Over the last year I have become increasingly interested in the role of libraries and librarians in the production and publication of Open Educational Resources (OER). It seems like an area with lots of overlap in mission – improving access, sharing knowledge, supporting teaching and learning – and also one where libraries would have a lot to contribute, both in terms of expertise and infrastructure. At Michigan, we’re investigating the possibility of bringing parts of Open.Michigan, the OER operation that is currently housed in the Medical School, into the Library, and my Open.Michigan colleagues and I have collaborated on a proposal about it for the Open Ed 2010 Conference:
Abstract (aka. tweet): Many university libraries are primed to run OER and OCW shops, but no one is doing it. The University of Michigan just might lead the way.
Reaching the Heart of the University: Libraries and the Future of OER
University libraries are well positioned to run OER production and publication operations, but so far most institutions developing OER or OCW have little or no integration with their respective libraries. Given a number of aligning factors, the University of Michigan (U-M) has an excellent opportunity to integrate Open.Michigan, its OER operation, with the Library. While the U-M Library’s established publishing apparatus is larger than that of most academic libraries, many institutions share elements that would make OER integration feasible in one form or another. We propose an interactive strategy session where we present the case for greater university library involvement in OER projects generally, with U-M as a case study.
University libraries were among the first OER producers. Early projects to digitize and share public domain materials were spearheaded by libraries in support of their missions to collect, preserve, and provide access to knowledge and information. The Making of America project was a Mellon Foundation-funded partnership among U-M, Cornell University, and the Library of Congress that created one of the first digital libraries of public domain content. Since then, the U-M Library MPublishing department has built a robust digital publishing program that includes a copyright office, an institutional repository, and an experimental unit that publishes open access scholarly journals, monograph series, public domain image collections, print-on-demand textbooks, and reprints. When it assumed responsibility for the University of Michigan Press in 2009, the U-M Library consolidated within MPublishing tremendous expertise in the skills necessary to create and publish open digital content. Recently, the U-M Library began exploring the addition of OER to its portfolio with a strategy to integrate Open.Michigan into MPublishing.
This is what makes Michigan unique. However, the key elements that university libraries share – and OER initiatives need – are infrastructure and relationships. Many university libraries already have the technical, service, and policy infrastructure in place that would provide economies of scale for nascent OER projects. Areas where existing library infrastructure could support OER includes search and discovery, scholarly communications, assessment, metadata and indexing, and institutional repositories. Assessment skills are particularly valuable at this moment as the budget pressures that have pushed academic libraries to scrutinze how their resources and instructional services affect learning are also beginning to shape the world of OER. Meanwhile, most university libraries have a central and trusted position in the lives of faculty, students, and administrators on their campuses. Librarians support curriculum development, guide instructors to appropriate course content, and assist with research. Libraries are already at the heart of universities, which would make mainstreaming OER much easier.
When an OER shop is a stand-alone unit isolated from the day-to-day activities of students and faculty, it becomes difficult to sustain. To achieve long-term sustainability, university-based OER projects need a stable and well-funded home. Libraries could provide that home, and the University of Michigan, which has already established an ethos of sharing and a policy of open licensing in its library, is poised to figure out how.