After many years of discussion, the use of open educational resources (OER) is beginning to take root in schools and districts. The expanded use of OER content—which includes openly licensed textbooks and courses, as well as additional learning resources such as video, interactives, and primary source materials—is helping educators effectively deliver quality instruction around key standards.
While OER materials are free for anyone to use, their advantages go far beyond cost savings. OER ensures that teachers have access to quality learning tools that can be adapted and localized to meet the needs of the specific students in a district, school, or classroom. But finding OER and helping educators take advantage of them remains a challenge—requiring additional time, training, and support to ensure that materials are selected and adapted in appropriate ways.
As librarians, our training and day-to-day practices are built around valuable and practical curation skills oriented to today’s educational environment. We know the specific content that is already out there and the specific curricular needs of teachers and learners. We are adept at finding and adapting relevant and engaging learning materials across all subject areas. These skills—coupled with our specialized knowledge of copyright, licensing, and permissions—make librarians crucial agents in OER curation and expansion.
We all know the trends. Despite a growing body of research that show that high-quality libraries are correlated with high student achievement (especially improved reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress) (Lance and Kachel 2018) the number of librarians in U.S. public schools has dropped precipitously even as student enrollment has increased. According to an analysis of federal data by the Education Week Research Center published in 2018, “[t]he nation’s public school districts have lost 20 percent of their librarians and media specialists since 2000, from more than 54,000 to less than 44,000 in 2015,” and districts serving students of color have been hit the hardest (Sparks and Harwin 2018). In Los Angeles, for example, the district has lost half its librarians in the last decade. Across the state of Michigan, 85 percent of schools have no librarian.
OER provides a vehicle that can thrust school librarians and school libraries back where they belong—at the center of learning. To take full advantage of OER, schools and districts must commit to a newly open and dynamic curriculum development process. But they also must make a commitment to supporting professional librarians, who will be central to the process of gathering, assessing, adapting, sharing, and updating those open resources. Librarians need the time and support to do the work of curation and to work with teachers and curriculum specialists to create the resources that will best engage students and increase learning.
This work is challenging, but a new OER-based roadmap to implement changes based on lessons from school librarians can help make this work. The openly sourced OER curation framework developed by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) provides step-by-step guidance on how to get there. The framework, developed in partnership with Florida State University’s School of Information and supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, demonstrates what curation practices look like and the nuances of identifying, rating, and evaluating content. The framework also provides librarians with the tools and resources needed to elevate the role of OER curation and position themselves as instructional leaders supporting the implementation of materials in classrooms.
With the increased reliance on technology and online learning resources, it is more important than ever that schools and districts have personnel who can understand and tap these resources in ways that reduce costs and improve the quality of teaching and learning. By leveraging OER to expand available educational resources at lower costs and with greater relevance to diverse student populations and universal design, we can demonstrate the vital—and enduring—importance of having a library and librarians in every school.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Deb Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan 99 (7): 15-20. https://kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/.
Sparks, Sarah D., and Alex Harwin. 2018. “Schools See Steep Drop in Librarians, New Analysis Finds.” Education Week (May 16). https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/05/16/schools-see-steep-drop-in-librarians-new.html.
Author: Morgen Larsen
Morgen Larsen is head librarian at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Washington.