OA WEEK October 25-31, 2021: Why we (in the library) care about Open Access and you (faculty) should too.

This is what I would say as an academic: Open access is important because it allows scholars across the globe, including those with limited resources or independent scholars, to access the latest research in their fields. In this time when information of questionable quality is easily accessible, it is even more vital to have peer-reviewed scholarship available widely for people outside of our narrow fields who may be researching for newspaper articles, social media posts, etc. In short, the benefits of open access for the advancement of knowledge and scholarship far outweigh the costs.

Dr. Mila Dragojevic, Professor of Politics

As researchers, writers, and educators, college professors want their work to have a tangible impact in their disciplines, where they can connect with active scholarly communities. In this article, we discuss the advantages of open access (OA) and open educational resources (OERs), both parts of the movement toward information equity. The first part of this article will focus on open access and the second part will discuss OERs. As librarians especially interested in information accessibility, we would like to direct your attention to the potential benefits of open access and open educational resources and inspire wider participation in these information equity movements in scholarship and teaching here at Sewanee.

Benefits of Open Access publishing

Open access is the free, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those resources as needed. These resources may be published in an open access journal, a hybrid journal, or shared by their creator in an open online depository. Publishing an article in an OA journal means that more people are likely to see it, simply because more people will be able to access it. Studies have shown that open access articles are viewed and cited more often than articles behind a paywall. Additionally, this work is available to educators and to the general public, most of whom do not have access to expensive journal subscriptions. 

All researchers benefit from OA, as no library can afford to subscribe to every scientific journal and most can only afford a small fraction of them. Multi-disciplinary OA journals provide scholars a wider, more visible stage for their scholarship; further, they connect and enable researchers to carry out collaborative research on a global scale. OA helps researchers as readers by opening up access to articles that their libraries do not subscribe to. For some in developing countries, where even more universities cannot afford the high subscription fees of scholarly journals, OA provides much needed new knowledge and the ability to join, contribute to, and apply scholarly conversations. OA brings equity to the scholarly world. 

While many of these initiatives focus on online depositories where scholars make their work accessible within institutional repositories, many journals have taken the initiative and published scholarly work without a paywall. Some journals are fully OA while other journals are hybrid, meaning that while some articles in hybrid journals may be open access, others are not. Even some books are published as open access. On our Library website, we have several OA databases integrated into TigerSearch, such as DOAJ, Cloudsource OA and BioMed Central OA.

Open Access and Open Education Resources: making course materials affordable

Scholarly journal subscriptions are often prohibitively expensive, but so are the textbooks students are required to buy. According to a 2020 study by the National Public Interest Group, 63% of students have avoided purchasing a required text because of the cost. Open educational resources (OERs) can help this problem. OERs are openly-licensed educational materials that can be used without cost or access barriers. In addition to textbooks, they include other tools and resources that can be used in courses, such as test banks, answer guides, and slide decks. 

Unlike commercial textbooks, OERs can be modified (excerpted, reorganized, remixed, or revised) to better support the learning objectives of a particular course. Students can interact directly with OERs in a way that commercial textbooks don’t allow. For example, students can be directed to modify, expand, and/or remix course OERs based on their own research and findings. Such interaction increases critical thinking and writing skills that passive reading and memorization don’t address. Besides saving money and natural resources, using OERs ensures information equity and encourages pedagogical creativity. 

Although the quality of OERs varies, many, such as those from OpenStax, are of a quality comparable to commercial textbooks and go through a peer-review process. They have frequently updated editions and can be purchased as an inexpensive printed book as well as accessed online. Some of the titles even come with ancillary materials such as test banks, answer guides, and powerpoint slides. The Open Textbook Library contains faculty reviews of over 900 OER textbooks and can help with finding the best resources. While it can be challenging to find what you need, there are various tools and sources for finding appropriate OERs, including the Library’s OER Research Guide.

The Appalachian College Association has launched an initiative called Open Appalachia: Open and Affordable Resources. Open Appalachia has 11 peer mentors across 9 institutions who are knowledgeable and experienced in open and affordable resources. In addition to our Sewanee librarians, these mentors can help you to explore options for using Open and Affordable Resources (OAR) in one or more of your courses. They can also help in the area of modifying what you find to suit your own needs. One of the first steps in developing this initiative is to discover who is already working with open and affordable resources and what kinds of professional development opportunities faculty are interested in. For this purpose they have designed a survey that can be found here. The survey results will also be made available to the Sewanee librarians so they can also work with you according to your interests.

Interested in information equity? Want to publish in an Open Access Journal? Considering a course redesign using open resources that you can tailor to your pedagogical needs? Read more about all of these things in our Open Access Week Guide. We in Research Help invite you to start a conversation with us: how, together, can we bring more scholarly resources to our students and colleagues and make peer-reviewed research available to all? We hope to hear from you, with questions, ideas for collaboration, and resource recommendations.

Courtnay Zeitler, Linnea Minich, Patricia Dover, and Heidi Syler

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