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

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.

State OER Policies on the Rise

This post is from a guest poster, Emma Wood. Emma (she/her), is the Scholarly Communication Librarian at UMass Dartmouth.

As a Scholarly Communication Librarian, I have been thinking a lot about how best to expand Open Educational Resources (OER) awareness and use on campus. The key for OER success in higher education seems to be quite simple – administrative support. OER advocates, librarians, and faculty members encourage OER through committees, faculty stipend programs, workshops, panels, OA publisher agreements, and the list goes on, but the path forward is easier to traverse once these efforts grab the attention of provosts and administrators, those who can offer sustainability to these projects and address structural barriers such as policies or operational norms that hinder progress. The same is true when scaling up to the state level; universities’ OER success is bolstered by government support. Ultimately that recognition cycles back to librarians and other advocates working on the ground floor – each level powering the other.

Open Educational Resources (OER) have earned the attention of state legislatures because of their cost-savings to students, and because data has shown the positive impact of OER on student success indicators.  Students achieve higher grades when they have consistent access to the required reading from day one of class. There are compelling equity considerations in favor of OER as well from the standpoint of access for all students regardless of socioeconomic background as well as increased diversity in OER authorship. According to SPARC, 11 states have OER-related bills in the current legislative session. 28 states have enacted OER policies in some form. Many are appropriations bills that deploy funds to incentivize and increase OER usage. Some states have committed money to OER directives that establish an OER committee or state-wide OER program which may include initiatives such as OER training and incentives for educators.

In Massachusetts we have an OER Advisory Council launched by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE). The council is composed of one representative from each of the state’s public institutions of higher education, community colleges as well as 4-year universities. The committee seeks opportunities to fund OER in the state, provides trainings, discusses trends and strategy, and more. Further, MA public institutions of higher education report to the DHE annually on their OER cost-savings to students.

The most efficient way to collect OER cost-savings data is with a course marking system. Course marking, sometimes referred to as course flagging, is a system of transparency that indicates to students which courses require free or low-cost materials instead of traditional textbooks. In a nutshell, faculty members check a box to inform the registrar that their course uses free or low-cost resources, and the course is flagged as such in the course catalog where students choose their classes. This transparency helps students to make an informed decision about their course load when the cost of materials may be prohibitive to them.

Although MA does not currently have legislation that requires course marking, this data collection by the DHE may compel state schools to implement course marking systems. Some states have made course marking mandatory. Oregon’s course marking legislation passed in 2021 and went into effect January 01, 2022. The law “requires each public university and community college to prominently display, or establish link to website that displays, estimated costs of all required course materials and directly related course fees for no less than 75 percent of total for-credit courses offered by public university or community college.”

The increase in OER policies and legislation is reflective of the momentum that the OER movement has built over the years. OER is no longer a new concept, and worries about quality of content have fallen away as three little letters (OER) have proven themselves to be a mighty force capable of breaking barriers. All of the kudos to the wonderful people who pushed for open course materials when the topic was less mainstream, maybe even controversial on some campuses, and paved the way for OER to reach the administrative and state level. We are at a zenith point for OER now that Open Educational Resources are included in policy-making conversations and educational infrastructure. With that upsurge in OER on college campuses, comes a bonus opportunity for librarians – heightened demand for OER professionals. OER is in a peak position right now (or at least more visible than it has ever been previously), but to continue gaining administrative support, advocates can’t drop the ball on the work that we do. We have to be “so good they can’t ignore” us.

Committing and Recommitting to Open

This semester I’ve had a few opportunities to think and talk through my librarian and pre-librarian work, and especially my commitment to open scholarship and teaching. First I was delighted to welcome the graduate students from across the disciplines who are working with my smart library colleagues to develop OER in our open knowledge fellowship this semester. And a few weeks later I was a guest in the Foundations of Information course which is required for Masters students in Pratt Institute’s School of Information. Funnily enough, I wrote about open access publishing in my very first post on ACRLog back in 2008. Revisiting that post was clarifying — it’s easy to forget what our thinking was and how it might have changed, and I’m retroactively grateful to my past self for documenting my thoughts then.

In talking with the students about my disciplinary background and journey to open I started with an introduction: I’m Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, and before that was Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech), and before that Head of Instruction at City Tech. Prior to getting my MLIS I worked in digital publishing, in project management and web production jobs. And before that I was an archaeologist and anthropologist, in graduate school and doing fieldwork and contract work in Ireland, New Jersey, and New York City.

In graduate school at New York University in the early 1990s, very little of the research and scholarship I needed access to was digital. I remember spending lots of time subwaying around to other academic libraries in the city and the New York Public Library’s research libraries for journals and books, and lots of time and dimes photocopying (and inhaling copier fumes). While time-consuming, being in NYC meant that I was usually lucky to be able to get access to all of the resources I needed for my coursework and research, and of course the textbooks and coursepacks we were assigned were much less expensive than they are now. Then as now, interlibrary loan was a lifesaver; I’m probably not the only academic to confess to having interlibrary loaned a few out-of-print books that I then photocopied in their entirety, completely oblivious to the copyright implications.

I started working in online media in the latter half of my doctoral program, and my time in publishing made it clear that digital materials were going to be critical to research and scholarship, and also that the transition would be challenging. Thinking back on those positions I’m struck now by how much work, at that time in the late 1990s, it took to figure out how to get the content in our print media published online to our websites as well. And because I was working in commercial publishing there was a lot of concern about how to retain subscribers once our magazine articles were available online.

What I didn’t realize then was what was happening with academic publishing, especially scholarly journals. It wasn’t until I went back to graduate school for my MLIS that I learned about the serials crisis, now a sort of old-fashioned term to describe the continuous price increases by commercial academic journal publishers. And of course commercial textbook publishers have also raised their prices enormously and out of step with inflation. When I look back now, I see that there are a few things that insulated me from this realization during my archaeology degree. One was that NYU (a private institution) and New York City have robust research libraries, for which I’m grateful. But another was the disciplinary conventions of archaeology. I did a lot of citation tracking in my research, and also relied heavily on my advisors’ networks. And realistically there weren’t that many scholars working in medieval Irish zooarchaeology (for example) — if I needed an article by one of them I would ask my advisor or the scholar themselves.

Learning about open access publishing in my MLIS program certainly opened my eyes to the unsustainability and fundamental inequity of scholarly communications. When I started working at City Tech and learned more about our students and CUNY’s public mission to educate “the whole people” of New York City, the imperative for open access publishing (and, a bit later, open educational resources) felt even more urgent to me. I’ve published all of my own scholarship open access, even before I got tenure, and I was vocal about the benefits and quality of open access publishing inside and outside the library at City Tech. My experience as a practitioner and researcher working with CUNY students, including work with my colleague Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College on how, where, when, and with what tools undergraduates do their academic work, has only strengthened my commitment to open: our scholarship relies on CUNY students’ lived experiences, and should not be locked behind a paywall.

Disciplinary and institutional differences remain a challenge for librarians committed to shifting researchers and educators to open scholarship and curricular materials, though there’s been so much work before and since I’ve been in librarianship. I’m grateful to be joining smart folx at and beyond my institution in this work, and for the chance to speak with students in LIS and other graduate programs about its importance.

Building OER Momentum with a Mini-Grant Program

At my institution, we’ve been talking more about open education in the past year. Open access has long been on our agenda, but open education is such a large umbrella. We’ve begun to bring other open education-related work to the fore.

I wrote about open pedagogy in the context of information literacy in a blog post this past fall, while reflecting on Jim Groom’s visit to our campus for our Domain of One’s Own launch. Earlier this semester, Robin DeRosa came to campus to help us grow the conversation around open pedagogy and open educational resources (OER). My colleague, Lora Taub-Pervizpour, shared some curated articles and videos in two great posts (here and here) as our community prepared for Robin’s visit. These conversations have helped us focus in on our motivations for deepening our OER work. Helping to reduce financial burdens/barriers for our students by lowering textbook/course materials costs is a significant motivator for our OER interest, as is often the case. But the pedagogical opportunities OER can help to create are particularly energizing for our community, so deeply invested in teaching. (Check out David Wiley’s recent posts “How is Open Pedagogy Different?” and “When Opens Collide” for some interesting discussion on open pedagogy.)

As open education efforts on our campus continue, my colleagues and I are planning to launch a small grant initiative to help build momentum. We are imagining these stipends as a way to support faculty/instructors interested in adopting, adapting, and creating OER for their courses. We are also excited about the pedagogical possibilities that OER work might offer, so I’m particularly enthusiastic about the option we’re including to support the development of assignments in which students collaborate in the OER work of the course.

We’re developing the application guidelines and evaluation criteria for this grant initiative now. A few searches easily turn up helpful examples of such initiatives at a range of institution types: American University, Bucknell University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Old Dominion University, University of Kansas, and Utah State University, to name a few. These have been helpful in informing how we’re shaping and framing our application and outreach process. But I’m particularly eager to hear reflections on the successes, challenges, and outcomes of the work from those who have already taken a lap around this track. I recently revisited Sarah Crissinger’s thoughtful and helpful reflections on her OER work with faculty (part 1, part 2, part 3). Yet I’m eager for more and find myself wondering about your thoughts. I expect many of you have experience administering OER-related initiatives with similar goals. If so, how have you framed your program? What have you found to be important to your success? What barriers have you encountered? Or perhaps you are someone who has participated in this kind of initiative (or would like to). If so, what kinds of guidelines or support were (or would be) most useful? I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts in the comments.