The Role of Libraries and Information Professionals in OER Initiatives

Gema Bueno de la Fuente of the University Carlos III of Madrid reports on the outputs of a survey, undertaken with R. John Robertson (formerly of CETIS, University of Strathclyde) and Stuart Boon, (formerly of CAPLE, University of Strathclyde), on the role of libraries and librarians in OER initiatives.

The main objectives of the study were to gain insight into the level of involvement and commitment of the library as an organizational unit, and of individual librarians and other information science specialists in OER projects. More specifically, it sought to identify their primary roles and responsibilities, whether they already had relevant expertise or, on the contrary, whether they needed further training to meet project requirements. The study also looked at the level of integration of OER initiatives, particularly their content, into library resources and services. The ultimate aim was to recognize and highlight the opportunities for libraries and librarians to be involved in and contribute to OER initiatives, and the advantages that their involvement offered to these projects.

The study, which is partially based on preliminary work done by CETIS Research Fellow John Robertson in 2010, incorporated 15 questions, which make use of scaled, multiple choice, structured, and open questions. Responses were gathered during October and November 2011.

Disregarding partial, empty, duplicated, and problematic responses, the total number of usable responses was 57. Their geographical distribution was quite heterogeneous with contributions coming from all continents, the majority from HE institutions (81.3%), and with a significant number of UKOER and Open Course Ware projects.

Regarding the involvement and roles of the library and librarians in OER initiatives, the survey results indicate that their presence and engagement is quite considerable: three out of four project teams include at least one librarian, most of them based at the institutional library; while in half of the projects surveyed, the library is leading or partnering the initiative.

The main areas of library involvement are: description and classification, management, preservation, dissemination and promotion of OER. In order to support these activities, librarians provided expertise in information science areas, such as: metadata standards, vocabularies, indexing and classification, information retrieval, information literacy, and repository technology and management. It was also found, however, that librarians needed to develop expertise in different areas, including SEO, IPR and licensing, but particularly in e-learning and OER expertise, technologies and standards.

The final conclusions of this study indicate that where the library and/or librarians are already engaged in OER projects, their contribution is considered to be indispensible and is valued highly. However the participation of the libraries in such projects is still not widespread, and a significant lack of awareness exists both from OER initiatives with regards to library activities, and from the libraries about the resources released by OER initiatives. As most of the objectives of content-focused OER initiatives are strongly related to library and information science activities and skills, we consider that their involvement would be of great benefit to those projects not yet engaged with them.

There is a clear need to promote and build awareness among stakeholders about libraries and librarians’ potential contribution to the OER movement, but also among libraries and librarians about their key role as OER advocates within and out-with their institutions. There is an opportunity for libraries and librarians to further engage in the OER movement as creators and users of OER content for their own professional development, particularly in common areas such as information literacy. Some initiatives in this area include the UKOER Project DELILA (Developing Educators Learning and Information Literacies for Accreditation), and the new project of the CILIP CSG-Information Literacy group in partnership with UNESCO.

Libraries, libraries associations, and LIS education institutions should support the development of the skills that librarians need to better support OER initiatives by designing and offering training programs and improving syllabus. In this regard we can highlight the International Association of Universities (IAU) OER Project, which aims to establish an international partnership for the development of a “Training Programme for Academic Librarians on OER Use, Reuse and Production”, specially targeted to librarians in developing countries. This kind of initiative reinforces the relevance of the library’s role for the OER movement and the need of further analysis and developments on this area.

The executive summary of the survey report can be accessed here, and the complete survey report here. Both documents are available from the CETIS publications page.

Gema Bueno de la Fuente was a visiting scholar at CAPLE/CETIS during fall 2011, where she worked with CETIS research fellow R. John Robertson and CAPLE lecturer Stuart Boon on the relationship between OER initiatives and libraries, and on institutional practice in managing learning materials. She is based at the Library and Information Science Department, University Carlos III of Madrid, where she works as an assistant professor teaching in several Undergraduate and Graduate Programs. She holds a PhD in Library Science since 2010 with the dissertation “An Institutional Repository of Educational Content (IREC) Model: management of digital teaching and learning resources in the university library”. Her main research interests are digital teaching and learning materials, open content, digital repositories and e-learning systems, with a special focus on the library’s role in these areas, mainly in relation to metadata, vocabularies and standards.