The Open Road Under Construction: LJ’s Open Access and Open Educational Resources at Academic Libraries Survey Report

The use and visibility of open access (OA) content collections and open educational resources (OER) appear to be changing at colleges and universities, according to the results of LJ’s 2022 Open Access/Open Educational Resources Survey, sponsored by SirsiDynix. Many institutions and their libraries are placing more emphasis on helping students and faculty find those resources, but survey participants feel they are not fully satisfied with how well their search interfaces direct students to these collections, or with their frequency of use.

cover of LJ 2022 Academic OA/OER surveyThe use and visibility of open access (OA) content collections and open educational resources (OER) appear to be changing at colleges and universities, according to the results of LJ’s 2022 Open Access/Open Educational Resources Survey, sponsored by SirsiDynix. Many institutions and their libraries are placing more emphasis on helping students and faculty find those resources, but survey participants feel they are not fully satisfied with how well their search interfaces direct students to these collections, or with their frequency of use.

The survey, conducted in 2020 and again this year, focuses on how academic librarians in the United States are curating OA/OER collections in their discovery services. According to the survey report, “The survey instrument remained unchanged from the 2020 survey with a few exceptions: Dates were updated, some answer choices were expanded based on open-ended responses from the first fielding, and questions related directly to COVID-19 were removed.”



The 186 U.S. respondents represent diverse academic institutions. Forty-three percent award doctorates, 30 percent master’s degrees, and 25 percent baccalaureates. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) were two-year colleges. (Numbers total more than 100 percent because many fall into more than one category.) The schools also varied in size. About half, 53 percent, had fewer than 5,000 enrolled students; 30 percent between 5,000 and 19,999; and the remaining 17 percent served at least 20,000. Average enrollment was 9,523, down from 10,916 in 2020’s survey. The South was represented by 31 percent of the respondents, the Northeast by 27 percent, the Midwest by 26 percent, and the West by 16 percent.

One common aspect, as stated by 93 percent of the respondents, was that their institutions served both in-person and online users. Six percent served only in-person students, up from one percent in 2020; one percent were exclusively online, down from 16 percent.



Seventy-eight percent answered that they were somehow involved in curating OA and OER collections. While many institutions use the OA options that their discovery products provide, about half manually add OA resources to their interfaces, a marked increase from 2020’s 34 percent.

The survey also reflected the multiple ways in which participants are involved in the process of curating OA and OER collections. Seventy-eight percent said they did so, with half (51 percent) advocating for a shift to OA on campus. Three-eighths (37 percent) collaborate with faculty to create OER reading lists in place of textbooks, which can be expensive. Thirty-five percent “scope out OA content toindex/make discoverable” and 20 percent work with researchers to add content to their schools’ repositories. Other methods of involvement included adding such OA content to the institutional repository themselves (19 percent), “administer OA funding through library” (14 percent), “help document impact, including altmetrics, of OA publications for faculty tenure and promotion consideration” (10 percent), “surface OA content on Wikipedia or work to make it findable in open-web searches” (4 percent), and “other” (15 percent). However, 11 percent of responding libraries do not curate OA or OER collections at all.

Open-ended responses listed other ways in which librarians curate and advocate for their OA and OER collections, including—but not limited to—serving as co-chairperson on a “campus textbook affordability taskforce,” “help[ing] profs with OER materials to create iBooks which we then publish & are used as textbooks in some classes,” training faculty about OA and OER resources, examining OA usage data, developing policies and procedures for these collections, and writing grant proposals for OA/OER funding. In at least two cases, librarians act officially as OER liaisons. Eleven percent of respondents gather usage statistics for OA content, 58 percent said that they do not, and 31 percent were unsure.



In the 2022 survey, the report noted, the list of search interface options was expanded based on open-ended “other” responses in 2020. This year’s three new options were LibGuides (selected by 68 percent of respondents), Alma/Primo (38 percent), and SirsiDynix Symphony (5 percent). One option from 2020, EBSCO discovery, was selected by 40 percent of those surveyed in 2022, consistent with 39 percent in 2020 results. However, the two interfaces most commonly selected in 2020, ProQuest/Ex Libris/III discovery and traditional integrated library system online public access catalog (ILS OPAC), demonstrated sharp decreases in the second survey, from 46 percent to 15 percent and from 43 percent to 34.4 percent, respectively. The survey report suggests that a reason for this change may be due to having fewer community colleges in the 2022 sample. Other options in 2022 include OCLC discovery (13 percent), SirsiDynix Enterprise discovery (5 percent), and open source discovery (VuFind, Blacklight, etc.) at 2 percent. Seven percent of the respondents selected “other,” with write-ins including Sierra and Alma/Summon.



Many of those surveyed considered it a priority to make OA and OER content discoverable in their library discovery service. On a scale of 1 (not important) to 6 (extremely important), 49 percent rated discovery a 6 and 31 percent a 5. The average rating was 5.2. Eighty percent of respondents’ libraries include this content in their discovery services, and of those, 82 percent state that those services identify which search results are OA.

Libraries use multiple tactics for making OA and OER content discoverable. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) use the content included in their discovery product. At half (50 percent) of the represented libraries, staff is responsible for researching and manually adding OA and OER content to the catalog or discovery system. At nearly a third (32 percent), the discovery services automatically add OA/OER content. Eighteen respondents wrote that their libraries use the Unpaywall link resolver service.

The survey also asked what percentage of library content was available with OA licenses; the average response was 15, up from 12 percent in 2020. Estimates for how many new scholarly articles are available with OA licenses averaged 21 percent, consistent with 2020.

Eighty-three percent answered that their libraries had cancelled subscription resources due to budget constraints, and 20 percent claimed that their libraries had cancelled those resources because of OA availability. On average, respondents estimated that their libraries spent $365,300 on e-resources in the 2020–21 academic year. For the following year, 15 percent received an increase in their e-resources budget, but 21 percent saw a decrease, with an overall change from the previous year down 2 percent. Half predict their e-resources budget will remain flat next year.

The most common OER sites for libraries to recommend to students or faculty in the past year include OpenStax (69 percent), Open Textbook Library (69 percent), OER Commons (66 percent), Merlot (51 percent), SUNY Open Textbooks (41 percent), OASIS (34 percent), LibreTexts (25 percent), MOM (Mason OER Metafinder) (19 percent), and Lumen (19 percent).



Respondents expressed some dissatisfaction with their process: only five percent considered themselves “very satisfied”—although this is a three percent increase from 2020. They listed numerous reasons for this, including a lack of time and available labor, technical problems with their catalogs, and poor visibility of the resources on the interfaces. “I don't think we’re even scratching the surface of adding what is openly available,” one respondent stated. Another noted that their library has not developed a collection development policy for OER yet.

Many had reservations as to whether their OA collections were comprehensive. About half (51 percent) stated they were not confident, 38 percent were somewhat confident, 10 percent were confident, with only 1 percent claiming to be very confident. The survey report explains, “About four in 10 respondents definitely have concerns that the OA content in their library’s discovery environment may not have been peer-reviewed. Eleven percent are ‘very concerned,’ and another 30 percent are ‘concerned.’ Thirteen percent report having no concerns, down slightly from 16 percent in 2020.”

Respondents were split over the difficulty of integrating library resources into the campus’s learning management system. Half (50 percent) considered it “not difficult,” 41 percent found it “somewhat difficult,” 6 percent “difficult,” and 3 percent “extremely difficult.”

Another issue is the lack of faculty’s usage of OER for course packs and reserves. This increased slightly since 2020, at least among those who use OER “very often” (2 percent, up from 1 percent). The majority responded either “sometimes” (38 percent) or “rarely” (18 percent); 32 percent did not know.

Open-ended responses demonstrate that institutions have seen a range of differences regarding faculty’s usage of OER. “A few faculty have adopted them,” one respondent commented. “They are popular as replacements for textbooks for introductory courses in math, statistics, and computer science.” Another found things to be changing for budgetary reasons: “Faculty are beginning to use OA and OER resources more than in the past…. [T]he library budget—which had been stagnant for at least 10 years—was cut due to COVID and hasn't been restored. Most of the cut was shifted to our print/physical item budget, which was reduced by 70 percent to pay for database and e-journal subscriptions.” Others wrote about challenges in encouraging faculty use. “Getting faculty to develop and/or adopt OA or OER textbooks is slow as they are often overworked, underpaid, and just don't have the time nor any incentive to invest,” one stated.

Respondents report that the academic library’s involvement in supporting OER and affordable learning initiatives on campus has decreased since 2020, perhaps because the abrupt COVID-driven shutdowns caused a scramble to support online learning in that period. Just over one quarter (27 percent) say their library is “very involved,” down from 34 percent. Twelve percent say they are not involved at all.

Open-ended comments reveal various obstacles to the process of increasing the usage of OA and OER resources, but there was at least one success story: “I lead all OER initiatives on campus,” wrote one respondent. “I’ve gone out of my way NOT to have it be a ‘library initiative’ even though I'm the dean of libraries, specifically because at past institutions, I found this ghettoized the project…. At my current institution, I managed to get it housed in the provost's office, and our past presidents and provosts have used OERs in their teaching, our student gov't has funded it as well as the provost and multiple other offices, and it is clearly NOT only a library initiative. The results? We saved our students $11 million in five years.”

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