. Three other large repositories are MERLOT, OER Commons and OpenStax CNX.

Campus libraries can also offer OER access through campus-wide licenses to journals, e-books, videos and other resources not normally available to faculty or students on an individual basis. It’s logical for libraries to embrace, or even take the lead for, curating, vetting and organizing open content and open publishing options for their campus communities - the campus’ central OER hub for both faculty and students alike.

The role higher ed libraries play in advancing OER is really just beginning. Leveraging digital tools and third-party platforms (ex, Springshare’s LibGuides) can help solidify the library’s leadership position in promoting campus-wide OER adoption with faculty. As a conduit for building OER awareness, libraries can change faculty perceptions about the effort required to curate OER content - while also expanding the library’s relevance with today’s digitally-connected students.

One final comment. While the increasing use of OER has already saved students millions of dollars in textbook and degree-related educational materials, cost-savings cannot be the only measure of success. The overarching measure of success for OER adoption must be evidence of improved learning. Without that, the cost savings are for naught. With access to the right data, libraries can be the perfect clearinghouse for assessing the quality - and impact - of OER options in use.