OER for Information Literacy

By Carol Withers, San Diego City College

Open Educational Resources (OER) and free and low-cost textbooks are more than just buzz words. If faculty can actually produce quality low/no cost alternatives, it will surely help most every student. I am not the only librarian here at San Diego City College who has had the experience of watching students look at their cash then to the copy/print card machine and then back to their cash as they debate printing their paper or getting lunch, printing or trolley fare. Low/no-cost books would help.

I teach LIBS 101: a transferable one-unit course. There are several good books out there but the least expensive costs a few lunches or a couple months’ trolley budget. The need seemed obvious for an Information Literacy OER for our students, so we wrote one.

Spring break 2018 I wrote up my lecture notes into an annotated outline and convinced my colleges Nathan Martin and Bruce Johnson to be my critics. I had a rough draft for them by the end of April +/-. Nate took the first and major stab at the glossary. That was a bigger job than we expected. As adjuncts, they worked on it between reference questions and I was unable to have them work on it in summer.

The overarching approach:

  • keep it at the community college level
  • keep it short
  • stick with the basics assuming the content would be supplemented by the depth of the class work and assignments
  • write it as the class is taught in that it would cover transferable skills and not be San Diego City College specific
  • write it as a text book in that it does not follow my class schedule, but makes sense as a book
  • do not use a single theme or research question for all the examples in the book, but rather use a variety in hopes that variety would hold interest and/or in hope at least one might resonate with each student
  • create a title that says what it is and would be easily found by librarians as opposed to some creative title such as “It isn’t Rocket Science: what you need to know about research”

So Nate and Bruce’s job was to keep me true to our approach, make sure what I wrote made sense and basically criticize me at every turn. For example, they did not like me starting sentences with, “So.” So after I thought the text was done, I had a class set printed and bound for my fall 2018 class. Extra credit was finding errors in the text or offering meaningful comments about it. I thought students would jump at this, but I only had three participate. Two found silly mistakes I should have caught myself, but one student did offer three more terms she felt needed to be in the glossary.

Of course for the larger passages I quoted, I sought out permissions to use. One very good passage I wanted to use was out of a well-known academic journal. The author could not provide permission and sent me, of course, to the publisher. It would have taken several months to get the permission so I went a different way. I found a nice piece on a professor’s website and a little more in an interview he did with a school e-paper. They were quick to respond with permission so I used their work. When I asked for permission, I mentioned that it would be an OER and explained that the quotes might be used in other documents. I found that many of the university websites I used said they fell under the Creative Commons “Share and share alike” license. Perhaps if I had taken a sabbatical to do this, I might have pursued more difficult-to-obtain permissions. But in retrospect, for our students, I think it was a fine choice.

I applied a Creative Commons “share and share alike for noncommercial use” so all educational institutions may use it. hope you will check it out and pass it on to your colleagues. Although Bruce and Nate’s input was extensive, we do welcome yours. Let us hear from you. Here is hoping it is useful. 

Information literacy: basic research skills by Carol M. Withers. A textbook for Library 1, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License