RLI 280 2
SEPTEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
Open Educational Resources as Learning Materials: Prospects
and Strategies for University Libraries
Marilyn S. Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, University of
Massachusetts Amherst
Sarah C. Hutton, Head, Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Services, University of Massachusetts
Amherst
Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Charles M. Schweik, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Conservation and Center for
Public Policy and Administration, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Matt Sheridan, Digital Repository Resident Librarian, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The Importance of Open Access to Information, Demonstrated by the
World Wide Web
C
onsider the World Wide Web as an existence proof for the innovative power of openness. Many
readers of Research Library Issues (RLI) will recall the days when the web first began. Many people
used the University of Minnesota’s “Gopher” system to share and access resources on the early
Internet, and then, suddenly, Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues announced HTTP and HTML back
around 1994. Over the next five years, the web grew remarkably, exponentially—and globally. What was
the underlying phenomenon behind that remarkable growth?
Publisher Tim O’Reilly has argued,1 and this article’s authors agree, that the underlying reason for this
growth was web users’ ability to read the page source code, provided by the first web browsers—Mosaic,
Netscape, and Internet Explorer. The “view source” function was a standard option in these browsers’
menus, enabling any end user to see how a particularly appealing webpage was written in HTML. Even
though these pages were not formally licensed as open source, they were. Extrapolating from O’Reilly’s
insight, that extraordinary time of innovation—the amazing expansion of websites globally from 1994 to
about 2000—was driven by open access and individuals learning by reading other people’s HTML code.
The web growth over those six years is probably the most significant distance-learning program the
world has ever seen. One could say it was perhaps the first “massive open online” learning phenomenon,
occurring nearly two decades before anyone ever heard of the idea of a MOOC (massive open online
course).
The exceptional growth of websites over this period at the end of the 20th century provides an
extraordinary example of the power of open information. People wanting to gain website programming
skills learned through the reading of openly available HTML code, and then often innovated or created
new derivatives that were grounded upon that code. This foundational logic underlies the idea of
providing open access to information in higher education.
Open Educational Resources: What Are They?
Issues around the production, distribution, and access to information and knowledge in higher education
involve questions about how people treat these resources as “goods.” Political scientists and economists