So you want to be an academic librarian? You should learn about OERs.

I make no secret that I am a huge proponent of the open education and open pedagogy movements. Everyone who knows me professionally knows that my specialty in copyright has wholly intersected with my background in instruction to propel my advocacy towards openness in all aspects of education. That’s the direction higher education is trending towards as well more and more these days. This trend is mainly thanks to demand from students, in part because of both the continued rise in tuition costs and the ever-exponentially-skyrocketing cost of traditional proprietary textbooks. It’s my belief that every MLIS student who aspires to be an academic librarian needs to develop an understanding of open access, open education, open pedagogy, and the one thing that intersects all of these areas: open educational resources (OERs).

Why? Because academic librarians can find themselves working with faculty members to develop courses; and not only that but more and more academic libraries are playing a role in their campuses’ open education initiatives, including OER publishing. So, going into the job market with knowledge and experience will give you an edge. To that end, consider this piece a primer: I’ll give you an intro to each of the major aspects and make some suggestions about where you can go for more information and to get some experience.

Open Education

This is the umbrella term. Open education covers all aspects – pedagogy, resources, tools, practices, and even structures. Proponents of open education believe that everyone everywhere in the world has the right to access quality educational experiences and materials without any barriers. Cost being among one of the highest barriers; obsolete, outdated, and poor quality materials being another. Open education is also about collaboration, between students and their teachers and between teachers all around the globe – it’s a very relational concept.

Massively Open Online Courses (aka MOOCs) are an example of open education principles and practices, probably one you’re familiar with if you ever seen or heard about edX or Coursera. Yuan and Powell (2013) describe MOOCs as an extension of existing online learning approaches in terms of open access to courses and scalability and also offer an opportunity to think afresh about new business models that include elements of open education. This includes the ability to disaggregate teaching from assessment and accreditation for differential pricing and pursuit of marketing activities (p. 3). Something newer and along the same lines has cropped up in the last 3 years, but you may not have heard of them yet, though: Z-Courses and Z-Degrees. The zed here stands for zero, as in zero costs, for the course materials (Tetzlaff, 2018; BCcampus, n.d.). This is a growing area that is seeing more and more traction in the US and Canada.

Open Pedagogy

Continuing with my umbrella analogy, think of open education as the canopy of the umbrella that makes open pedagogy the handle and keeps the canopy open. I remember the first time I heard the word pedagogy in my BEd program, I was annoyed that they had to use such a fancy sounding word to define the theory of teaching. I share that just in case you didn’t know what pedagogy means, dear reader. If pedagogy is the theory of teaching, then open pedagogy is the theory of teaching under the principles of open ideals. It’s about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice coming into conversation with one another to inform the development of educational practices and structures (Rosa & Jhangiani, 2017). At its heart one of its main ideals is the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply just as consumers – experiential learning is a tool of open pedagogical teaching (Reed, 2020), probably the most widely known one. Renewable assignments, like the one I highlighted in my post about my Indigenous Contexts course are another commonly used open pedagogical tool.

Copyright & Open Licensing

Open licensing is one of the spokes that props up the umbrella canopy of open education. Open licenses are copyright licenses that work within the bounds of copyright laws. The licenses you’re probably the most familiar with are the Creative Commons Licenses (CC Licenses), but where’s also others such as the GNU. The CC licenses are the ones most commonly used for open educational materials however. I won’t go into huge detail about the CC licenses, I could write an entire post devoted to that to explain them to you. Simply put, they are a set of copyright licenses that a creator can apply to their work in order to tell people what they’re comfortable with their work being used for and how they would like it to be shared, such as not allowing for commercial use or asking that no derivative works be made. Open access publications and open educational resources would be much harder to make were it not for open copyright licenses. Open licenses make sharing simple and easy and sharing is at the heart of all things open because sharing is access.

via flickr by Giulia Forsythe and is in the public domain

Open Access

I think most if not all of us in library school understand what open access resources are and why they’re important. But, I’m going to spell it out anyway because they are another spoke in the umbrella of open education. Open access resources are scholarly materials that are made available to the public free of charge. If a resource is published in an open way that means the author has usually been allowed to keep control of the copyrights over their intellectual property by the publisher they are working with. It also means they have used that control to follow a some rights reserved approach to licensing their materials for public consumption and use. It’s important to remember that “freely accessible” on the internet is not the same thing as open access, and that both of these concepts also differ from the concept of the public domain. If something is freely available on a website on the internet, that doesn’t automatically make it open access. Unless the resource has terms and conditions that explicitly state that you can redistribute, republish, or modify a work, then the work is not open access and you should assume that you’re only allowed to view the resource and share a link to it. Open access works on the other hand are licensed with terms and conditions that require attribution, but allow for redistribution and sometimes even republishing a work or selling it; and usually the ability to modify/adapt/change the work to incorporate it into a new work. Without open access publications, it would be much harder to make Z-Courses and Z-Programs a reality.

via flickr by Giulia Forsythe and is in the public domain

Open Educational Resources

This is the final spoke in our umbrella of open for this post. So, what are OERs? Well, according to UNESCO, OERs “are any teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” The most well known type of OERs are open textbooks, but there are also videos, test banks, assignments, lesson plans, etc. that are published as OERs. There are even full courses that are considered OERs. For examples of these, see the MIT OpenCourseware database. To be considered an OER, the teaching and learning resource must be free of legal, financial, and technical barriers and it should be free to be used, shared, and adapted. OERs are available in almost every subject area as well, like this interactive set of linear algebra lecture notes, or this textbook series for Japanese. There are even OER case studies for business courses. There’s even an OER for learning about copyright. OERs can contain material published in open access publications. To be considered an OER, a resource generally tends to need to meet all of the “5Rs Framework,” meaning that users are free to:

  • Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and “own” copies of the content;
  • Reuse: Content can be reused in its unaltered form;
  • Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered;
  • Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new;
  • Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.
via flickr by Giulia Forsythe and is in the public domain

Where can you go to learn more?


BCcampus. (n.d.). Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Programs. BCcampus.

DeRosa, R., & Jhangiani, R. (2017). Open Pedagogy. In A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students. The Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation.

Reed, M. (2020, July 10). Subject and Course Guides: Introduction to Open Pedagogy: Home.

Tetzlaff, R. (2018, February 28). Z-Degrees: Can They Make College Affordable? Inside College Factual.

Yuan, L., & Powell, S. (2013). MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education. [White Paper]. CETIS.

In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently working towards her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022. She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and is a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat |

5 replies

  1. I was interested in how many open textbooks there are for MLIS programs, and did some searching. I found less than I would have hoped. I think that LIS profs using open resources in their courses would make their value really clear to future librarians. (also some of my books very pricyyy)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was at The Open Education 2020 conference this past week and there were a couple of sessions about that topic. They’ll probably be posted on the conference YouTube channel in the next couple of weeks!

      I would LOVE to find people interested in building an OER on the organization of information and cataloguing. The textbook for my course on that subject was completely cost-prohibitive and an ebook was not available to the library meaning the on-site students got an advantage over those of us in the online course because they had access to a print copy through the library’s reserve collection and we had to pay $70 for an ebook.

      Liked by 1 person

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