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“SPROWT” Regional OER Group

October 30, 2019

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of visiting Penn State Berks (Reading) for the first time to attend a newly developed collaboration known informally as “SPROWT” – the Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Open Working Team. Representing the Rothrock Library at Lehigh Carbon Community College (Schnecksville), I met with many other fine librarians in the region who are interested in pushing the topic of Open Educational Resources, or OER. There is no disagreement that the rising costs of textbooks and other course materials have urged institutes of higher learning to explore other options and to increasingly put pressure on publishers to allow open access to their resources. This immediately hit a nerve with me because I was the textbook specialist and buyer at Northampton Community College (Bethlehem) for nearly seven years, and I witnessed first-hand the financial struggles of students who literally had to make the choice not to take a particular course because they could not afford the required materials.

Orchestrated in part by Corey Wetherington, the Open and Affordable Course Content Coordinator at the Penn State Berks library, “SPROWT” aims to unite colleges in the surrounding neighborhoods: Kutztown University, Muhlenburg College, Lafayette College, Franklin & Marshall College, Lehigh University, Millersville University, Reading Area Community College, Cedar Crest College, Bucks County Community College, Penn State Lehigh Valley, and Lehigh Carbon Community College. We had our initial meeting on October 16th, where we got to introduce ourselves and brainstorm ideas on how we would like to share resources and approach the topic of OER. We would like to meet two or three times a year; once in the fall semester, once in the spring semester, and possibly over the summer if our schedules allow for it.

After being fed a delicious lunch (eggplant parmesan!), we discussed the obstacles we face in the library profession when it comes to overcoming the hurdle of closed textbooks for our students, who are often struggling to afford just the tuition, let alone plunking down another $200 on one textbook for one course. We agreed on how we would communicate with one another and decided on Google Drive. As we look forward to planning our next meeting in April at Kutztown University, we are ready to delve into OER by reaching out to faculty and department heads to get a feel of the course materials already in use, and if any of those textbooks are open access. Using Google Drive, we can then share those titles which are open access with the other members of “SPROWT,” thereby providing a valuable service to the students in this region.

Personally, I do feel a little over my head with this project. As the interlibrary loan librarian, I am more interested in open access to academic journals which sometimes prevent me from fulfilling a student’s request for an article. While we do get a few students in our library each semester asking us if we carry a textbook for a course which they are currently taking, we really do not have the pressure to offer open access as much as, say, a four-year university. Another setback for me is that our college relies heavily on adjunct instructors, so it might prove difficult to get in touch with faculty and to get them to all agree on an open access resource. However, I am committed to finding affordable solutions to the textbook dilemma for our students.

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