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OER loves academic libraries

As the library of the University of Michigan makes its final decision about taking on responsibilitiy for OER (Open Education Resources) publishing at the University, a report entitled Reaching the heart of the university: Libraries and the future of OER looks at progress on this collaboration to date. Importantly, the authors, Pieter Kleymeer, Molly Kleinman and Ted Hanss, who will be presenting this as a paper at the Open Education 2010 Conference in Barcelona next month, also reflect more widely and on the many synergies between academic libraries and the OER movement.

Open Michigan

Taking on responsibility for OER publishing at the University of Michigan would mean that the existent Open.Michigan project would be either partly or wholly integrated into the library. Open.Michigan is based in the Medical School, having been initiated by a small number of graduate students and a dean’s laudable conviction that “open education had a place in medical instruction”. It currently focuses on four major areas of activity:

1.       Producing OER from course material , and outreach and consulting services related to OER production

2.       Developing processes and software to support OER production and publishing

3.       The Open.Michigan website

4.       A partnership with OER Africa – The African Health OER Network.

The legacy of early digitisation

The University Library launched its first digitisation and Open Access projects in the early 1990s, and like many other early adopter libraries, now has “established operations to share free content online” – namely “a copyright office, an institutional repository, an experimental unit publishing open access scholarly journals, monograph series, public domain image collections, print-on-demand textbooks, and reprints.”

Dovetailing values

The paper is keen to draw out the broader implications of the Michigan initiative by emphasising the commonality of goals and missions of OER projects and academic libraries:

Academic OER initiatives and university libraries share a determination to improve access to all kinds of scholarly and educational materials, both on their campuses and throughout the world. Given those dovetailing values, partnerships between OER initiatives seem not just logistically convenient but philosophically obvious.


It’s not just about commonality though. It’s about attributes that libraries can offer to OER initiatives, and the report groups these into two categories – infrastructure and relationships.

The roll-call of library infrastructural assets that potentially benefit university OER initiatives should be familiar to most librarians – search and discovery capabilities, copyright expertise, data storage, metadata and indexing, institutional repositories and preservation. It’s this final one, preservation, that caught my attention as it seemed less self-evident than the others, so I’ll quote the report on this:

Many OER projects either use dedicated OER or open courseware publishing platforms such as eduCommons, learning management systems like Sakai or Moodle, or have created their own, but these systems are not designed for preservation of materials or formats. Using platforms like DSpace and Fedora, IRs contain materials in a wide range of formats, and are committed both to making the content freely available and discoverable on the open web, and to preserving the content over the very long term. Few digital publishing operations have concerned themselves with long-term preservation, and as a result gigabytes of born digital content, websites and publications have already been lost (Brand, 1999). Depositing OER into institutional repositories opens up a new potential avenue of discovery while also ensuring that the material will be available for years to come.

The report also comments on the less tangible but nonetheless important area of relationships, pointing out that:

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 learning content, and assist with research.

And in terms of librarian skills:

Areas in which librarians have skills that are relevant to OER programs include outreach and education, curriculum development and instructional support.

Money money money

The big question, all too familiar in the current question, is funding. The report is clear that the library will need additional money in order to take on this function. This was unresolved at the time of writing, and investigations into funding sources are underway. Let’s hope they succeed, as the benefits right across and indeed beyond the institution would seem to be manifold:

If the goal of OER production is to change the culture in the academy, to create a community of teaching and learning that is more participatory, more open, and more accessible, to shift the value system towards one that privileges research and teaching materials that are available for use and reuse over content that is restricted and locked away, what better place from which to launch such an ambitious program than the library, the heart of the university?