Unveiling the Deceptive Duo: Inclusive Access and Equitable Access – A Threat to Student Choice and Library Reserves

Academic libraries have a new battle on the horizon: inclusive access and equitable access. These two models are the newest ventures of bookstore vendors to get students to purchase costly textbooks and other course materials. Stealing library jargon to disguise the truth, bookstore vendors are advertising inclusive access and equitable access as being a positive move for universities. These models, however, are far from it.

Inclusive Access

Bookstore vendors market this option as being convenient for faculty and students as students are guaranteed access to course materials on the first day of class. Sounds great, doesn’t it? At first glance, it appears to be truly inclusive; however, this option is deceptive. When faculty choose to use inclusive access, they select their textbook and/or access codes for homework as they normally would. Then, instead of students purchasing these materials on their own, students are billed an additional charge for their tuition to include the cost of the course materials. This means students lose the ability to buy used versus new as well as shop around for their course materials (e.g., Amazon). According to these vendors, they do provide students with an “opt-out” option. The problem with this “opt-out” option is two-fold. One, the ability to “opt-out” is not communicated clearly to students. Bookstore vendors tend to use intimidating language that ultimately prevents students from opting out. Two, if students “opt-out” of an access code needed to complete their homework, they are unable to submit their homework; therefore, they will likely fail the class. How is that inclusive?

Equitable Access

While I had heard of inclusive access, the equitable access model was unbeknownst to me until recently. According to bookstore vendors, equitable access is a model that, like inclusive access, ensures that all students have access to their required course materials on the first day of class. Prior to classes beginning, students would receive a box of all of their needed materials. Again, this sounds great, doesn’t it? The catch is found in how students are billed for these materials. Once faculty make their textbook and course material selections, the university divides the total cost of all faculty-selected items amongst all students. Then, every student is charged the same “textbook cost” fee as part of their tuition and fees. While this may be beneficial to students majoring in subjects such as chemistry or accounting, majors notorious for high textbook costs, this is a huge disservice to majors with historically low textbook costs, such as English or history. This model also takes away the ability for students to shop around for cheaper alternatives to new textbooks and provides zero transparency in how much their materials actually cost. This means that a student who could purchase all of their textbooks used for a total of $30 could instead be charged $600. How is that equitable?

Contract Limitations for Academic Libraries

In addition to the effect inclusive and equitable access models have on students, the contracts to implement them can severely impact and even eliminate libraries’ efforts in providing course reserves and other textbook support to students. For instance, one bookstore vendor’s contract explicitly prohibits libraries from purchasing a copy of a course textbook to place on reserve in the library for students to check out. With the equitable access model, libraries would be completely written out of the textbook equation. If universities began shifting towards these models, my position as an Affordability and Digital Initiatives Librarian, as well as similar positions, would be eliminated, and the major strides made in providing true equitable access to textbooks through academic libraries would come to a halt.

Federal Intervention

The good news is that the Department of Education is aware of and currently discussing these misleading models. As the Biden-Harris administration works towards adopting more open policies, they have turned their focus towards higher education. More specifically, on January 2, 2024, the Department of Education released six issue papers with proposals for more student-friendly policies. One of these papers propose to “eliminate the provision allowing institutions to include the cost of books and supplies as part of tuition and fees.” If passed, this proposal would be a huge win for academic libraries.

You can find out more information about the Department of Education’s movement to restrict these models at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2023/program-integrity-and-institutional-quality-session-1-issue-paper-cash-management-final.pdf

In search of community

I’ve always felt a strong sense of professional community as a librarian. I had a close local cohort of friends in my distance MLIS program, a fantastic group of ALA Spectrum Scholars who helped me feel accepted and included, and great colleagues. I’ve been lucky to have worked at institutions that invest in the professional development of their librarians (especially early-career folks) and therefore have been able to attend conferences, leadership institutes, and other learning experiences. I joined the social media platform formerly known as Twitter in 2008 and shared thoughts there and via my personal blog, connecting with librarians across the country on everything from critical information literacy to elder millennial jams.

Then the pandemic hit. We still had all the finest web-based apps needed to maintain our ability to work, but something about connecting online didn’t feel right anymore. It was simultaneously too much and not enough. I missed grabbing dinner with friends, going to yoga class in person, and visiting family (among all of the comforts of having a “normal” day-to-day life). The isolation was crushing. All of the fledgling communities I had started to build in a new city crumbled and the long standing professional community in LIS was struggling. We all trickled back into our “normal” routines eventually, but things were markedly different. We were different, and the communities that sustained us throughout the years of isolation were not necessarily the same ones we relied on pre-pandemic.

I finally left what was then still Twitter in 2023, as did many of my colleagues and friends. I’ve struggled to feel motivated enough to attend conferences and professional activities in person given the number of free or low-cost online offerings (book a flight and wait to be reimbursed? in this economy?). But I do miss being able to catch up with colleagues at other institutions in person. I miss the serendipitous collaborations that sprung for venting sessions over coffee or lunch after a thought-provoking presentation. I miss getting to know people outside of their identities as librarians. I don’t know where the librarians are online anymore, but I know that I miss them! Occasionally we see one another in professional service organization meetings, private-chatting each other via Zoom, but of course, it’s not quite the same.

I am very curious to discover what community looks like now for folks in LIS, especially early-career folks. I will admit that moving into a management position and recognizing that I’ve been in libraries for 17 years(!!!!) have also contributed to a shift in community for me, but it hasn’t changed the fact that I need a community. I think we all do. We all want to feel understood and valued in our profession. So what does librarian community look like now, and what can we make it?

What kind of institutional change are you encountering?

To kick off our institutional change theme, we asked some librarians this question: In the New Year, what kind of institutional change are you encountering? Are you looking forward to it, dreading it, or some kind of in-between feeling? Given the subject matter, we opted to anonymize this post. If you have thoughts on institutional change, sound off in the comments or reach out to us to do a guest post!

Blogger 1: At my university, we have a fairly new president and provost. This has led to a complete overhaul of the way that positions are approved, along with a number of other changes. There has been a lot of faculty rumblings that ultimately came to a head with a letter from anonymous faculty to the President, listing both their concerns and rumors that had been swirling around the new administration. It was brought to everyone’s attention via a faculty senate motion. I shared some of the concerns, but there were also portions of the letter that were either untrue or petty in comparison to the real concerns. I did not feel it was representative of all faculty. 

As you might imagine, this caused an absolute tizzy throughout campus. Faculty senate motions are public, so the letter was seen by everyone; even the student newspaper reported on it. The senate ultimately held an all-faculty meeting to go over the concerns, which are being compiled into a report (minus the rumors). There had been discussion at the library about administration, but this really brought it all into hard focus. A good portion of our department meetings have been spent on compiling and articulating our own concerns, which focus on the (lack of) communication from admin and staffing, since that aforementioned position approval process has slowed the hiring process down considerably. In my opinion, the whole debacle could have been avoided with a better communication strategy. Maybe needless to say, but it’s caused a lot of dread and anxiety overall for me; I do hope that it leads to change in the new admins’ approaches, though. 

Blogger 2: I almost feel like the question might actually be what institutional change aren’t we encountering. In some ways, this year just seems to hold more of the same as the last few: a steady trickle of folks leaving all levels of positions whether for retirement or other positions and places; continuing enrollment troubles; growing budget challenges; and so on. These issues certainly aren’t new (or unique to my institution) but it does feel like they’re really piling up. On one hand, these converging and intensifying challenges are just adding a hearty dose of uncertainty and instability to the burnout and morale issues we’re already confronting. On the other hand, though, I do respect how the new university leadership seems to be addressing the challenges head on, rather than letting issues continue to fester. I admire how library leadership is transparent about the challenges and the decision-making processes being used to address them. I also appreciate how leadership is so far framing our organizational response to the (yes, mounting and increasingly consequential) challenges as opportunities for innovation, not just setbacks and hardships. Of course, they absolutely are setbacks and hardships — let’s not kid ourselves. But it helps to remember that we might actually be able to do something about it. 

Blogger 3: At my library, we’re having a hard time hiring librarians. It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly we’re not getting positions filled; some positions it seems like aren’t appealing enough to attract candidates (e.g. job responsibilities and/or compensation) and some may be because of institutional issues (e.g. timing of searches, which vacant positions are prioritized, length of time to complete a search, and failed searches for one reason or another).

Related to length of time, the hiring process is an arduous process, with many librarians on search committees, getting job descriptions and advertisements approved from our institution’s administration, and the longlisting, shortlisting, and interviewing. When this results in a failed search—whether that’s due to a lack of applicants or procedural issues—this only exacerbates the issue to get the position filled timely. This is disheartening, to say the least.

We’re trying different approaches to attract candidates, to put them in the best position to succeed and feel adequately compensated. While our library can adapt our hiring practices, we still have to operate within our institutional policies on recruiting. In the meantime, we continue to cover positions in different ways and have our fingers crossed that we can finally get a full complement of librarians.

Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship

Towards the end of fall 2023, the STEM Librarian stepped down from her position at CSU Northridge. Throughout her tenure, she covered liaison duties that spanned across many Science and Engineering departments. I heard about this news during a monthly department meeting. Our department chair requested support and asked us to reach out if interested in taking over the STEM liaison roles. Despite the fact that I have an academic background in the Humanities and Social Sciences, I recognized the urgency of the situation and offered my support. In the spirit of camaraderie, I contacted my chair and volunteered to help. Soon after, I was assigned to be the liaison for the single department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, which includes library instruction and collection development responsibilities.

When I started at CSU Northridge, I was initially assigned to be the Central American & Transborder Studies liaison. Due to my background in Ethnic Studies, particularly Chicana/o Studies and Latina/o Studies, I felt quite comfortable with this assignment. I felt at home as I taught information literacy sessions, facilitated research consultations, and performed my bibliographer duties for the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. It wasn’t until I became the liaison to Chemistry & Biochemistry that I began to feel like I was navigating an uncharted path.

Recently, I had to select publications to update the collection for Chemistry & Biochemistry. Since it was my first time performing my collection development duties for this department, I was out of my depth. As a liaison librarian, I must meet 3 important collection development deadlines throughout the academic school year. Just over a week ago, I met the second deadline and I spent 75% of all available funds. To be frank, this was easier said than done for an early career librarian without a STEM background. For more support, I reached out to several librarians in the Collection Access and Management Services (CAMS) department. Although I was already diving into book reviews and book spotlights offered by professional associations, I realized that I needed more guidance. As a result of my colleagues’ mentorship, I learned about ALMA analytics and I discovered how to search for slips in Gobi. These lessons allowed me to finalize my selections for Chemistry & Biochemistry.

As for library instruction, the fall semester will start tomorrow, so I have not taught any information literary sessions for Chemistry & Biochemistry. However, I already received 3 instruction requests from a professor teaching CHEM 464L – Principles of Biochemistry. To prepare, I have been exploring the already established CHEM 464L LibGuide. So far, I have set my focus on current topics and the American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style. Additionally, I intend to contact the former Science and Engineering Librarian with the hopes that she will be open to sharing her Google Slides, instructional handouts, and/or other resources. My intention is to learn as much as possible to help students locate the proper library resources. While I recognize that I have immersed myself into a completely different academic discipline, I am reassured by own professional experience, particularly my 10-year trajectory as an educator.  I am learning to trust the process, so that I may rely on my own skillset, which includes teaching topics like keyword selection, information evaluation, citation practices, and database search mechanics.

As I wrap up this blog post, I would like to encourage other liaison librarians to please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience. What were some of your approaches? How did you become familiarized with your new role? I would definitely appreciate guidance as I continue to dive into science liaison librarianship.

More Media, Less Social

As the year comes to a close, I’m seeing more and more people and organizations leave Twitter behind. This is not a new trend by any means — many deactivated their accounts after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the increase in hate speech and harassment has only escalated since then (especially since the platform’s purchase late last year and name change earlier this year). I do still have an account on Xitter (as the kids say), though I’ve stopped posting and solely retweet announcements from my place of work and other librarian and academic organizations.

It’s silly, frivolous, I’m not even sure what adjective to use to describe how strange I’ve found it that I’m feeling sad about Twitter’s demise. Not engaging substantially with the platform is an easy decision, but I’ll admit that it’s left a hole in my social media landscape that’s difficult to fill. 

I miss the early-mid-twenty-teens Twitter. I miss following librarians from all over who worked at all kinds of libraries, and reading about what’s happening in those libraries and places. I miss following academics across the disciplines, learning what kinds of digital research and scholarship was going on throughout higher ed, and sharing experiences with and concerns about educational technology (to name a few of my interests). I miss listening to and learning from BIPOC folx doing antioppression work, opportunities that strengthened my own commitment to antiracism and abolitionist practice. I miss being able to post about jobs at my institution, and answering questions from interested folx. I miss conference Twitter, when robust conversations happened on the front and back channels, when I could learn about what was presented at a conference even if I wasn’t actually at that conference. I miss the IRL conference meetups arranged using Twitter, and the opportunities to continue these library (and nonlibrary) conversations long after we all left the convention center.

And I miss the conversations around ACRLog posts, too. The ACRLog blogteam had noticed comments on our posts declining through the twenty-teens as discussion on Twitter became more active. But with fewer librarians on Twitter, there’s less discussion, too.

Since pulling back from Twitter I’ve created accounts (or started using accounts I’d let sit dormant) on a few other platforms. I have a Mastodon account, but I still struggle with finding folx on other instances. I have a Bluesky account, which seems to be most Twitter-like right now in both features and the folx there, but I’m wary about another social media platform started by the guy who started Twitter. I spend more time on LinkedIn, an account I’ve had since the late twenty-aughts, but that’s so job-focused; I do miss the social aspect of social media on that platform. I deleted my Facebook account in 2011, and I’m not going to create any accounts on the Meta platforms (as much as Instagram is tempting!).

Back in the day I used to say that I only had the time and attention for one social media platform, and that was Twitter. Now I have accounts on four platforms, but there are still folx who I don’t follow anywhere because they left Twitter for other places or ditched social media entirely (which I can’t fault anyone for!). As frivolous as it is, I miss Twitter.