Library Journal Survey: Academic Library Open Access Use Up During Pandemic

Academic librarians are seeing more interest in open access (OA) content and open educational resources (OER) during the COVID-19 pandemic, survey respondents reported, due in part to a lack of access to physical materials and a desire to keep textbook costs low. Those are some of the findings from the Library Journal Open Access Content/Open Educational Resources in Academic Libraries Survey, released this month.

cover of LJ's OA Content/OER in Academic Libraries survey, with side by side photos of students looking at computersAcademic librarians are seeing more interest in open access (OA) content and open educational resources (OER) during the COVID-19 pandemic, survey respondents reported, due in part to a lack of access to physical materials and a desire to keep textbook costs low. Those are some of the findings from the Library Journal Open Access Content/Open Educational Resources in Academic Libraries Survey, released this month. The report includes data about availability and usage of OA and OER content in U.S. academic libraries, as well as how OA content is curated. The survey, conducted in October, includes data from 234 institutions and was sponsored by SirsiDynix.

Chris Hollister, head of scholarly communication at the University of Buffalo Libraries, NY, works on initiatives related to scholarly publishing, OA, and open education. “There is a lot of energy around open access,” he told LJ. “Researchers and scholars increasingly recognize the professional and societal benefits of publishing in OA venues. In addition, we are seeing more governmental agencies and private foundations that require the result of their research funding to be made openly available to the public.”

He added that the OA movement is also driven, in part, by the fact that access to scholarly journals is cost-prohibitive for researchers and for the libraries that support them.

 

OPEN CURATION

Some 90 percent of the academic institutions that responded to the survey indicated that they have some form of involvement in curating OA or OER resources. The most common methods include advocating for a campus shift to OA and/or working directly with faculty to create OER reading lists. A third of respondents said they make an effort to find OA content online and make it discoverable by their users.

 

OA/OER IN DISCOVERY AND PEER REVIEW ISSUES

Almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they feel it is “extremely important” for the library to include OA and OER content in library discovery. About 36 percent of respondents who work in libraries not currently curating OA and OER resources nonetheless feel this is very important.

The most common method that academic libraries use to add OA content to their discovery service is selecting from OA options offered through their discovery service. About a third (34 percent) said they research and manually add resources to the catalog.

Despite feeling that it is important, academic librarians are not satisfied with the OA resources they offer. More than half (54 percent) said they are not confident that their library’s OA collection is comprehensive. None of the respondents said they were very confident in the thoroughness of their OA collection.

Nor are they confident in the reliability of what they do offer: A number of respondents expressed some concern that the OA content in their library’s discovery environment may not have been peer-reviewed. Hollister said that a lack of peer review is a concern among researchers and scholars at his institution.

“The challenge we see today is the emergence of predatory publishers,” Hollister wrote. “These are deceptive and exploitative operations, which charge publication fees to authors to publish their work in bogus OA journals. Predatory publishers provide no quality control (e.g. peer review) or any of the other valuable editorial services associated with reputable publishers. These operations damage confidence in the OA movement.”

 

IMPACT OF COVID

Close to a third of respondents indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted usage of OA content. A number of respondents said in open-ended comments that they have seen more demand for online resources, including OA ones, during the pandemic, and that there has been increased interest among faculty members. One commenter noted that more classroom faculty members are trying to find and use OA and OER course materials during this time, while another said that a few departments have decided to move to OER because obtaining copies of their textbooks was a barrier to students.

 

POPULAR SITES

Respondents whose librarians are involved in curating resources selected OpenStax, Open Textbook Library, and OER Commons as the most popular OER sites used. OpenStax was the most commonly used site, with 67.4 percent of the respondents reporting having used it in the last 12 months. Other sites used are Merlot and SUNY Open Textbooks. A small number (15 percent) did not use any OER sites in the last 12 months. When it comes to using library curated OER for course packs/reserves, 43 percent of respondents said they use them sometimes, and 20 percent said they rarely use them. Four percent said they never use them.

 

OUTREACH AND BUDGETS

Many respondents (44 percent) said that their institution has decreased the budget for e-resources during this academic year (2020–21). Only 12 percent said they received an increase this year. Respondents estimate that in the last academic year (2019–20) their library spent an average of $353,999 on e-resources. For next year, 59 percent said they expect a decrease in their e-resource budget. A few noted that OA and OER materials are becoming a bigger focus at their institutions due to budget constraints and cuts.

Hollister said the libraries at his institution, like all libraries, face budgetary challenges. However, he noted, the University of Buffalo recently implemented a new Open Access Policy for Scholarly and Creative Works, which encourages researchers and scholars to make their work openly available.

“The era of the so-called ‘Big Deal’ with commercial publishers of scholarly literature is over,” he wrote. “Our libraries are making smart and visionary budget choices that provide faculty and students with the information they need to be successful, that are fiscally responsible, that align with the university’s mission and policies, and that reinforce the library field’s abiding principle of free for all.”

In addition, he said that the UB Libraries have developed the OER Studio to educate and train faculty and instructors in adopting or creating open content for their teaching. “Staffing the Studio is a challenge at this time, but library leadership is committed to providing this service, which has saved students an estimated $1.3 million in textbooks costs to date,” he added.

To download the full report, visit bit.ly/LibraryOA-OER.

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