During the 2017–18 academic year, approximately 3,500 students at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) were assigned open textbooks for their classes, replacing commercial textbooks. This represented a more than 10-fold increase since our first major adoption in early 2015 and was a landmark in the increasing use of open educational resources (OER) at the university. This rapid growth is the result of individual efforts by our faculty, educational developers, and librarians, working with the students’ union to champion the use of OER across campus. This rapid growth suggests a desire for OER in our classrooms. Supply has stoked demand from students and faculty for alternatives to commercial textbooks and we must be ready to meet this demand and the expectations of our community.
The U of S has a long history of grassroots innovations in research, teaching, and learning exemplified by OER adoption at the institution. We define our grassroots approach as one that emphasizes people-driven initiatives for change that are not fully reliant on the administrative structure of the university. The U of S is a medical/doctoral university in Western Canada and a member of the U15 group of research-intensive Canadian universities (akin to a Carnegie R classification). The University Library is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), with 145 full-time equivalent (FTE) librarian faculty and staff serving over 27,000 faculty, staff, and students, with a 2017 FTE student count of approximately 17,000 undergraduate students and approximately 3,000 graduate students (University of Saskatchewan Website, n.d.).
This chapter examines how we have encouraged the adoption of OER at the U of S from a grassroots effort as opposed to a top-down administrative directive. We illustrate the benefits and challenges of this approach along with the obstacles remaining to fully realize the potential of OER for teaching and learning institution-wide. We propose ways these obstacles could be surmounted through partnerships and collaborations between teams on campus. The library, teaching and learning center, distance education unit, administration, student government, faculty champions of OER, and other support units all have important roles to play in the highly integrated network of systems, services, and resources that will make the full-scale adoption of OER successful. The library is uniquely positioned to provide leadership for multiple aspects of OER adoption because of its ties to research, teaching, and learning at all levels on our campus.
The Role of the Academic Library
Academic libraries have the potential to lead in three areas that can encourage the adoption of OER on our campuses: leadership in OA publishing, teaching and learning, and OER systems. Although leadership is an ambiguous and oft-used piece of jargon in modern institutions for a range of initiatives, it is an apt term to describe the natural alignment between academic library advocacy and the advancement of institutional goals and the fact that libraries cannot do this work alone. Ferguson (2016) describes this collaborative model well in relation to the production and use of OER:
As the faculty, and in some cases students, work to produce the content for their courses, libraries and librarians can play a key role in the production, adoption, and promotion of OERs, assisting with funding, research, copyright, and publishing options (p. 256).
Making a connection to the historical role of academic libraries, Clobridge (2015) draws a direct line from the library as information source to proponent for open access and OER. They argue that it is not beyond of the purview of academic libraries to become a leader for OER and that through “the auspices of an open access program or library publishing efforts, encouraging innovation in scholarly communication, or encouraging student success, libraries have ample opportunities to get involved in promoting and supporting open textbooks” (p. 68). There are many ways that academic libraries can support the culture change required to shift attitudes and actions on campus regarding the adoption of OER. The following sections explore three major areas where libraries can show leadership for OER initiatives that leverage their expertise and reputation and that we have considered in the context of OER use at the U of S.
Leadership in OA Publishing
Academic publishing at universities and colleges is, by virtue of the types of required inputs and outputs, a necessarily complex activity and the responsibility for it often resides across academic and support units, as it does at the U of S. Okamoto (2013) notes that libraries are in a strong strategic position to support, promote, or even create and distribute OER; however, with expanding mandates, libraries and library systems must be selective about the related services they wish to offer. This concept of “library publishing” (Howard, 2013) can partly address the rising costs of acquiring and maintaining collections by supporting the production of open and locally relevant publications for teaching and scholarship. Gaining skills in all aspects of OER publishing help librarians and library staff add value to an institution’s open strategies by improving the usability, discoverability, and learner accessibility of OER materials (Ovadia, 2011). West (2017) notes that librarians are in a unique position to “help faculty find appropriate repositories or platforms to share their OER (textbooks and other resources)” (p. 43) and, we argue, to support faculty to develop their own OER.
Bell (2015) describes an example at Oregon State University where libraries collaborated with the university press on open textbook publishing. Under that model, faculty members supplied original or compiled works while the press offered editorial support, a peer review process, and an editorial board. Goodsett, Loomis, and Miles (2016) described a case where a university English professor had created curricular materials that were later converted to an electronic OER format by a team of library developers. The authors noted that success factors included an acknowledgment of the usefulness of project management, a need to respect the availability of staff and faculty time and using the diverse technical and information expertise of the library team (Goodsett et al., 2016). At the U of S, we currently do not have a library press, but we are exploring options for digital publishing services to meet growing demands on campus by mobilizing teams that can meet the complex challenges of digital publishing and long-term preservation and access.
One of the significant barriers to OER publishing is understanding copyright restrictions on the use and reuse of materials. Ferguson (2016) notes that bringing library expertise to OER development teams regarding copyright issues is an important factor of success. Given the changing landscape regarding copyright and acceptable use of educational materials—and the number of possible institutional areas where this responsibility may reside—leadership from the academic library is crucial when advancing OER throughout the institution.
Leadership in Teaching and Learning
An area where individual librarians can demonstrate the value of OER is in developing open curricular materials, teaching strategies, instructional designs, and assessments. Emphasizing the natural advantages of place and personnel of the academic library, Mitchell and Chu (2014) note that “librarians have a unique role as translators and mediators between content generators (faculty) and content users (students and other researchers). Libraries are positioned to provide guidance to faculty exploring alternative education materials” (p. 16). At the U of S we have seen examples of shared physical and virtual teaching spaces and relationships between librarians and instructors that have led to the adoption of OER for teaching on our campus. How these individual relationships have been a critical force in growing OER at the U of S is described in detail later in this chapter.
Academic libraries often act directly as teaching supports for faculty members. Hess, Nann, and Riddle (2016) report on an academic library that developed an online guide to OER, providing a basic introduction to the topic including best practices and design considerations. This approach could be easily adopted at the U of S and most other academic libraries that use online library guide systems (such as Springshare’s LibGuides) and, in turn, could be produced as open teaching and learning materials. Other software systems (such as SelectedWorks) can be used within a university system to develop a shared understanding of faculty research and teaching interests, leading to an ongoing, portfolio-driven discussion between faculty and librarians in the area of support for teaching (Goodsett et al., 2016).
Libraries should consider themselves one academic support unit in a network of academic support units when considering taking a leadership role for OER support. Walz (2015) describes ways to use existing relationships with faculties and departments to better understand OER audiences. This helps librarians and library staff understand what educational resources are used, authored, or assigned and identifies faculty decision-making processes, values, and requirements in order to engage effectively (Walz, 2015, p. 27). It is not difficult to imagine the number of dependencies that exist between information technology staff, teaching and learning centers, faculty groups, continuing and distance units, and the university library. Ongoing, communicative partnerships with groups and units is key to ensuring support for OER teaching and learning.
The advancement of technology-based approaches to teaching and learning will continue to be an area where academic libraries can demonstrate leadership. Publishers continue to change their business models to adapt to the sharing economy, making significant adjustments to how virtual course packs, journals, and teaching texts are licensed and used. Very few professionals in a university or college setting outside of the library will have training and capacity to remain current and engaged with these emergent issues. This is a key area where academic libraries can bring their expertise and connections to bear on the challenge of communicating problems with scholarly publishing models and the benefits of OER for students and instructors.
Leadership for OER Systems
While there are large OER repositories that house resources from multiple institutions such as the Open Textbook Network (Salem Jr., 2017; West, 2016), OER Commons (Hess et al., 2016; Salem Jr., 2017), and California Open Online Network for Education (Ferguson, 2017), many post-secondary institutions have invested in locally hosted digital repositories that can be used to support OER. Maintaining a locally hosted repository offers many benefits, including being able to control new collections and metadata schemas (Mitchell & Chu, 2014), but it also brings significant challenges. Developing and maintaining digital infrastructure to support OER creation and use at a college or university demands significant investments of time and resources in technical systems and cultivating local expertise. These costs can be significantly reduced by partnering with libraries that already maintain infrastructure required for digital repositories (Ferguson, 2017; Walz, 2015).
Goodsett et al. (2016) demonstrate that established library systems and related services can be effectively leveraged to support OER. Search and discovery systems, data storage, metadata and indexing, digital preservation, and copyright expertise, long the domain of academic libraries, make hosting OER a logical extension for traditional library services (Walz, 2015). For example, stand-alone repositories tend to struggle with sustainability and suffer from short lifespans (Hess et al., 2016). Friesen (2009) found the average lifespan of non-government-funded repository projects to be less than three years, a lifespan closely correlated with project funding cycles. Academic libraries can provide a stable place to host and access OER, mitigating serious preservation challenges that come with short-term funding and leadership from temporary project teams. Expertise and experience in preservation and access of digital information is a major strength libraries bring to OER partnerships. Libraries often already have the digital systems infrastructure and expertise in place to support a successful OER project, providing solid, ready-made platforms on which to build projects upon (Ferguson, 2017).
A common example of existing digital library infrastructure that can be utilized to support OER are institutional repositories (IRs) which can serve as the primary access point for OER produced by faculty, staff, and students (Ferguson, 2017). Salem Jr. (2017) noted that libraries are often a leading partner in the development of OER repositories. While the traditional focus of IRs has been to host electronic theses and dissertations, journal articles, and conference proceedings (Goodsett et al., 2016), their functionality and the expertise gained by developing IR technology and services can be extended to include OER. For example, Goodsett et al. (2016) described a diverse set of collections in the Cleveland State University IR that included “more than 11,000 papers in over 680 disciplines, 200 books, thirteen conferences, six e-journals, image galleries, videos, music collections, and more” (p. 336). The ability for library-hosted systems to expand to accommodate new types of digital scholarly and teaching materials, including OER, make libraries a strong center of expertise to strategically grow OER across campus.
At the U of S, we have invested in two major library-owned systems to manage digital scholarly, research and teaching materials. We have an IR for digital theses and dissertations, pre-prints, open access articles, presentations, and posters. We also have a digital asset management system that allows us to build digital collections for researchers and instructors that students can contribute to and use as OER in the classroom. In addition to digital publishing platforms and traditional library systems for discovery and access of open textbooks, these systems allow our library to meet the growing demand for technical infrastructure that makes the creation and long-term maintenance of OER possible and affordable for instructors.
In addition to hosting systems, libraries can extend systems leadership in service areas they have expertise in. Ferguson (2017) mentions developing policies and systems support for multiple versions of resources as an area where libraries can contribute to OER projects. The modular nature of OER is highly desirable and can lead to multiple versions that must be carefully managed. Libraries are centers of expertise in creating descriptive metadata and using it to describe and provide access to complex materials. They also bring deep experience in dealing with technical challenges, such as providing concurrent user access to electronic resources, software and hardware conformity for digital platforms, and accessibility of locally developed and adopted OER (Billings, Hutton, Schafer, Schweik, & Sheridan, 2012). These are challenges libraries are accustomed to dealing with when providing licensed digital content and they have developed practices to provide technical support for students. Library frontline staff often first encounter students struggling with technology issues and, thus, they are in a good position to provide support to students when adopting OER (Billings et al., 2012). Hagel, Horn, Owen, and Currie (2012) wisely cautioned that OER project leaders must be cognizant of the various levels of digital literacy students have and work to meet the needs of those who may be disadvantaged by increasing reliance on online resources. The library is a natural place to both encounter and provide help for students struggling with OER technology.
How We Got Here
From the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2018 the number of students using OER in place of commercial textbooks at the U of S skyrocketed from fewer than 50 to more than 3,500, with a total estimated savings of more than CAD$625,000 during that four-year period. This increase was the result of workshops, partnerships, tenacity, and some serendipity. The success of OER adoption and the growth of support for open access (OA) initiatives generally have been the result of grassroots efforts from many directions on campus. One of the players in this area has been the University Library.
The adoption of OA practices and initiatives in the library has been driven by individual champions of OA. In 2010, a team of librarians developed the University of Saskatchewan Librarians and Archivists Open Access Commitment (University of Saskatchewan Librarians and Archivists, 2010) which affirms that librarians and archivists at the U of S would deposit the output of their scholarly activities in our local institutional repository (eCommons@USask, n.d.) and seek to publish in open access venues. To realize the commitment made by library faculty, the U of S Library expanded its use of the IR from hosting electronic theses and dissertations to include library faculty scholarly output. In 2016, in response to demand from the campus community and new OA requirements for federal Canadian research grant recipients, the library began a pilot project to expand the availability of the IR to other colleges and departments across campus. This leadership in assisting researchers at the U of S to deposit their work in the IR provides an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of publishing resources that are freely accessible and provides the systems and support to do so.
The library has also been a proponent, although not the sole player, in OA publishing on campus, a theme that emerged in our review of the literature. One example is the University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Research Journal (USURJ), an open access, faculty peer-reviewed journal featuring original work by undergraduate students at the U of S. USURJ is published through Student Learning Services in the University Library and is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) (University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Student Research Journal, n.d.). The library has reinforced their commitment to support OA publications by including the DOAJ in the library catalog to increase the visibility of these publications to library users.
While the growth of OA support and services in the library has been the result of grassroots efforts, successes have led to increased institutional support. The U of S Library is a member of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, https://sparcopen.org/) and has included initiatives to build OA expertise and service capacity in the library in the last two strategic plans. The library is also preparing to release a position statement on OA unequivocally stating the library’s support. The OA expertise, resources, and campus-wide relationships that exist in the library make it a natural partner in the expansion of OER use on campus.
The U of S first engaged an OER approach in 2014, with what was termed a TOOC (Truly Open Online Course). The Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL), offered a face-to-face non-credit course for instructors and graduate students, Introduction to Learning Technologies, while simultaneously registering worldwide participants via a Google Form where they could provide the link for the blog they would use for assignments. They also could follow the course on Twitter, via a Facebook group, or via a Google Community. More than 300 participants signed up for this open course. All course resources carried Creative Commons licenses and were posted to a WordPress site. While this course progressed, the provincial governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia signed a three-year memorandum of understanding agreeing to:
- Through an efficient and effective process, facilitate cooperation between the Participants in the sharing and development of Open Education Resources;
- Identify, share and encourage the use of best practices in Open Education Resources among the Participants; and
- Through the best use of technology for students, faculty and administrators, foster greater collaboration and understanding of key issues and trends in Open Education Resources between and among post-secondary institutions in the Participant’s jurisdictions. (Saskatchewan Government OER MOU, 2014)
The following year, the TOOC was offered again, but through the Canvas Network (all materials continued to carry Creative Commons licenses and the WordPress site was updated to align with the Canvas course) with more than 1,200 participants. Both offerings were supported by the Vice Provost Teaching and Learning (VPTL), whose portfolio includes the teaching and learning center. In early 2015, the university also launched a TOOC on Circumpolar Innovation through the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development in consultation with the GMCTL. This course received development funding from the U of S Curriculum Innovation Fund. However, as can happen with open courses, participation and interest in the open courses dropped off and the university decided that this was not the model to move open forward at the institution.
In 2014, the GMCTL began considering ways to encourage instructors to adopt open textbooks. The use of open textbooks to lower student costs had been part of the campaign platform of the president of the U of S Undergraduate Student Association, but no U of S courses were using these resources yet. During this time, much was being done with open textbooks in British Columbia, led by BCcampus, a province-wide agency that supports institutions of higher education in the areas of OER and open pedagogy, curriculum sharing and development, and learning technologies.1 BCcampus had facilitated the creation of several new open textbooks and had pulled together a catalog of open textbooks available online. This work created an opportunity for the U of S to make use of these existing resources to the benefit of its students.
In the fall of 2014, a BCcampus poster describing open textbooks as an alternative to expensive commercial textbooks was placed outside of the GMCTL. This prompted a professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresource to adopt the OpenStax Principles of Economics for one of his courses with roughly 270 students enrolled. Around this same time, DeDe Dawson (science librarian and OA proponent) was approached by a professor from the chemistry department who said that he could no longer, in good conscience, ask his students to pay more than CAD$250 for the required textbook, and sought an alternative. She recommended OER, and the next term he replaced the commercial book with the open Analytical Chemistry 2.0, which he found through the BCcampus website. This single adoption benefited more than 120 students that year and created an OER champion in that professor. The librarian, long a champion of OA in the library, also became an advocate for instructors to consider OER and open pedagogy, a concept that will be discussed later in this chapter. Other librarians have since followed suit in an effort to improve both access to materials and pedagogy, thus demonstrating another theme from our review of the literature, leadership in teaching and learning.
An associate dean from the Edwards School of Business (ESB) heard about open textbooks and reached out to the GMCTL early in 2015 wondering if there might be an open resource to meet the needs of students in a course that served as an introduction to both university studies and ESB. Soon after, the associate dean and her co-instructor began adapting College Success, which was available through the Open Textbook Library through the University of Minnesota. They adapted the book as they taught the course to approximately 375 students, releasing their modified sections to students as they were completed. In the fall of 2016, their finished edition, University Success, was released publicly and soon added to the BCcampus open textbook directory. This project was supported through funding from the U of S and instructional design support from the distance education unit (DEU).
Late in 2015, the Saskatchewan government announced CAD$250,000 in funding to be shared equally between the three major post-secondary institutions in the province—the University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic—to create open textbooks and other OER. At the U of S the VPTL was tasked with administering the funding. A small OER advisory group was formed consisting of the VPTL, the GMCTL director, and the educational developer who had thus far led the OER initiative. In addition, four faculty members, including the professors who had adopted open textbooks in agriculture and chemistry, and the associate dean from the ESB who had completed the adaptation, provided the instructor perspective as members of this group. The teaching and learning center was given the role of assisting faculty in completing applications and providing ongoing support while the professors made up the review committee.
The GMCTL, after conversations with educational developers working with OER at BCcampus, brought on board the DEU at the U of S to do ongoing work with faculty on the development of the open textbooks. The DEU provided instructional design expertise and were the initial hosts of the university’s Pressbooks installation. The new textbooks were for specific topics that did not yet have existing open textbooks, such as engineering, economics, and human geography.
By the 2015–16 academic year approximately 900 U of S students were enrolled in courses using open textbooks. The provincial government announced a second year of funding and the GMCTL began offering regular workshops on the creation, adaptation, and integration of OER to raise awareness and encourage instructors to apply for funding. By the summer of 2016 five open textbooks were in production at the U of S, including books in geography, biology, and engineering economics. In addition, an instructor was provided with funding to create a test bank to facilitate her adoption of Introduction to Sociology—2nd Canadian Edition from BCcampus.
In the spirit of the memorandum of understanding signed by Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, the Canada OER Group was formed. This community of educational developers and librarians working with OER in higher education in Canada began meeting virtually to share updates about current projects, opportunities for collaboration, and ideas about promotion and integration of OER. While it initially consisted of members in the three most western provinces, the group soon grew to include representatives from institutions across the country.
During the 2016–17 academic year the number of students enrolled in courses using open textbooks at the U of S grew to more than 2,700, with OER replacing commercial textbooks in 23 courses. The conversations at the institution around OER began to shift toward the idea of open pedagogy, using the flexibility of OER to engage students instead of simply replacing commercial textbooks with free textbooks. Instructional designers from the DEU and educational developers from the GMCTL shared ideas about this potential with instructors, including through the annual Course Design Institute, and we discovered several instructors were already doing it without knowing what it was called. For example, an instructor in astronomy had students post undergraduate research findings on an open WordPress site for future course participants and students at other institutions. Concurrently, a professor in the College of Law gave students the option of either writing a traditional paper or editing Wikipedia articles on topics covered in the course.
With the sizeable increase in the adoption of open textbooks for the 2016–17 academic year, the GMCTL began surveying students in courses using open textbooks to gather their opinions about the specific books being used. Those results are pending. In addition, they looked at one particular course where the instructor had previously taught sections without the open textbook. For that course, they compared student marks, which stayed the same compared to previous sections where the commercial textbook was used, while the percentage of students who completed the course increased.
In early 2017, the university appointed a new University Library Dean who arrived with experience working with and enthusiasm for OER. She joined the U of S OER advisory group just as that group was finalizing an institutional OER and open pedagogy strategy. Adaptations of two more textbooks on geology and physics went into production around the same time, and the GMCTL, library, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) unit began planning for an institutional OER repository (the third theme from the literature review, leadership for OER systems). Finally, the educational developer leading the OER initiative also began having targeted conversations with subject area librarians in an effort to enable them to serve as advocates and supports for OER across the institution. We offer the following table as a means of summarizing the partnerships around the institution relating to OER:
Table 1. OER Functions with Responsible Units/Groups
4 Faculty instructors from 4 colleges
U of S Students’ Union
Discovery & access
ICT (Pressbooks, IR)
What’s Next at the University of Saskatchewan
Based upon our collective experience to date and the direction suggested by the university’s planning documents, we see the future of library leadership for OER manifesting in the following ways:
- Leadership in OA publishing: Investigating how the library, instructional designers, and other educational developers could turn existing or future curated digital projects into OER (see example from Mitchell & Chu, 2014).
- Leadership in teaching and learning: Leveraging relationships between subject librarians and instructors to encourage the adoption of OER, Creative Commons licensing, and open pedagogy.
- Leadership for OER systems: Providing systems support (e.g., Islandora, DSpace, eCommons) and developing a service model to support locally developed OER and OA publishing and to ensure robust preservation and access for these materials.
In addition to the areas for leadership identified in our literature review, the OER advisory group and all proponents in the library and across campus can continue to grow the adoption of OER in the following ways:
- Continuing broad membership representation and activity on the OER advisory group.
- Providing targeted professional development training for librarians and other OER support groups on campus.
- Educating and helping students to advocate to their professors in support of OER.
- Widening overall institutional adoption by moving from strictly a grassroots approach to an approach where the integration of OER and open pedagogy increasingly gets on the agendas and planning cycles of academic and administrative university units.
Our Next Investment: Adaptations, Ancillary Resources and Open Pedagogy
There is a significant opportunity for the U of S to build upon the existing success of our OER initiative by focusing future efforts on not only adoption of existing OER, but also on adapting existing OER, including open textbooks, and creating needed ancillary resources (e.g. test bank questions, which are frequently provided by publishers when instructors require students to purchase a commercial textbook). These approaches are more cost-effective than creating entirely new open textbooks and allow the institution to stretch limited resources to benefit more students.
Increasing the number of adaptations and the utilization of open pedagogy will also allow for supporting other institutional priorities and building partnerships with the leaders of those initiatives across campus. For example, customizing an open textbook or having students conduct and openly share undergraduate research as part of the integration of indigenization and internationalization at the U of S would help meet demands for instructional resources needed for those priorities, while also improving the learning experience and outcomes for students.
The use of OER and open pedagogy improves student access to learning materials and allows for resources to be adapted to meet local needs and priorities. The monetary savings to students at the U of S in the past four years by using OER is considerable, while opportunities to improve pedagogy and build upon other university initiatives with these materials and learning methods is clear.
The OER initiative at the University of Saskatchewan has been successful in large part due to the partnerships across the institution between the library, teaching and learning center, distance education unit, media production, and ICT. The role of librarians, educational developers, instructional designers, and instructors as passionate champions has been key in raising awareness and supporting the development and adaptation of OER, as well as introducing the concept of open pedagogy at the U of S.
Librarians across the institution are now well positioned to take on a greater leadership position in the areas of OER publishing, teaching and learning, and systems to move the OER and open pedagogy initiative forward.
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