31 Aug 2013

The value of free online learning resources: librarians’ perspectives

Back in May, Taylor & Francis spoke to librarians in order to find out what they think about facilitating access to free learning resources alongside traditional (paid-for) resources within their institutions.

The free and reliable resources out there that immediately spring to one’s mind are repositories (green) and open access journals/books (gold), as well as specialised stuff such as information literacy OERs among other things. However, the sheer quantity (and oftentimes very good quality) of all things free on the Web makes it very difficult to identify and reliably capture the same, namely podcasts, videos, presentations, blog entries and wikis.

The report’s findings show some interesting insights, particularly in the ‘requirements and challenges’ department, when it comes to the handling of, and facilitating access to, open learning resources that librarians find worthwhile exposing to their respective user communities.

But first I’d like to highlight some selected key findings that I feel are worth isolating here (the full report can be found here; see Appendix A for the research methodology).

It’s encouraging to see that a vast majority of surveyed librarians (92%) agree that free online content adds value to the learning and research process. Likewise, people would like to see that more money is put towards efforts in surfacing such content (83%). See the chart below for more librarian opinions on various other statements in relation to free online resources.

Figure 1: T&F survey, p. 9, April 2013
Of interest is also to see what factors influence librarians to consequently exposing free resources to their audiences. Relevance (67%) and reputation (49%) are considered most important. Significant is also the expected permanency of content (dead links in subject portals are a common sight).  Interestingly, student requests are considered least important influencers, whereas faculty requests are given more weight. This strikes me as odd as Web savvy students represent valuable sources to tap into when it comes to pinpointing alternative learning resources.

Figure 2: T&F survey, p. 15, April 2013
The survey’s participants also indicated what challenges exist to increasing awareness and discoverability of free Web resources at their libraries. Unknown permanence (39%) and difficulties in managing the growing volume of free content (36%) are considered to be the most pressing issues here; adequate archiving is also of concern (28%). See the chart below for more areas.

Figure 3: T&F survey, p. 19, April 2013

As mentioned above, the Taylor & Frances white paper points out ten requirements and challenges for librarians to facilitating open access online learning resources:
  1. Creation and adoption of metadata standards to signal how ‘open’ content is
  2. Improved identification of free articles in hybrid journals
  3. Permanence of access and reliable archiving for free content
  4. Comprehensive indexing of quality free resources by discovery systems
  5. Provision of usage statistics for free online content, consistent across publishers
  6. Improved integration of free content with link resolvers
  7. Development of a wider range of trusted repositories linking to free content
  8. Improved user interfaces for accessing library-surfaced content
  9. More training and support in information literacy skills for students and faculty
  10. Development of metrics for evaluating impact of content (free and paid-for) on institutional performance
A solid start for dealing with the challenges of facilitating access to free online resources is 1) formulate a free-online resources collection policy (see example) including filtering/decision-making workflows and, 2) recruit the help of readily available audiences (academic staff and students) for the purpose of identifying such resources.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for highlighting this Alex - I had not seen the report. I think OERs and platforms like Jorum and NDLR are becoming much more popular, which is great to see. I think open and re-usable learning objects have great potential, but I do think there is a lack of awareness sometimes as to how Creative Commons-licensed or open resources should be attributed, and to what extent they can be re-mixed or adapted. This is probably not helping the growth of OERs.

    In terms of scholarly publishing in particular, I think the identification of free articles in hybrid journals is a real issue and I am not surprised to see it listed in the ten challenges. Often, such articles can be relatively invisible in spite of their openness, as they won't show up as being available in an A-Z list or discovery service for example. I am no expert on article level metadata so I am not sure if there is an easy way around this one!