Pedagogy & Design

The Open Library at AU

Colin Elliott and Elaine Fabbro

Athabasca University

Open Access, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS)Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Libraries

In recent years, there has been a shift toward “openness” in higher education, with the growth of Open Access and Open Educational Resources (OERs) and the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). There is also recognition of the unique challenges and opportunities these concepts present to higher learning. Libraries have long played an important role in supporting open access. One of the main drivers of library support for open access is the continuously rising cost of journal and database subscriptions. According to a position statement by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), in addition to mitigating these rising costs, open access allows for greater access to research by the public, and “maximize[s] the return on [tax payer and funder]investment in research, advancing discovery and innovation, sound public policy, enhanced health and welfare, and other benefits important for society” (CARL, 2014). These rising costs, coupled with the issues outlined in the CARL position statement point to increased library support and involvement in open access.

A related open initiative that is also changing how courses are created and delivered is Open Educational Resources. These resources are “educational resources . . . that are openly available for use by educators and students, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or licence fees” (OERKnowledgecloud, 2014). OERs can be used in traditional course settings, or may be used in a variety of open courses. In addition, these materials can be re-used and modified to contribute to other courses and learning objects.

Another change that is affecting higher education a great deal is the advent of (MOOCs). The buzz and hype around these courses is undeniable and they have had significant impact on the online learning landscape (Bull, 2012), in that they are freely available online and do not place restrictions on registrations. Some of the courses have had up to 160,000 students enroll (Perez-Pena, 2012).

MOOCs and their incorporated OERs have some similar issues and have made use of extremely limited library resources and services. Typically, traditional library resources and services are not used by OERs or in MOOcs. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, library resources are usually closed, subscription databases. Secondly, in the case of MOOCs, most academic libraries do not have the necessary staff to support thousands of nonpaying students. This has limited library support to mostly clearing copyright when necessary (Fowler and Smith, 2013) , and finding open access resources to support MOOCs (Becker, 2013). While it is not common, there have been some attempts to embed librarians in the actual courses(Nickel and Mulvihill, 2013).
To support and encourage the use of open resources at Athabasca University, Athabasca University Library has developed an open version of the library website that enables easy access to open access and freely available resources. It does this by harnessing the power and possibility of open access. Libraries are the lynch pins connecting open access, open learning, and students.

Purpose of the Open Library at Athabasca University

The Open Library at Athabasca University (AU) addresses some of the issues that MOOCs and their learners have. A number of problems with MOOCs have been identified, including poor completion rates (Jordan, 2014), lack of access to libraries where students can conduct their own research and exploration of the subject matter, and little emphasis on the importance of evaluating information sources. While there is ample evidence in the library literature about the positive effect that library usage has on student success (Mezick, 2007; Goodall & Pattern, 2011.) The importance of libraries in student success and completion has been mostly omitted from the discussion around MOOCS. For student success, the Open Library at AU provides extensive access to open access and free resources as well as tutorials and tools and is an important access point for students to do their own learning and research using open access and freely available resources.

In addition to supporting open learners, the Open Library at AU also supports open course creators and authors. Finding resources that can be used without restriction is a difficult challenge when creating courses like MOOCs. The Open Library is a portal that gives course creators many different ways to find and access open access and free resources. Finding resources to populate open courses and support OERs is now much easier using the Open Library at AU.

Development of the site

As the AU Library website was being revised it was recognized that a flexible structure and extensive tagging would allow content to be re-used and re-purposed across the site. The Library website is database driven, and dynamically displays content as needed. What has been developed is a site that can dynamically present almost all of the open and free content without any intervention from Library staff. Users going to the open version of the site see all the content that has been tagged as open or free, while hiding the subscription based content. In addition, information about resources and services that are only available to current AU students have also been hidden from the Open Library at AU website.
In order to provide the best content for students an extensive list of open and free resources was created and added to the library database in order to ensure that users looking for open content will be able to find it. In addition, search boxes for OAISTER and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) enable users to quickly locate open access articles for their specific research needs.


The Open Library at Athabasca University addresses some of the specific learning needs that learners not associated with an academic library have. This site makes up for one of the major shortfalls of open learning and MOOCs which is that learners do not have library site to support them in their learning. Libraries are an essential part of learning and especially university learning. Having an open library that is accessible to learners will make them more successful in their studies, develop their depth of understanding of their studies, and make open learning and MOOCs a more valid format for learning.

Reference List

Becker, B. W. (2013). Connecting MOOCs and Library Services. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 32(2), 135–138. doi:10.1080/01639269.2013.787383

Bull, D. D. (2012). From ripple to tsunami: the possible impact of MOOCs on higher education. DeQuarterly, (12), 10–11.

CARL Position Statement on Open Access – CARL – ABRC. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2014, from http://www.carl-abrc.ca/en/scholarly-communications/carl-position-statement-on-open-access.html

Deborah Goodall, & David Pattern. (2011). Academic library non/low use and undergraduate student achievement. Library Management, 32(3), 159–170. doi:10.1108/01435121111112871

Fowler, L., & Smith, K. (2013). Drawing the Blueprint As We Build: Setting Up a Library-based Copyright and Permissions Service for MOOCs. D-Lib Magazine, 19(7/8). doi:10.1045/july2013-fowler

Frequently Asked Questions | OER KnowledgeCloud. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2014, from https://oerknowledgecloud.org/faq

Jordan, K. (2014). Initial Trends in Enrolment and Completion of Massive Open Online Courses. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 15(1), 133–159.

Mezick, E. M. (2007). Return on Investment: Libraries and Student Retention. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(5), 561–566. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2007.05.002

Nickel, L. T., & Mulvihill, R. G. (2010). Serving Unaffiliated Distance Learners: Strategies That Work. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 4(3), 87–95. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2010.503495

Pérez-peña, R. (2012, July 17). Top Universities Test the Online Appeal of Free. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/education/top-universities-test-the-online-appeal-of-free.html

Poll, R., & Payne, P. (2006). Impact measures for libraries and information services [Journal article (Print/Paginated)]. Retrieved December 11, 2014, from http://eprints.rclis.org/9208/


The Open Library at AU: Supporting Open Access and Open Educational Resources from Open Education Consortium