Hack the Stacks: Outreach and Activism in Patron Driven Acquisitions

As many others have said more eloquently than I could, everyday in libraries we make decisions about how to spend our resources: time, space, attention, but perhaps most obviously, money. In 2015, the average library expenditures for collections at doctoral institutions was over 5 million dollars. What we choose to spend that money on is an inherently political act. Recognizing it as a form of activism, students at the University of Virginia used our purchase request system to ask that the library add more materials by underrepresented voices to our collections.  I’ll describe the background, logistics, and outcomes of an event we organized to encourage and facilitate these requests.

As a subject librarian, collection development is a surprisingly small part of my job. A centralized collections team manages our approval plans and once a year subject liaisons review them to make sure they still align with departmental interests and priorities. We also have an automated purchase request system that patrons can use to request items for the library. These requests get sent to the collections team and the subject librarian in the area and we passively approve them (unless there’s a glaring reason not to purchase it, it goes through). Beyond those two responsibilities, my involvement in collection development is minimal.

UVA isn’t alone in changing the way it handles collection development from the selector/bibliographer to an outsourced model. Along with this operational shift, we’ve experienced a more philosophical one: budget and space constraints mean that we can no longer try to collect everything, and have had to refocus our efforts towards providing material as patrons explicitly need them, which is the same paradigm shift of “just-in-time” to “just-in-case” that many libraries are experiencing. We rely upon patron purchase requests to tell us when there’s a gap that needs to be filled, but sometimes students don’t know about that feature of the library website or how to use it.

A few weeks ago, a graduate student in the Music Department approached me about co-organizing an event to teach people how to use the purchase request feature while simultaneously requesting books by marginalized authors and independent presses be added to our collection. (Thank you to Aldona Dye of the UVA Music Department and Matthew Vest of UCLA who came up with this idea.) We decided to call it Hack the Stacks and partnered with the Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation, an interdisciplinary group formed  “with the goal of creating a campus environment where resources  for learning about and combating white supremacy (such as discussion forums; visiting scholar and activist talks; syllabi; direct actions; trainings; and safe and accountable spaces) are readily available.”

Prior to the event, we circulated a Google Doc and asked people to add books and presses they thought should be added to the library’s collections. The day of the event, we gave a presentation covering the library’s current method of collection development, emphasizing that purchase requests are the best way for patrons to influence what they think we should own, how to submit a purchase request, and describing what happens after a request is submitted. From the patron perspective, our collection development process is opaque and this discussion made it a lot more transparent. We posted large print-outs of the list on the wall and asked participants to check off items when they submitted a request. We also brought a blank sheet of paper for participants to add to if they submitted a request for a book that wasn’t on our list. Participants filtered in and out during the two hour event, with some staying and submitting multiple purchase requests and others dropping in to submit one or two. 

Our collections and acquisitions teams helped facilitate this event on the backend. Before the event, we talked about whether our normal purchase request budget would be sufficient to cover an event like this, and I shared the list with them in advance to give them a rough estimate of the number of requests to expect. During the event, I encouraged participants to track down the link to purchase the title they were interested in to make it easier on the acquisitions team and to use the “additional notes” field to justify the purchase, which is a practice our collections management team encourages for requests to be fulfilled more reliably. We also added a designation to each item that was requested so that the acquisitions team could track which requests were coming in as part of the event.

All told, we ended up submitting purchase requests for close to fifty items. Those requests are still being processed, so I can’t yet say how many will be added to our collection, but I’m hopeful that most of them will be purchased. Building diverse collections is, as AJ Robinson pointed out, imperative if we want to be the inclusive and welcoming institutions we strive to be. We need to have books by and about people from historically marginalized groups if we want them to feel as though the library is for them, too.  Having these materials on hand also means that more people will engage with them. We are undergoing the beginning of a renovation right now and through a series of preparatory focus groups and meetings many people have emphasized how essential browsing is to their research processes. Hopefully, by having these books in our catalog and on our shelves, faculty and students will be more likely to use them in their courses and research. This event also revealed gaps in our collection, particularly in disability and indigenous studies. I hope we can use this knowledge to revisit our approval plans to see how we could collect more intentionally in these areas.

This was my first experience doing outreach to encourage patron driven acquisition and using it as a tool to encourage more inclusive collections. I’m hopeful we can turn it into a larger effort to tap into patron expertise as we make decisions about how to allocate our limited resources and to incorporate what we learn into our long-term collections strategy.

Holistic Advocacy, or The Case of the Annoyingly-Optimistic Librarian

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Courtney Block, Instruction, Reference, and User Engagement Librarian at Indiana University Southeast.

Storytellers. It’s what all professional librarians end up being in addition to our other specific roles or niches. But it’s not something they really prepare you for when you’re getting your MLS. There might be an occasional class, lecture, or even an entire course on public relations, managing, or marketing – but how often did anyone discuss how to be the library’s best storyteller? And how often did they discuss the perils and pitfalls of getting everyone in your library to be enthusiastic about storytelling?

I should probably point out that I’m not talking about tot-time. The kind of storytelling I’m talking about is advocacy. Pure, unadulterated, non-stop, advocacy. As librarians, we are all too familiar with the constant need to promote, market, advocate for, and tell our story. We are always highlighting the many services and resources we offer. We are always responding to the perpetual, “I had no idea libraries (fill in the blank here)” comments. And we are always making the case for the continued need for libraries in society.

The ways in which we tell our stories are often not grandiose. Which is fine – they don’t need to be. For example, perhaps we advocate via email with colleagues about information literacy, or explain to family and friends at social events that we can indeed help them find information on that topic, or perhaps we even market the latest database, tool, resource, or service to our local newspapers.

Advocacy comes naturally to the professional librarian. At least it does for me. Perhaps this is because I started my professional library career in public libraries, where I interacted with patrons and answered questions on a daily basis, or perhaps it’s because I’m currently the User Engagement Librarian at my organization. I’d like to think, though, that as librarians we have a natural tendency to advocate for our profession and the many contributions it provides to people and society. I like to think we’re just wired that way.

It seems like I’m making advocacy seem so easy, doesn’t it? One of the things we quickly learn about advocacy is that it’s tiring. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to advocate for or explain one more thing for the day. So while it may be a natural tendency, it’s easy to get burnt out on advocacy – and fast.

That’s where system-wide storytelling support comes in. Getting each person in your organization to commit to being a storyteller themselves is necessary not only for alleviating your advocacy burnout, but also for enhancing your library’s user experience and enhancing the perception of the library to your stakeholders – be they members of the public or university administrators.

Consider this: front line staff who are initial points-of-contact for users are often not librarians. They might be student workers, professional support staff, clerks, or even pages. And while they may be very skilled and proficient at their jobs, they simply might not view each interaction as an opportunity for advocacy. I don’t mean to imply that staff run through a list of services and statistics each time they interact with a user. Rather, I’m arguing that there should be collaboration between professional librarians and all library workers to engage in advocacy efforts at every point of user interaction. Getting buy-in from all staff regarding the atmosphere you would like to promote is key to ensuring memorable user experiences.

It’s one of the things I try to do at my library, and it means engaging in continuous conversations with staff about what librarianship means. And to me, that means enhancing the user experience at every possible moment. During a time in which information literacy skills seem sorely lacking and the future of the IMLS is uncertain, engaging in collaborative advocacy efforts can help ensure that we don’t seem passive. In fact, it will display to patrons that every library worker carries within them a little spark of the spirit of librarianship.

I’m sure it seems like I might be painting another conveniently rosy picture. I know getting system-wide buy in for this might be a daunting task. Not all staff will be as impassioned as I am about being all “carpe diem” for advocacy. Perhaps not even all staff will be receptive to listening to my ideas – territorial issues abound, after all, in any organization. What I try to keep in mind during these conversations, though, is being open to staff ideas and suggestions on any and all library-related issues. I also try to investigate what the library means to them, and to use their own paradigm as a starting point to investigate how the user experience can be enhanced from their point-of-view.

The point I’m trying to make is that each point-of-contact is an opportunity to make or break someone’s perception of the library. And the best way to ensure positive user experience is to try and get all employees engaged in the same spirit of librarianship that is harbored by those of us who are impassioned (if sometimes overzealous). Holistic advocacy is what we’re shooting for.

Advocacy has implications for all libraries, but there are some special considerations for the academic library. Libraries ensconced on a college campus have opportunities and obligations to collaborate with other university departments as well as campus administrators. At a college or university, the library’s director is not the stopping-point for decisions that can be made regarding space or budget. This is not to say that visions and ideas between administration and librarians won’t mesh or that they won’t work together – I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply positing that advocacy is key in getting campus administrators to see and believe in that sense of librarianship, and the best way to achieve this is to get as many folks on board as possible, regardless of rank, title, or position. Not only will the quality of user experience be enhanced, but if the time comes for changes to be made or suggested by campus administrators, perhaps a robust advocacy strategy will ensure the best possible outcome.

I might view the role of advocacy through rose-colored glasses, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being viewed as that annoyingly-optimistic librarian, so long as you give me five minutes of your time.

Our Responsibility to Voters: What Librarianship Should Look Like During the 2016 Presidential Election Season

Since the RNC and DNC have taken place, the 2016 general election is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and news feeds. I wanted to use my final FYAL ACRLog post to talk about this topic of great relevance and importance to all of us while considering the role we should play as librarians at this crucial point in our nation’s history. This topic might also appeal to librarians in other countries who are looking to us with great interest and might also have reasons to engage with politics as professionals. As we cannot and should not push partisan politics on our patrons, the best we can do for patrons is to provide as much information and education as possible to voters, and to help encourage people to exercise their right and responsibility to vote. While the act of voting is far from being the epitome of democracy in my mind, it is one small way that people can make a difference for our country’s future (especially, during the general election, in swing states), and, as librarians who seek to help people become informed and empowered, we should be supportive of and encourage democratic processes, including but not limited to voting.

As librarians, we are expected to remain neutral (and presumably, then, also nonpartisan) especially when patrons are researching topics that are controversial or contested. To insert our own political opinions into our research assistance, teaching, or collection development would be a conflict of interest and an infringement upon our students’ and other patrons’ intellectual freedom – the freedom to explore issues autonomously and independently, without any pressure to conform to anyone else’s points of view. Instead, patrons should be able to freely research the facts and evidence, and come to reasonable conclusions on their own. We can guide them during that process, and help them find information and distinguish between information that is good – information that incorporates sound evidence – and information that is bad, oftentimes because it distorts the facts.

However, neutrality is a myth. (As have many before me have done, I have written more extensively about the myth of neutrality, especially as it relates to peer review, elsewhere.) While we should refrain from unduly influencing our patrons’ research, it is hardly possible to refrain from having an opinion on matters of importance. Besides, to not have an opinion is to silently accept things as they are. No matter what we say, our opinions will influence the types of sources that we point patrons to, and the ways in which we evaluate information with patrons. So it is extremely important that we are mindful of our opinions and seek to counterbalance those by presenting patrons with multiple viewpoints, all the while modeling careful, thoughtful evaluation.

We will have opinions, and that is a good thing as long as they are supported by evidence. To refrain from having an opinion, or to withhold it if we are asked to share it, would be tantamount to tacit acceptance of the status quo. By supporting the status quo, neutral librarians, or librarians who remain silent when asked for their opinions, implicitly support structures of power and privilege that are in place, structures that are oftentimes unjust and harmful, since we do live in an imperfect society. Thus, librarians can and should have opinions about history and politics. Obvious examples include having opinions about the atrocities that have defined our nation’s history, such as the genocide of Native Americans and forced removal from their lands, the enslavement of and accompanying atrocities against African-Americans, and other forms of discrimination and injustices committed on the basis on the race, class, gender, or sexual identity, for instance.

It is quite appropriate for librarians to have strong opinions on such matters, for us to be on the side of social justice and denounce some of the actions of our country throughout our nation’s history. Having a social justice orientation aligns with our professional ethics, which require us to make information available to all people regardless of their identity or the ways in which they are privileged or marginalized. Furthermore, knowledge is power, and by facilitating the processes of knowledge and understanding, we are empowering people and contributing to democratic processes. But in order to support these processes for all patrons, some fundamental beliefs and values are implied, many of which are also principles supported by the founding documents of our nation: equality, liberty, and justice for all.

What are our obligations to our patrons given these universal values and beliefs that our profession, too, specifically seeks to uphold? First of all, we can help voters come to informed conclusions and make informed choices. To be political and encourage politics is different from pushing political positions. There are so many things we can do to help educate voters that do not involve telling people who to vote for or who not to vote for. We can provide patrons with the tools with which they can figure things out on their own – figure out which candidates align with their politics and their values. We can point people to the resources containing factual information and evidence that might lead them to similar conclusions that we ourselves would make about candidates’ policy proposals, as professionals who are also political, as professionals whose values align with those values upon which our country was founded.

How else are librarians political? I would argue that there may be cases where we might want to be political publicly as a profession, and even partisan if necessary, if our ethics requires it. Censoring or prohibiting access to information, or violating patrons’ privacy, especially on the basis of identity alone, would be examples of cases in which we should publicly denounce candidates’ policy proposals. (Librarians and National Security: An Historical Review, by Joan Starr, provides a thorough history of librarians and our professional organizations standing up for privacy rights and intellectual freedom.) As things stand today, there might not be a reason for librarians to denounce certain policy proposals on the basis of our professional values, because such denunciations are already taking place from broad-ranging sectors of our society and such denunciations do not necessarily fall within our profession’s specific purview of information ethics. Currently, I think helping to reveal the truth about candidates through education is enough.

So, finally, what are our specific obligations to help educate and inform patrons? I believe, at the very least, we should provide education about the issues that are important in this election, and about candidates’ positions and policy proposals. I believe that we should view this as a duty, on the basis of our professional ethics and values, which include access to trustworthy information and the facilitation of democratic practices. We should also encourage people to vote, because this is one little way – though not the only way – that people can make a difference to the future of this country, and because it is a part of our mission to help empower people to make use of the information that they find in ways that support their values and beliefs.

I’ve compiled a list of some practical suggestions and pointers. Not every library will have the resources or the time for some of these, but if you do, please commit yourselves to some of them.

  1. Create a LibGuide, or other type of online guide, for voters. Make sure it is in whatever languages are commonly spoken at your university, besides English! Include resources for local and national issues. Promote it in your instruction sessions.
  2. Create a LibGuide, or other type of online guide, for international students and undocumented students, on understanding the election process and about ways in which they can help educate their peers or participate democratically even though they may not be able to vote. Make sure it is in other languages commonly spoken at your university, including Spanish if you have a significant population of Spanish-speaking students. Promote it in your instruction sections.
  3. Have a voter’s guide or handouts (one for international students and undocumented students as well) available at your reference desk, for those who prefer things in print and who might see it who might not otherwise look at a LibGuide. Make sure it is in whatever languages are commonly spoken at your university, in addition to English.
  4. Help your campus and local communities understand how elections work and what will be the impact of their vote. People can decide for themselves whether they vote based on their ideals or whether they vote strategically, if these two things are competing, but you might be able to help them understand the arguments for voting one way or the other. This can be a part of helping voters to become more educated.
  5. Organize a student panel or expert panel to help educate people about the issues or learn how to vote. We’re doing a student panel at my university as an official Debate event, since UNLV is the site of the final presidential debate. Students who are involved in the political process in some way (student government or local, state, or national politics) will explain their political involvement and discuss the issues and background of ballot initiatives in Nevada.
  6. Incorporate political issues or political information into your lesson plans. You can do this if you’re teaching evaluation, for instance. Have a range of viewpoints presented in scholarly articles or other types of sources, and help students sort out the good, factual and truthful information from information that distorts the truth. Or have your students look at annotated speeches in which the commentators perform fact-checking, as an example of evaluating for accuracy.
  7. Host a debate watch party. Have a panel of experts talk about the debate before or after, to help students unpack what happened and how it is important to their understanding of the issues.
  8. Promote all of these resources heavily, on your website and other marketing materials, and make it clear why this issue is important to the library.

If you’re a librarian, it’s okay to be political. It is good to be political; it contributes to our wellbeing as human beings who desire to make a difference in this world. You don’t have to push your political positions, but through helping to educate and empower voters, you are contributing to democracy and furthering the values of our profession. Our job shouldn’t stop there, though. We should encourage and support other forms of political involvement and other democratic processes as well. Some people may not be able to vote (or may consciously choose not to vote for whatever reason), but this does not mean they cannot participate in our democracy in other ways. Encouraging these processes aligns with our values and our ethics, it also contributes to the value of libraries, and we should see it as a duty.

OER Outreach for Newbies, Part II: Moving Forward

This post is the second in a three-part series devoted to OER outreach. Find the first post here. I’ll use this post to reflect on my next steps for OER outreach. I’ll also suggest that OER outreach has to look different for liberal arts colleges, particularly those that aren’t using textbooks—traditional or open—in a majority of their classrooms. A quick reminder: while I am (and this post is) inextricably linked with my current place of work, I do not (and this post does not) represent Davidson College.

Two revelations are guiding my next steps: 1) an acknowledgement that our current OER landscape (which focuses heavily on textbooks and media) is not enough for the pedagogy at my institution and 2) OER outreach should be intentionally diverse, holistic, and varied to reach different audiences and stakeholders.

While our OER stipend program is a great start, it’s just that—a start. We cannot reasonably expect it to make a significant impact on one department, let alone the entire campus. All of our stipend recipients are also in STEM departments, leaving entire disciplinary gaps in our OER outreach. Implementing more stipends might be useful, but what about the faculty member that is afraid to make the switch? What about the faculty member that sees the CFP and doesn’t even know what open education is? For these reasons, we are hoping to intentionally offer a variety of programs, conversations, and incentives across campus.

This May, Robin DeRosa, an open advocate and faculty member at Plymouth State University, will be the keynote for our annual Teaching Showcase. I know that Robin will situate her talk in what makes Davidson unique (Davidson’s “ethos,” if you will)—a commitment to access to education and learning, a desire to innovate, and pedagogy that is student centered and student led. I hope that Robin’s talk will help wary faculty see that their work and values already intersect with open education and that we can help them take it a step further.

My goal is to also vary the audience of our OER outreach through other incentives. I, along with six other librarians from Furman University, Duke University, and Johnson C. Smith University, recently submitted a request for Duke Endowment Library funding. The funding would enable us to hire an OER expert who would help us create an “Intro to OER” workshop for faculty. Then, we’d create a stipend program for faculty interested in attending the workshop and reviewing a learning object for a potential course that they teach. This incentive, while smaller, would allow faculty that are more wary of OER to investigate potential open resources without making them commit to transitioning completely. We hope that this will eventually encourage more OER adoption, as a similar program from the University of Minnesota has. OER expert Ethan Senack, writing about the Minnesota program, stated that “[w]hile the original intent of the project was to build open textbook credibility through reviews, it soon became clear that when faculty engaged with open content to provide a review, they were likely to adopt the open textbook in their class” (p. 13). Our application is still pending but I’m hopeful that, if it’s accepted, it will enable us to reach new departments and faculty members.

I’m also embedded in two Digital Learning Research and Design (DLRD) projects that have an open education element. DLRD is led by friend and colleague, Kristen Eshleman, and is fairly unique to Davidson. DLRD’s goal is essentially to reimagine the liberal arts and push back on what a traditional liberal arts education is supposed to look like. It does this by asking students (yes, students!), faculty, and staff to think past the constraints of higher education (the credit hour, time constraints, a fear of failing, distribution requirements, grades, space constraints, and a need to cover content) to reimagine what inclusive pedagogy, student agency, and experiential learning, particularly outside of the confines of classroom, might look like. I am so thankful to be even a small part of this project.

Essentially, my role in both of projects is to be the “OER expert.” For example, one of the DLRD projects is to design an Asian American Studies curriculum. Asian American Studies doesn’t currently exist at Davidson and because of this gap several students have had to create their own independent studies. These students would like to come together and, with the help of experts, craft a class or curriculum (including a much-needed introductory open text or online learning tool) from scratch. Supporting a project like this has really tested my knowledge about OER repositories and tools. But I believe that being truly embedded in these two projects will make open education more visible to humanities departments and other areas we aren’t currently reaching. It has been heartening to see students advocate for openness for whatever they create from the beginning of this project. I can’t wait to see their hard work and thoughtfulness come to fruition.

building asian american studies

Students designing the open/student-led Asian American Studies Course, photo by Kristen Eshleman

constraints

Constraints/barriers & potential experiments identified during our first design challenge

My point is that we have to be adaptable and think about OER outreach holistically—across departments and levels of familiarity. How can we maximize the number of champions on campus? How can we decrease the silos for sharing both successes and failures? How can we appeal to faculty across the spectrum of adoption that I discussed previously?

Finally, as I move forward I’m not going to settle for our current OER landscape. Anyone that skims a few OER guides can quickly discern that open textbooks dominate our repositories. I would argue that media (tutorials, lectures, videos via MERLOT or OER Commons) are close behind, though I’ve not done a formal analysis. This is okay for most R1 universities trying to make general education science lectures with 250 students open. But it doesn’t work for an institution like mine, where textbooks are not always the norm. We receive the course material list from the bookstore every semester and while textbooks are used in some of the introductory science and business courses, it isn’t the lifeblood of our classrooms. (I have argued elsewhere that creating open textbooks isn’t a radical endeavor anyway.)

My goal here is not be elitist or claim that my institution is better than textbooks. But what if we pushed back on the norm? What if we made a repository for liberal arts colleges or, better yet, for more active and inclusive forms of learning? As an example, one of our OER stipend recipients has his students create concept maps. He has them start by creating a concept map for one piece of the primary literature. Then, as they read more literature, they create higher-level concept maps that combine different pieces of literature together. This encourages students to see and question connections while better understanding how science evolves. As more literature is added, each node on the concept map becomes less granular. At the end of the semester, students create a compilation of their concept maps and submit their own “textbook” for grading.

Next Fall, we’re going to create an OER out of the best concept maps that students create. Students will intentionally curate this OER as a group. I will work with students to determine which Creative Commons license is most appropriate for the class as a whole and students will be able to decide which restrictions they’d like on their work. Then the faculty member I’m working with will provide citations to the literature they mapped (most of the literature is closed so we cannot provide the full text) and information about this exercise as a pedagogical tool. This is one of the coolest OER projects I’ve ever heard of—it pushes back on textbooks and what undergraduate learning should look like while nodding to the need for Open Access. But I have no idea where this thing should go! It isn’t a traditional textbook (OpenStax, UMN Open Textbook Library, Open SUNY Textbooks) but it doesn’t quite fit into OER Commons, MERLOT, or OpenCourseWare.

This isn’t an issue for just one OER! The same case could be made for the Asian American Studies learning object we’re trying to create. There are a lot of other awesome projects being built with Pressbooks/ Hypothes.is and Drupal that might be “textbooks,” but not in the traditional sense. Aren’t these projects—projects that actively involve students—much more interesting than textbook sprints?! What if we made an open pedagogy repository? What if we decided to change the open textbook scene to include work that asks students to interface with the literature? What would it look like? What technology would we need? How much more rich would the learning materials be? I don’t have answers. Only provocations. But I know that this needs to change. How can we get started?

OER Outreach for Newbies, Part I: What I Would Do Differently

 

My library, in partnership with our Center for Teaching and Learning, recently launched a faculty stipend program for faculty interested in either replacing their traditional course materials with OER or sharing their students’ work as OER for other educators’ use. We awarded four stipends this January and I’ve been working with those faculty to prepare for their transition to OER work, which will take place throughout the Fall 2016 semester. I’ll be using this space to reflect on how thought-provoking and rewarding the process has been. This post is the first in a three-part series devoted to OER outreach. A quick reminder: while I am (and this post is) inextricably linked with my current place of work, I do not (and this post does not) represent Davidson College.

Before I dive into reflecting on what I would do differently, it’s important to acknowledge that there is space at my current institution to push the boundaries of information literacy work. I’ve written before that I believe that open education outreach is a valuable part of the work that I do as an information literacy librarian. Still, I recognize that this might not be a given at all places. Other non-scholarly communication librarians might encounter budget or time constraints or a lack of support from administration when starting an open education program. While I don’t have an easy solution to propose, I would advocate that we are apt to do OER work and that OER outreach actually combines values and interests many librarians hold dear and have expertise in—pedagogy, instructional design, and the relationship between affordability/access and equality, particularly for minority and first generation students.

So what would I do differently if I was given the chance to re-create our stipend program? What advice would I give to someone just starting to do outreach? As I answered questions about the stipend program, OER, and open pedagogy, I realized that the biggest misconception that faculty have is that free is the same as open. Other librarians seem to be thinking about how to address this misunderstanding (even if it means losing “open”) so those doing OER outreach should be prepared to articulate why this difference really matters. DeRosa holds the power of the OER movement isn’t actually about the learning object—it’s about the license. Supporting OER isn’t just about advocating for resources; instead, it’s about advocating for the continuous improvement of those resources by empowering anyone to improve and build upon them. Telling faculty that we care just as much about improving an open resource for the world (open) as we do about saving each of our students money (free) can be difficult.

As I was answering potential applicants’ questions, I also had to come to terms with my own expectations and assumptions. Within my OER outreach, I constantly walk a fine line between wanting to see savings and affordability for students (and some amount of progress!) and a need to try to get everyone to full-blown, true open education practices like using open course materials and improving them and re-sharing them and involving students throughout the entire process. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that while this might be commendable it is not realistic.

We need to recognize that there is the potential for a spectrum of OER adoption on our campuses. As with OA, each faculty members comes to open education with different fears, ideas, misconceptions, and teaching styles. Some instructors might only feel comfortable encouraging their students to use one of the library’s multi-user eBooks or course packs. Some instructors might only feel comfortable switching to an open textbook. Some instructors might feel comfortable having their students create a textbook and share it with the world. We should be prepared to help the instructors in all of these scenarios.

If I could go back, I would have set the application process up to acknowledge and clarify the tension between open and free from the beginning. The University of Minnesota does an excellent job of illustrating the spectrum of adoption for potential applications for their Partnership for Affordable Content program. They have also chosen a very intentional and clear title that explains the mission of the program (note that “open” is missing from the title but not necessarily the examples).

Don’t get me wrong: we have to recognize that we lose something by straddling both free and open. But if we can continue to help faculty move along the spectrum—perhaps from the multi-user eBook to an open textbook, and eventually to their students editing and re-sharing improvements to that open textbook—isn’t it worth our time and effort to pursue these projects too? In a recent blog post about the power of openness as a practice, David Wiley argues that “when work is done privately–when it is carefully hidden from the public–no synergy is possible. When the individual nodes remain disconnected, no network can emerge” (para 18). This has to be the goal that we aspire to but it doesn’t have to define the steps that we take. Yes, the multi-user eBook example inhibits us and our faculty from creating synergies and networks. It also arguably just shifts the costs of a broken system from students to the library. Yet, I would argue that we have to start somewhere if we want to get more faculty on board with open education and, ultimately, make these networks more rich and diverse.

I’ve also realized that we shouldn’t hide the intricacies of open education. Try to go beyond explaining open education as only a cost issue, if you have the space and privilege to do so. Complicate access instead of simplifying it. Josie Fraser, a social and educational technologist in the UK, recently posed three questions to the OER community. I think that these are particularly relevant for librarians new to OER work. They were:

As a librarian, I know that I sometimes I make assumptions about others’ understanding of the importance of openness. Here’s another reason why it’s important to go beyond the cost conversation—every community (and person) has a different familiarity and comfort level with openness. You have to be prepared to address open education from every angle that you can think of—empirical research, retention, course completion, student costs, improved pedagogy, social justice, informal learners’ needs, the improvement of learning objects, the broken publishing system, and even the synergies between OA/OER/ and Open Data. In my opinion, it sometimes isn’t enough just to say “this will save students money so we should do it.” Different faculty will be interested in open education for different reasons. Being able to appeal to their interest in assessment or social justice is just as important as being able to explain the high cost of textbooks.

Finally, don’t underestimate faculty members’ existing knowledge of OER. I met with five faculty members a few weeks ago for an “Experimenting as Teachers” lunch that I facilitated, which was sponsored through our CTL. The theme of the lunch was essentially “Why Open?”  My abstract and rough talking points:

As more instructors embrace digital pedagogy, students are often asked to share their work with the wider public through websites, apps, and other open projects. Asking students to “open up” their research and discovery process beyond the walls of their classroom can make their learning more authentic and meaningful. In what other ways does working in public affect students? Should students doing open work have the ability to choose how their IP will be shared through anonymization, licensing, or other means? What copyright considerations are there? If students are hesitant to do open work, how might we assuage their concerns? How can we make that a moment for learning and reflection? How does the assessment of open work differ from the assessment of traditional research assignments? This EAT lunch will grapple with these questions and more.

 Talking Points

  •  How do you introduce students to “open”?
  • Are students ever hesitant? Why might they be (don’t want to be misquoted, will be embarrassed by their undergraduate work in the future, etc.)? How do you assuage those fears?
  • Should students be able to determine the level of openness their work is shared under, either through a CC license or embargo or some other means?
  • Is assessment of open work different? Why or why not?

I found that many of the faculty that I talked to (n=5; find more research on faculty efficacy and perception here), some of which are OER stipend recipients, had incredibly nuanced and complex reasons for wanting to encourage students to make their work open as well as thoughtful reasons for not wanting to. Their list of pros for openness included students learning how to write to and for their peers, an improvement of students’ digital literacy and skills, and a natural environment for collaborative learning opportunities. Their cons included the fear of having to compromise students’ work to abide by strict copyright rules, having to take class time to explain Creative Commons and copyright, and a concern that students might not want to be associated with the work that they were doing at the undergraduate level in the future. However, one faculty member thought through this and suggested that working in the open within the relative safety net of the classroom and peer/instructor review can help students grow so that they can have an online, public presence (if they so choose) after their time at Davidson. This made me realize that if our outreach is going to be successful and relevant, it has to both affirm the pros and recognize (and possibly reframe) the cons. Ignoring or failing to meaningfully address the cons cheats us out of an important dialogue.

In summary, throw your pre-conceptions out the window! Push yourself to learn about and be articulate about all of the benefits of open education. Be flexible and compromise, as long as your end goal is to increase collaboration, openness, and understanding.