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

Generative AI & the Evolution of Academic Librarianship

During my first week as an academic librarian, many faculty discussions on campus were regarding the issue of generative AI software, such as ChatGPT. A majority of the faculty at a panel discussion held on campus about AI expressed concerns over plagiarism, copyright, academic integrity, etc. Those on the panel, however, commented on how beneficial using AI was. When asked more specifically on what faculty should do to combat potential cheating from using generative AI, the panel seemed in agreeance on an answer: educate your students on how to responsibly use AI.

I will admit; prior to starting my career as an academic librarian, I had never used generative AI. Of course, I saw generative AI blasted all over the news and saw updates on sites and apps like Snapchat, but I never understood what generative AI was. I did not have any interest in learning about it either. After attending the panel discussion, however, I was reminded of a book I read called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I was assigned to read Who Moved My Cheese? by a professor in graduate school and often refer back to it (I highly recommend reading it if you have not already done so). The book explains how change can happen unexpectedly, and when it does, it is better to adapt and move forward than be left behind. Feeling like I was being left behind while other faculty embraced generative AI, I decided to learn as much as I could about it.

Although I read numerous articles and watched hours of YouTube videos, I was still confused as to how generative AI worked. Near the end of August, my dean notified the library faculty of a course offered through ALA’s eLearning platform. The course was titled Exploring AI with Critical Information Literacy and taught by Sarah Morris. I enrolled in the course and learned about the development and usage of generative AI and machine learning, current discussions around AI, opportunities and challenges for AI usage in higher education, and how to engage AI as an academic librarian. Throughout the course, we examined AI through a critical lens and discussed strategies for AI to be incorporated at our own institutions. I enjoyed the course and found the lesson on prompt engineering to be the most intriguing.

One of the ways in which academic librarians can enter the generative AI realm in higher education is through teaching faculty and students prompt engineering. Prompt engineering is strategizing your generative AI input to obtain your desired output. While one can simply ask ChatGPT a standard question, prompt engineering recommends telling ChatGPT through what lens to answer the question. For example, if I was wondering how to craft a lesson for my class on implicit bias, I could plainly input:

“What lesson on implicit bias could I give my college class?”

Using prompt engineering, a better input would be:

“Act like an Academic Librarian teaching a college course on critical thinking. Design a lesson about implicit bias. Include topics for the class to discuss in small groups.”

While the results appeared similar, the detailed prompt elicited a result more applicable to my course by covering topics such as bias in information sources and media literacy.

Another way academic librarians can educate faculty and students on generative AI is on responsible use. More specifically, we can create lessons and workshops around copyright, academic integrity, and the reliability of the output. I tried this with my critical thinking class. I first introduced the university’s academic integrity policy, including definitions of cheating and plagiarism. Because the majority of my class was unfamiliar with generative AI, I briefly explained how generative AI worked. Afterwards, I had the students discuss the potential benefits and challenges of using generative AI. Using my personal account (my university does not support the use of ChatGPT), I asked ChatGPT and had the students read the output. I stressed that when used responsibly, ChatGPT can be a great resource for brainstorming; however, I cautioned my students from using it for writing assignments due to plagiarism, copyright infringement, and incorrect information. To illustrate this point further, I informed my students of the two attorneys in New York who acquired case law through ChatGPT. The attorneys did not fact-check the case law, and the judge discovered that the case law actually did not exist. The cases ChatGPT cited were made up. Overall, the lesson was a success. Many students chose to explore generative AI in more depth for the final projects.

By embracing generative AI, academic librarians can increase their skillset and become a useful resource for faculty and students navigating the rapidly evolving world of AI. It will be interesting to learn about how varying universities respond, if they have not done so already. I imagine we will see new policies implemented on campus, positions established, and roles altered.

Reflecting on Open Access Week as a First-Year Academic Librarian

As an Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian, planning, hosting, and executing events and workshops on campus for Open Access Week is an essential part of my position. For those unfamiliar with Open Access Week, Open Access Week is a designated week, typically towards the end of October, to celebrate and spread awareness of the open access movement. This year’s theme was “Community over Commercialization.” I did not incorporate the theme into the programming primarily because I want to center our events around the university’s Affordability Initiative.

Monday

We started the week off with a celebration of affordability and open access on our campus. The purpose of the event was to highlight accomplishments made throughout the past year, such as increased use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and submissions to our Institutional Repository (IR). Next, I hosted a workshop on OER adoption, adaptation, and creation with my new faculty cohort. During the workshop, we discussed the impact OER has on equity as well as resources for finding and creating OER. New faculty were intrigued by OER and expressed interest in exploring what is available in their field. I hosted the same workshop for all faculty in the afternoon. Interestingly, this workshop sparked more of a discussion regarding Creative Commons and self-publishing.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, my colleague and I hosted two launch parties for our new sponsored affordability development opportunities, one in-person and one virtual.  We were promoting the launch of the textbook affordability self-paced course we created on D2L Brightspace (our LMS).  The course was designed for faculty to strengthen their knowledge about the open movement, pathways to open authoring, and research related to textbook affordability and OER.  Additionally, we were promoting our new program in which faculty could apply and receive sponsorship to adopt, adapt, or create OER.

Wednesday

Wednesday was dedicated to the Institutional Repository.  My colleague hosted an event regarding the role of the IR on campus.  He also encouraged faculty to bring their CVs to see how they could contribute to the IR.

Thursday

On Thursday, I hosted a small panel event about the power of self-publishing your expertise.  The panelists were faculty with experience creating OER and had all authored at least one textbook.  The panelist offered great insight into the process of self-publishing in varying disciplines.

Friday

To conclude the week, I hosted affordability and faculty collaboration hours.  These hours give faculty a chance to meet with me directly and discuss where to search for OER, how to navigate Creative Commons, how to make textbook selections for the bookstore, etc.


Reflection

Unfortunately, attendance for almost every event was lower than I had hoped.  Most of the events were held in-person in the library.  Next year, I would try doing more virtual events that could be recorded and sent to those interested.  I also wondered if the time of day was a factor in the low attendance.  We varied the times in hopes of reaching as many people as possible, but the inconsistency in time might have been a deterrent. 

An idea for next year would be to incorporate events or activities for students.  Our library’s student advisory board did hand out snacks to students on Wednesday and told them about our Textbooks on Reserve program and textbook donation drive; however, I think we could do more.  An opportunity to connect with students and amplify their voice on the topic of textbook affordability and open access would be beneficial to our Affordability Initiative.

Lastly, not having experience coordinating a week full of campus events, I was thankful to have the support of the University Library’s Dean’s Office.  They scheduled rooms, ordered refreshments, organized swag (pens, stickers, water bottles, keychains, etc.), and coordinated social media posts throughout the week advertising events, highlighting campus affordability champions, and listing resources to adopt, adapt, and create OER.  I could not have survived the week without their help.

Scared, but In a Good Way: Navigating My First Few Weeks as an Academic Librarian

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Katie Kuipers, Assistant Professor and Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University, as a new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger for the 2023-2024 year here at ACRLog.

I spent the weeks following graduation in May as I imagine many graduates do: desperately applying for jobs.  With a Master of Library and Information Science degree in hand, I was eager to dive head-first into the world of professional librarianship.  As each rejection letter came, however, my excitement dwindled.  I decided to pivot my job search and focus on jobs that intrigued me rather than applying to any and every librarian job I found.  Although I had no experience working in an academic library, I took a course in grad school about the issues in the academic libraries and conducted research on first generation students and the information literacy skills of first-year students.  This led me to applying, interviewing, and accepting the job as the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University.

I packed my bags and excitedly moved from my home in North Dakota to St. Cloud, Minnesota.  A few weeks before the semester began, I received an email from the Dean asking if I would be interested in co-teaching a course for the fall and teaching it on my own for the spring.  Wanting to challenge myself, I replied that I could.  At St. Cloud State University, academic librarians are also faculty members.  Not only was I the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian, but I was an Assistant Professor for the University Library as well.  I had no idea what this would mean until I showed up for the new faculty orientation on campus. 

New faculty orientation overwhelmed me.  Suddenly, I was inundated with acronyms I was unfamiliar with like “P&T” (promotion and tenure) and “PDP” (professional development plan).  While other new faculty were finalizing their syllabi and drafting their assignments for the semester, I was feeling massively underprepared and began developing imposter syndrome.  I returned to campus the next day unsure of what lay ahead of me.  After receiving my workload from the Dean, I had a clearer picture of what was expected of me; however, I was scared that I was in over my head.  Along with teaching, I was tasked with creating affordability workshops, designing an online affordability course, and supporting faculty adopting, adapting, and creating OER, all of which was new to me.

Once I met my colleagues, I realized I had a wonderful support network right in front of me.  Over the past couple weeks, they have caught me up to speed on the status of the Affordability Initiative at the university, explained numerous acronyms, shared their professional development plans from previous years, and checked in with me to see if I have any questions as I navigate my role.  My co-professor generously offered to take the reins for the beginning half of the semester to allow me to observe her teaching style.  We have been collaborating on discussion questions and class activities to ease me into the course.  Along the way, I have been making notes to prepare myself for my own course next semester.  The department chair has been instrumental in my adjustment to the position.  She shares her teaching experiences and is patient with me as I learn how to tackle library instruction and research appointments, another aspect of my workload.  Overall, the department has reassured me that everything will be okay.  I will encounter bumps throughout the year, but that is to be expected of a librarian fresh out of grad school.

Even though I am only a few weeks into my position, I can see a lifelong career in academic librarianship.  I enjoy getting to know my students and want to help them succeed.  I am adapting to the workload and drafting ideas to implement throughout the year.  Thanks to my colleagues, the imposter syndrome is starting to subdue, and I am feeling more confident in my position.  Am I still scared?  Absolutely… but in a good way.