The COVID pandemic has affected City Tech faculty, staff, and students in many ways. At the City Tech library, one concern is how to best serve students who are currently unable to access our print resources. While our online databases and ebook collections are an incredible resource, many City Tech students traditionally rely on the library to borrow course textbooks. Reserve textbook collections at City Tech are by far our highest circulating materials because many students can’t afford the expense of buying their own. [The prices of textbooks are notoriously inflated.]
This problem isn’t unique to City Tech. A recent article in Inside Higher Education (IHE) illustrates that even in academic libraries that have reopened, like the library at Roger Williams University—the small residential school profiled in this piece—librarians and students are frustrated because the demand for course reserves far exceeds the supply. According to the IHE article, “libraries that have built up print reserves of textbooks aren’t able to circulate those materials as they did before the pandemic, either because materials are being quarantined” or because library access is limited. Nicole Allen, an Open Education Resources advocate quoted in the article, notes, “the pandemic has intensified and exposed so many gaps and cracks in our society, and access to course materials is one of them…Students are struggling. So are faculty, and so are libraries.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that catching COVID-19 from a book is unlikely, but it still recommends quarantining returned books for at least 24 hours between loans. Since COVID can live on surfaces for 2-3 days, most libraries able to lend books are quarantining books for at least 72 hours to be safe. This means that students who cannot afford the high costs of buying their own textbooks can no longer rely on the library for help, even if their library has reopened. The lack of access to course reserves means many students are unable to do the assigned reading, complete homework, or study for exams.
The challenges created by COVID have been a wake-up call for many issues, in many areas of our lives. The issue of access to course materials may not be as critical as access to decent healthcare, but it is still important, especially for students doing their best to learn under extraordinary circumstances. If students are going to succeed, faculty and librarians will need to be creative and work together on solutions to make sure students have access to the materials they need to complete their course work.
One solution is to shift from the use of expensive textbooks to alternatives like Open Educational Resources (OER) and electronic material already licensed by the library. Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials freely available for everyone to use. They are typically openly-licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. Materials may consist of a complete course, course modules, assignments, tests, quizzes, textbooks, videos, etc.
To learn more about using OER and textbooks alternatives in your course, check out this guide to remote teaching resources for faculty created by City Tech librarians. City Tech also has an active project about developing OER and training faculty on their creation and use.
If you have questions about library resources, open textbooks, or fair use for sharing materials with students, subject specialist librarians are available to help. Contact the library subject specialist for your department or program with any questions about library resources and services.
Getting Started: Open Textbook Library Workshop for Faculty
When: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 from 2:30 – 4, virtually
RSVP to: Joanna Thompson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Join a workshop about the Open Textbook Library, “a catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks” developed at the University of Minnesota. Other topics will include: an introduction to Open Educational Resources (O.E.R.), and how to find openly-licensed resources in your field. Participants are encouraged to bring questions, and no level of familiarity with O.E.R. is required. A $250 stipend is available for faculty who complete a review of an openly-licensed textbook.