by Anne C. Osterman
We have all been there a thousand times – the decision to deal with something quickly to meet the immediate need versus the decision to take the longer, more difficult route. Technology and its associated capture and exchange of information have accelerated abilities and expectations to such an extent that it becomes hard for long-term patterns to show their relevance and long-term needs to get attention. We should be slow-moving giraffes, browsing at the top of the tree, taking in the broad picture of the world around us, but we become the mice scurrying around at the roots.
Within the world of scholarly information, this has a number of effects. Students, and even faculty, tear through research resources looking for the nuggets they need rather than digesting the fuller context; library reference services become increasingly transactional, seeking to meet needs as quickly as possible and drifting further from the relationship-building, teaching moments they can be; libraries needing to create space for a new makerspace do a fast weed of books based only on local evidence.
Because a faster pace is possible, and expected in today’s world, it drowns out the long-term. When we become reactionary, with immediate needs feeling paramount, the important issues of sustainability and preservation drift away, always being pushed to the next day. It isn’t deliberate or conscious, just the result of a series of daily decisions. With all the available distractions of a technology-filled life, the human attention span diminishes, and this diminishes organizational attention spans as well.
This pattern is clear in the booming world of Open Educational Resources (OER). Entities across the higher education landscape are wading into a variety of open and affordable course content initiatives to beat back the impact of escalating textbook costs on students, but in the rush to fill a gap, we are at risk of losing ourselves in a sea of digital detritus. Resources are hosted on faculty websites and created with links to external services such as YouTube, open content becomes trapped in for-profit platforms, and the beauty of open – the ability to change resources to suit a given need – creates incredibly difficult challenges with versioning.
It is harder and more expensive to plan for platform interoperability, the migration of file formats, and the colocation and hierarchical organization of all associated files (not only multimedia but also ancillaries such as lecture slides and homework questions), but in the long term it will be worth it. We all want to do this well – really well – because it speaks to the core of supporting faculty and students in a market that otherwise feels unsustainable in so many ways, from tuition costs to journal prices. But creating materials that will be effectively lost in five years does no one any favors.
The wonderful thing about OER for libraries and library consortia is that their role and value could not be clearer. Libraries are hubs of information, they are organizational powerhouses, they are committed to serving users wherever they are. Libraries can be leaders in managing and organizing faculty-created course content, both in defining problems and addressing them.
The concept of library as publisher, although no longer in its infancy, is still fairly new to the academy. University presses and libraries have formed partnerships, repositories and publishing platforms are proliferating, and we see a steady and growing stream of open journals being launched across campuses. But with the boom of OER and open textbooks, libraries will gain a singular experience as publishers, and the result of this could take a number of routes. There will likely be an initial sympathy with traditional publishers as libraries struggle with the challenges of quality selection and editing, keeping content current and relevant, and enabling access and discovery of materials, but eventually this may be a route to building confidence and experience that will be useful in playing a larger role in the wider Open Access movement.
Thank goodness for important efforts like OpenStax, the Open Textbook Library, OER Commons, and PressBooks. They are creating a foundation of tools and resources for a new and exciting world that empowers the creators of course content to have a larger impact than ever. But the problem of sustainability cannot be left to central entities to handle for the community; let the recent loss of the Digital Preservation Network (DPN) and change to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) be lessons learned and not repeated. There are both significant financial challenges (grant funds aren’t forever) and personnel challenges (librarians have been asked to do an increasing variety of roles as expectations for libraries have grown, often without a decrease of their existing responsibilities) to address. The unfortunate reality is that sustainability and long-term value is a steady uphill climb for everyone, but the good news is that, together, we can all decrease the slope a bit. Broad and deep investment in the longer view with OER now will ensure bountiful harvests each year into the future.
The sustainability of the OER movement is not unlike long-term health for the human body. All of the micro-decisions that we make every day about what to eat, how much to move, and how to deal with stress build into an investment in our futures. The more that we can take a brisk walk with OER instead of settling in with a bowl of ice cream, the better off all of us will be.
For further discussion:
-What do you think are the greatest challenges to a future of sustainable, discoverable OER? What would you suggest to address these challenges?
-What is the role of professional associations (library, faculty, and otherwise) in the OER ecosystem?
-There are many benefits to collaboration within disciplines with OER, such as avoiding the creation of multiple materials that address the same need. What strategies do you think would work to connect faculty with one another?
Please feel free to “Start the discussion” in the Comments section below.
Anne C. Osterman is Director of VIVA, the consortium of the 72 nonprofit college and university libraries within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Her scholarship focuses on collaborative collection development and the resource management workflows and systems that underpin this work. She has a Master’s in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s in Statistics from American University. In addition to various chapter and article publications she is co-author of Electronic Resource Management: Practical Perspectives in a New Technical Services Model.