December 11, 2017

Textbook Affordability: What’s Happening in Your State | From the Bell Tower

Steven BellThe good news is that more academic librarians are leading textbook affordability and open educational resources (OER) initiatives at their institutions. What if we could do even more good work with statewide efforts? Fortunately, there are some good models to lead the way.

There’s generally wide acceptance in academic librarianship that promoting OER is a good fit with ongoing efforts to promote a culture of openness at our institutions. Academic librarians who advocate for student success also see value in encouraging instructors to achieve textbook affordability because students learn more effectively when all their required learning materials are easily accessible. While the number of academic libraries creating programs to facilitate textbook affordability is expanding, there are still too many that, for any number of reasons, lack the capacity to implement one. My simple proposition is that all academic librarians, wherever their library and institution may be on the textbook affordability program development spectrum, should advance it by working together in coalitions to establish statewide initiatives.

Old idea, new Application

Libraries working together to achieve progress and benefits for all is hardly a new idea. Statewide and regional consortia have long provided the structure for librarians to pool their resources to acquire materials, develop shared services, and implement new technologies. A few states have discovered there is also strength in numbers when it comes to helping consortia members develop textbook affordability initiatives. In a recent article on the importance of librarians supporting statewide affordability efforts, Joe Salem and I identified just a few of the ways in which this can work:

  • Train-the-trainer programs to equip librarians at more institutions to create OER awareness at their institution;
  • Sharing resources and expertise to help faculty identify OER in their discipline, for program assessment, and for training and other applications where we needn’t replicate each other’s efforts;
  • Conducting statewide surveys to establish student and faculty attitudes and behaviors related to textbook use;
  • Identifying faculty and librarians who can visit neighboring institutions to conduct OER workshops;
  • Gaining momentum to advocate for funding and legislative change to support the adoption of OER;
  • Offering information about the latest publisher efforts to introduce OER-related solutions and learning platforms;
  • Pooling ebook collections for use as learning materials and developing tools to make them discoverable by faculty and students;
  • Applying for and obtaining grants to support statewide initiatives.

The bottom line is that banding together allows those libraries that already making significant progress toward textbook affordability to leverage their gains to assist and support their fellow librarians who are less well-equipped to launch an initiative at their campus.

A few good examples

In order to learn more about what academic librarians can do when they join forces across their state, take time to study any one of several good models.

Affordable Learning Georgia: ALG offers years of experience achieving textbook affordability through a statewide initiative. Its Textbook Transformation Grants have saved students millions of dollars in textbook costs. The operation is well organized and supported by dedicated staff. Visit the site to get a sense of the robust resources a statewide organization can offer and stay for the helpful resources.

LOUIS (Louisiana Library Network): Sometimes referred to as the poster child for a consortial approach to textbook affordability, this group has some impressive accomplishments. Foremost among them is a strong advocacy effort resulting in funding and support for OER from the Board of Regents. In support of textbook affordability LOUIS offers several innovative projects, including collaborative ebook collections that provide faculty with an option to substitute a library resource for commercial textbooks.

OHIOLINK: Librarians know about OHIOLINK and what it has done for shared library resources. Now it is doing great things for textbook affordability across their state. If one of the goals in your state is to bring interested parties together for a textbook affordability conference, OHIOLINK’s OER Summit, at which librarians and faculty gather to learn about OER and adoption strategies, is a good example to follow.

VIVA (Virtual Library of Virginia): According to the VIVA website there are 35 academic libraries participating in the textbook affordability initiative. A small group of trainers teach other librarians about OER and how to conduct on-campus workshops for faculty. VIVA’s initiative is headed by a small steering group of librarians from four member institutions. In planning the launch of an initiative for my own state, reviewing the work of VIVA was most helpful.

By no means are these the only good examples of statewide initiatives. What these groups have in common, in addition to committed resources, is their Open Textbook Network (OTN) affiliation. Other consortial members include CARLI, Open Oregon, MOBIUS, and the Boston Library Consortium. While it is not the only path to implementing a statewide initiative, a consortial relationship with OTN provides a level of support and training that can facilitate the development of a statewide effort.

Getting started

If you are an academic librarian already committed to textbook affordability and advocacy for open education, what is a good next step for extending efforts beyond your own institution? If a broader statewide project would benefit colleagues yet to explore the possibilities, how can you best get them engaged? Based on what appears to be working, connecting with a state association or consortia is the approach with the most promise. It takes a few academic librarians who are willing to start the conversation about making something happen statewide. The year 2017 has been productive and rewarding for open educational resource advocates. The resources are growing, more states are exploring affordability legislation, and more academic librarians are getting engaged at their own institution. Make no mistake: starting a textbook affordability initiative at your institution is hard work. Starting a statewide initiative is even harder. But the potential rewards and gains for our students are that much greater. Let’s make 2018 the year that statewide textbook affordability initiatives blossom across the country.

Steven Bell About Steven Bell

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the current vice president/president-elect of ACRL. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.

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