Magazine article American Libraries

Pushing for Open Textbooks: Libraries and Networks Try New Incentives and Funding

Magazine article American Libraries

Pushing for Open Textbooks: Libraries and Networks Try New Incentives and Funding

Article excerpt

Academic libraries have long advocated for open educational resources (OERs)--openly licensed materials for learning and research--at colleges and universities. Pioneers like University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries' Open Education Initiative, Temple University Libraries' Alternate Textbook Project, and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition have been working for years to address the high cost of textbooks through open access models.

But with prices skyrocketing--the cost of textbooks has increased 73% since 2006, according to a 2016 report by the Student Public Interest Research Groups--some libraries and networks are using creative incentives to get OERs into the classroom.

Texas A&M University Libraries, in partnership with the school's student government, has established what it believes to be the first student-nominated teaching awards for OERs in the US (bit.ly/lSrFLWI). The idea came out of the Southeastern Conference Academic Collaboration Workshop that Texas A&M hosted in 2015, and inaugural awards were distributed in May. Two separate awards were established--the Open Educator Award, which recognizes faculty members who use OERs in their courses, and the Open Education Champion Award, which recognizes faculty members who have created OERs--with the hope of increasing adoption rates.

"Getting a student-nominated award is actually prestigious here," says Bruce Herbert, director of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Texas A&M University Libraries. Awards don't come with a cash prize, but, Herbert says, "The award itself is valued for tenure and promotion far more than any award with money attached to it."

While it is too soon to tell if this low-cost approach will boost adoptions, Herbert acknowledges staff buy-in is one of the biggest obstacles. "We all know how hard it is to get people to change their behavior," he says.

University of Minnesota's Open Textbook Network (OTN), a group that started in November 2014 and has grown to 38 higher education institutions and consortia representing 196 locations (research.cehd.umn.edu/otn), addresses this matter in its programming. Membership benefits include a discussion list and data collection for stakeholders, but OTN is well-known for its on-campus workshops where faculty with OTN present to fellow professors on the textbook affordability crisis and OERs.

"We focus intensely on academic freedom," says Sarah Cohen, OTN's managing director. "We want faculty members to choose a book that meets the needs of their students and the needs of their course, and we suggest an open textbook may be a way to do that. …

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