Libraries and Open Access

If you’re attending the conference, one of the many significant, and important presentations is being given on Tuesday afternoon by Paula Callan, Danny Kingsley and Lisa Kruesi on recent developments in Open Access. Danny also had an excellent piece on this subject in The Conversation recently:

Oh, I can hear you saying that is only relevant for academic libraries. Well, not so it appears. And it isn’t me saying this. Well, I did write it just now, but the point is that Hugh Rundle, a public librarian from Victoria (a small state many of you will have heard of, well south of NSW) has today released this wonderful post Not just an academic question: Why Open Access matters for public libraries. You should read it. Read it now.

I believe that Hugh is now one of the leading thinkers with regard to libraries in Australia. The Program Committee also recognised this recently and tried to get him to do a lightning talk for the conference on a hot topic, but unfortunately he wasn’t available. I read what he writes. I don’t always agree with everything, but I think that is a good thing.

Charles Nesson & Aaron Schwartz

RIP Aaron Swartz (shown on the right) by Mike Champion on Flickr

The implications for libraries of recent global trends in open online education (Part 2)

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
With assistance from my colleagues at UTS Library and the commenters on the first part of this post, here is a listing of the implications for libraries of recent trends in open online education (such as MOOCs). These implications vary depending on whether the University is providing MOOCs or seeking to utilise the content available on them. I have tried below to account for the implications covering both of these situations.

Open Access

If MOOCs (and the like) are seen as another form of scholarly publishing, it makes sense for libraries to push for Open Access as the default standard for MOOC course materials. Protecting and extending Open Access policies and initiatives that facilitate open online education through enhanced access to Open Educational Resources will provide a far better and more accessible future for all than one in which another form of “open access” is available for a fee. (This can already be seen in the publishers using “Gold Open Access” models that are facilitated via Article/Author Processing Charges levied instead of subscription fees.) This issue is covered very well in this recent post by Timothy Vollmer


Discoverability of MOOC courses is mainly the problem of the course provider, but to date this seems not to be a problem if we look at the large numbers enrolling in some courses. Some MOOC directories already exist and some of these include rankings. It should be noted that MOOC resources are often behind registration/password walls. Lecturers seeking advice on MOOCs can always consult Librarians at their institutions for help in collaboration in finding resources for a course as is currently the case.


Equitable access for all users should be the ethical obligation and should be design in at the outset for all MOOC courses. Research shows that retroactively making material accessible is much more difficult, expensive, time consuming and a job that usually falls to libraries.

Advising on IP, Copyright and the use of licensed resources 

This primarily involves access to our existing online resources and the physical collections of the library which are governed by existing access guidelines and policies. It also involves the copyright clearance and management of course materials. It is already believed that fair-use exemptions will not hold for open courses in the US. The terms and conditions applying to many existing MOOCs also indicate that not all MOOCs should be assumed to be “Open”, so their free re-use cannot always be assumed.

Delivery of teaching & learning assistance and support 

If an institution were to offer a MOOC-type course what library involvement and support is envisaged? Our enquiries indicate limited involvement by libraries in other Australian universities providing MOOCs. Librarians should be able to work with academics to develop the courses and advise on the inclusion of appropriate scholarly resources. Librarians may need to engage more with and within these new online environments and learn the skills to create, mash, present and market content in aid of promoting the expertise and knowledge within the institution. Libraries will need to consider how to embed information literacy into “flipped” learning models, but to some extent we are already using this model with our current forms of IL being more hands-on and interactive (less lecture style).

If support is to be offered for remote courses and a massive extension of the hours is involved are collaborative arrangements between participating institutions the answer here (e.g. the Australian and NZ public libraries collaborating in virtual reference services)?

If MOOCs do lead to a major change in the delivery of a lot of higher education, it could mean that libraries need to offer more online services in terms of training, resources and digitisation of collections (where possible) – for remote and online users.

If an institution offers a MOOC course, to what extent (if any) are those enrolled in that course to be considered the same as currently enrolled university students and afforded access to the same library resources that those students pay fees for? I doubt that this will happen to any great extent.

Assistance and advice in the future as the lines between MOOC and LMS providers and publishers blur 

This seems already to be happening and libraries can offer useful advice re vendors and in negotiating with publishers for content and licenses. Publishers may also start to offer new products such as e-texts that are aimed specifically at the mass MOOC market and library staff will most likely be the best to deal with and provide this form of content to support MOOC courses.  Examples so far indicate that publishers see e-texts as revenue-saving at least or a money making opportunity at most so the issue is who pays?  For a free MOOC, they would target individuals directly rather than the university but students of a fee-paying MOOC would expect them gratis.


If some of the commentators are correct in predicting that MOOCs are likely to be the first disruptive step that changes the provision of education, then the most thoughtful and helpful initiatives are likely to be found in new forms of collaboration. Libraries have a long background in this field, nationally, internationally and across all kinds of other boundaries and we can probably build on some already existing collaborative arrangements.

One major need if higher education moves in this direction is a need for well designed and dedicated online collaboration spaces where people can easily connect with each other beyond a classroom, learning commons or a formal LMS as they exist. Maybe this kind of platform should be built into the MOOC itself?

Technology support issues 

There are some technology support issues that MOOCs raise because of their massive scale. These issues mostly concern those in institutions who provide and maintain the LMS, but the Library may also have a role to play in providing the sophisticated, extended, remote and scalable support and systems that will be required to support our initiatives. Scalability, but also reliability are major requirements. Integration of some of our online services and resources (where allowed and feasible) into MOOC platforms is another technical consideration.

Continuing to promote the relevance, value and impact of the Library and its services 

This is a competitive advantage to the University and also to its enrolled students. Those enrolling in MOOCs without being enrolled in a university will have little or no access to the wide variety of reading, reference and other special collections available from institutional libraries, beyond the course materials provided.

In addition, some libraries (like ours) are busy expanding cultural services and experiences with things like events, exhibitions, performances and art works in the Library. Should these also be offered online? The generation currently attending university is said to value experiences, so perhaps those experiences are another advantage of the campus-based university?

Mobile access

The trend now is for everything going online, but also there is an even greater trend of mobile devices outselling traditional PCs. Not only will MOOCs need to consider this, but libraries in general must do the same.

A more general consideration

Lastly, and more generally than specifically about libraries, a major issue is the amount of time and resources we invest into MOOCs and this depends on the institution’s objectives. If the courses do not account for credit, should we be focusing more on our degree/paying/enrolled students. The priority and resourcing to be allocated for the support MOOCs needs to be determined at each institution.

Videos from Shelf Life

Early in August 2012 I said we’d document Chris Gaul’s exhibition Shelf Life by video. Here are those three videos, by the very talented Dave Katague. Enjoy.

Shelf Life from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.

Library Frequency Tuner from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.

Call Number Telephone from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.

Shelf Life & The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Hi, I’m Mal Booth

I’m on the program committee for Information ONLINE 2013. Kate Davis dobbed me in. Currently we are still trying to tie down keynotes so we can tell you who they are. One thing I am allowed to say is that they’ll be different.

We’ve all been asked to keep this blog alive on a regular basis, so this is my first post. I think my theme will be posts about being a bit different. Then again, I reserve the right to change my mind at any stage.

Anywho, on with the post, so here we go, mind the step. I saw this on Zite over the last weekend and loved it:

I think it very nicely encapsulates a lot of our recent initiatives to deepen the impact of the Library within our community (at UTS). In many ways, if we are successful at this we build a more relevant institution for the future that helps to distinguish this University from the providers of online course materials. It is useful to look at some of the ideas raised by Abraham Flexner and why I think they are even more relevant in today’s fast-paced and really dynamic online world.

Here are a few quotes from the article that I found really inspiring, (but please try to read the full post):

this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism

Now I sometimes wonder whether that current has not become too strong and whether there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.

… the really great discoveries which had ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.

Institutions of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity …

Out of this useless activity there come discoveries which may well prove of infinitely more importance to the human mind and to the human spirit than the accomplishment of the useful ends for which the schools were founded.

Justification of spiritual freedom goes, however, much farther than originality whether in the realm of science or humanism, for it implies tolerance throughout the range of human dissimilarities.

Later on today (1 August) our first Artist-in-Residence, Chris Gaul, opens his Shelf Life exhibition in the DAB LAB Research Gallery. I think Abraham and Chris would get on swimmingly. Chris has helped us to understand beyond what we know, he has given us fresh new perspectives on our challenges and presented us with stimulating original ideas to encourage the curiosity of our clients.

Shelf Life displays a few concepts for very different methods of discovery as we prepare to store up to 80% of our physical collection in an underground automated retrieval system that will be adjacent to a new and relocated library on Broadway, in the middle of our redeveloped campus. Chris recognises that in this brave new environment the nature of online interfaces for exploring the collection and browsing books becomes even more relevant. Rather than being sterile and uninspiring, these interfaces can be creative, unexpected tools that encourage playful exploration and serendipitous discovery. As Chris writes:

What if you could wear a pair of headphones and wander library shelves listening to the babble of books reading themselves aloud? What if you could tune into different frequencies of books, or use their Dewey call numbers to call them on the telephone?


That’s all!

P.S. I went back and bolded the quote I used at the launch of Shelf Life. It really is amazing stuff, so if you’re in Sydney come and have a look. If not we agreed to document the three concepts by video so everyone can se how they work when used. MMB