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Opening Libraries to OERs
Volume 43, Number 6 - November/December 2019

Students’ Roles

This latter issue brings up the presence of another stakeholder: students. They too can participate in the evaluation, selection, use, and generation of OERs. Such efforts are most successful when built into the course structure, modeling a community of learners. Students can locate, evaluate, and select OER textbooks and other OER learning objects, building their information literacy skills and applying content knowledge. They might locate videos, for instance, that demonstrate a specific concept. Especially if courses include international students, resources in other languages or materials that have specific cultural contexts can be located and reviewed by students. The resultant sources can be added to the course’s own repository or, at the minimum, bibliography of materials. Students can consult with librarians about advanced searching strategies and lesser-known databases, which reflect the 2015 ACRL information literacy framework concepts of “searching as strategic exploration,” “research as inquiry,” and “authority is constructed and contextual.”

Students can create supplementary materials that draw upon the textbook, such as chapter study guides and presentations. Students can generate question “banks,” mini-quizzes, or other assessment tools. Not only do such resources provide a means to check for understanding, but they offer opportunities for students to serve as in-class “experts” as well as to build a class repertoire of supplementary materials similar to what mainstream publishers might offer—but at no additional cost. Students have the extra incentive of knowing that high-quality resources can help future students. This pro cess also illustrates ACRL’s information literacy framework concept of “information has value.”

Transcending the textbook, students can create other types of associated resources—from single-concept learning objects to anthologies to entire class textbooks—which provide them with authentic opportunities to apply and extend their knowledge. Furthermore, students can contribute these re sources to the library’s repository and other educational repositories for possible peer review and inclusion. This added action also models the ACRL information literacy framework concepts of “information creation as a process” and “scholarship as a conversation.”

OERs and Instructional Design

To play a significant role in selecting and using OERs, librarians should collaborate with instructional faculty. Many libraries structure personnel by discipline so that each academic area has a subject liaison librarian. This position has the traditional role of facilitating collection development, but has expanded to developing institutional repositories and supporting instruction. In addition, librarians often serve on institutional committees, providing unique expertise. OER adoption is a key venue for such expertise.

More directly, librarians can collaborate with program faculty to incorporate OERs. Ideally, such collaboration should start when a course is developed or overhauled, since at that point, textbooks and other reference materials need to be identified. Moreover, as librarians examine a standard course outline, they might see the need for specific information and digital literacy skills to be explicitly addressed in the course. Some institutions require that the librarian be consulted at this point, which is a valuable policy, as new courses may well need additional materials in the library collection.


At the course level, librarians can support or collaborate with instructors at different points—or throughout—the instructional design process. Ideally, librarians can partner with instructors from the beginning, but participating at any point in the process can be informative for both parties. Even a single successful interaction and OER inclusion can start to build a foundation for broader and deeper collaboration at the course and program level.

Reference and liaison librarians provide just-in-time help to students, usually within the context of a course. Over time, librarians can identify areas of confusion or learning gaps that can inform the instructor when identifying learning outcomes. Those same librarians might also develop a list of resources that are consistently helpful for those students and that can be passed onto the instructor for possible inclusion in their course material or bibliography. These efforts constitute part of a course’s needs assessment.

As instructors identify textbook chapters for a unit, they can add supplementary and complementary learning objects to support and enrich learners’ experiences. As mentioned above, librarians 
can work with instructors to locate appropriate resources. While librarians could suggest specific materials (and lighten the instructor’s workload), a more productive approach consists of discussing the universe of appropriate collections of materials, such as discipline-specific databases and OER repositories, and reviewing efficient research strategies and copyright practices.

Information and digital literacy competencies should also be explicitly incorporated into course content. At a minimum, librarians should remind instructors that reading a digital text differs from a print text. Most students are not conscious of those differences, which can negatively impact their experience and ultimate learning. Online reading incorporates all the elements of reading print materials—decoding, vocabulary, syntax, discourse—and adds the technological factors of hypertextuality or “layers” of supporting documents. These features promote more engagement and options for learning, but they can also be distracting. Therefore, in their instructional design, faculty need to explicitly address these online reading issues and provide some guidance—or direct students to sources that can help. MERLOT’s collection of OERs and other digital guides serves as a starting point to help faculty guide students in this specific reading experience (

OER tools can also be incorporated as a means to demonstrate knowledge. Besides using exams and essays to assess learning, instructors can do authentic assessments of students based on materials they develop for potential audiences, such as websites, online tutorials, and videos. Each of these products or projects requires technical skills, so OER resources that explain how to use these tools should be included in the course content. Again, librarians can help instructors find such technical support documentation and project exemplars. More fundamentally, these projects provide librarians with an opportunity to discuss with students about knowledge representation in terms of a target audience, noting the impact of format.

Typically, librarians do not see students’ final work or participate in assessment. However, when librarians can review samples of student work (such as a couple of high-quality, mid-quality, and low-quality work samples), they can identify information and digital literacy factors that predict success or needed interventions. Particularly if librarians and instructors can discuss these samples together, they can improve the course content and supporting material selection.


Librarians might not be course-level instructional designers because they tend to present information in short spurts. On their part, academic instructors might not have deep expertise in incorporating technology into their courses. Ideally, curriculum development and instructional design should be co-constructed by a team that consists of a discipline instructor, an instructional designer specialist, and a librarian. It should be noted that instructional designers are sometimes unaware of possible OERs or ways to locate them, so a librarian can again serve as a significant expert.

More generally, such a team could collectively provide valuable professional development to program faculty, delineating the contributions of each person at each step of instructional design. OERs can serve as the “hook” or focus for such training, particularly as most faculty are new to this arena.

Next Steps

With the rising cost of textbooks, the growing diversity of students, the increased interest in personalized education, and the upsurge in online education, the open education movement increasingly resonates. Therefore, OERs constitute an increasingly important role in providing physical and intellectual ac cess to knowledge. A systemic approach to OER integration into course, program, and institutional level curriculum helps ensure that all students will have a greater likelihood for academic success. Therefore, librarians need to include OERs into their repertoire of resources, and incorporate OERs into information and digital literacy considerations. To optimize their impact, librarians need to work with the education community systematically, from one-to-one collaboration for a single unit to system-wide OER initiatives and policies.


Association of College and Research Libraries. (2015). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Chicago: American Library Association.

UNESCO. (2015). UNESCO and Sustainable Development Goals. Paris: UNESCO.

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Lesley S. J. Farmer is professor of library media, teacher librarian program coordinator, and information and communication technology (ICT) literacy project manager at California State University Long Beach (CSULB).


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