RLI 280
Open educatiOnal ResOuRces as leaRning MateRials: pROspects and stRategies fOR univeRsity libRaRies
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SEPTEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
find the “theory of goods” a useful foundation for establishing policies on access and use of natural
resources or, in this case, access to information and knowledge. The theory of goods classifies goods or
resources by two attributes: excludability and subtractability. For example, “private goods” are resources
that are subtractable (if I have the physical book, then you don’t) and easy to exclude others from using (if
I keep this book in my home library, I can keep it for myself). Secondly, “toll or club goods” are those that
are, theoretically, not subtractable, but are relatively easy to establish for exclusive use. Many resources
provided by university research libraries (such as online journals and databases) fall in this category.
Students and faculty affiliated with the university enjoy access while people without university affiliation
frequently are unable to gain access, or are able to only obtain limited guest access. “Public goods” are a
third category, where the good is not subtractable, and it is difficult to exclude people from access to it, or
the producers of the good decide that they do not want to exclude people from this resource; “pure” open
educational resources fall under this category.2
At its core, the movement for open access to information is a philosophical position on how to
treat digital information, and it involves issues around the cost of production and distribution of
information. To be absolutely clear, the production of high-quality information, whether paper-based
or digital, requires significant human capital and the authors who develop and present new ideas and
the organizations that help to make these ideas available deserve to be paid for these contributions.
Traditionally, in the context of educational material, this reimbursement for author and publisher time
and effort has come through the treatment of information as private or toll goods—the sale of textbooks,
for example, or the library subscription to a journal or an online database. But the open access movement,
and the search for alternative ways to finance and publish information as a public good, is an issue with
which society continues to grapple, and research libraries are central in this debate.
Open educational materials come in two forms. The first form is pure open access, and these
materials are treated as public goods, are often made available online, and are readable or available for
download at no monetary cost to the reader. Educational material available through Connexions at Rice
University is an example of pure open access educational content. This article refers to these simply as
open educational resources (OERs). The second form of open educational materials is called hybrid
open educational resources (hybrid OERs). These materials are, in effect, examples of toll or club goods
referred to above. A key issue for open education efforts is the parameters established by the publisher
and the library around the number of concurrent users who can access that material simultaneously. The
issue of concurrent usage will be addressed later in this article.
Faculty Use of OERs and Their Motivations
University faculty can be involved with OERs as either producers or consumers of content. Co-author
Charles Schweik has had experience in both roles. As a producer, Schweik created a 150+ page course
pack of exercises for his geographic information systems class, which he authored with graduate student
colleagues and published under a Creative Commons license. This course pack was then distributed
through the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst’s institutional repository, ScholarWorks @
UMass Amherst (bePress). As a consumer, Schweik generated a list of class readings and exercises for an
undergraduate environmental policy class and made these materials available through his course website
(Moodle). In the latter case, some materials used were pure open access with Creative Commons licenses,
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