Creating and Publishing Openly Licensed/Open Access Content

Chapter 25 – Affordable Learning Engagement and Publishing Strategies: Empowering Opportunities for Open-Access Publishing

Kyle Morgan

by Kyle Morgan, Humboldt State University (bio)


As shown by a current $1.4 trillion in student loan debt (Experian, 2017), the affordability of a college education is one of the most crucial needs for students and the future of higher education. An increasing amount of that debt comes from textbook costs, which rose 812% from 1977 to 2012 (Perry, 2012). Studies by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and the Student PIRGs (Senack, 2014), the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) Textbook Affordability Workgroup of Oregon (2015), Florida Virtual Campus (2016), and VitalSource Technologies (2017) have reported the deleterious effects on student success when students are not able to buy required textbooks.

Humboldt State University (HSU) Library has worked to address this issue by encouraging the replacement of commercially produced textbooks with open educational resources (OERs). The UNESCO website (2017) defines OERs as follows:

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.

As part of this campaign, HSU Press has encouraged faculty and lecturers to develop their own OER textbooks to address gaps in current OER offerings. This chapter describes the efforts of Humboldt State University Press to develop OER textbooks, including:

A grant project to directly incentivize authors to publish open-access textbooks.

  • Collaboration in a grant project to incentivize faculty and lecturers to attend OER adoption seminars.
  • Collaboration in a grant project to incentivize departments to redesign their courses and adopt OERs.
  • Collaborations with faculty to publish student-authored open-access works.

This chapter addresses the benefits and drawbacks of each effort as they pertain to our university, including the use of incentives and publishing as a transformational pedagogical tool. It also discusses the challenge of maintaining OER production, and the value of adopting a broader open access publishing model. In the context of HSU Press, open access refers to content—including educational material, scholarship, research, and creative works—that has been made available for free download and re-use under a Creative Commons license.

Publishing through open access supports the mission of libraries to facilitate the equitable dissemination of knowledge to all people. Open access publishing services also support the HSU campus community by creating and empowering campus authors, providing experiential learning opportunities, developing community outreach, and facilitating the university’s social justice mission. These successes not only justify the services of an open-access press, but allow for continued OER conversations and development on campus.

Getting Started

HSU is a small public rural college in the California State University (CSU) system. It is located on California’s isolated northern coast, and enrolls more than 8,000 students.

In 2014, HSU hired a new Library Dean with experience in library publishing. In 2015, he launched HSU Press as a service of the library to publish high-quality, open-access scholarly, intellectual, and creative works by or in support of the HSU campus community. In alignment with the university’s mission statement, the press set forth a vision to be a sustainable, academic-friendly publisher that will positively affect the human condition, the environment, and our community.

In 2015–2016, the Library Dean successfully applied for two grant initiatives to support the library’s efforts to encourage the adoption and development of OERs on campus. In July, 2016, the library hired a Scholarly Communications Librarian, a new position with responsibility over HSU Press and OER-related projects. Two months later, a negotiation with the Graduate Studies office transferred funding to the library for two student assistants to manage thesis and project sign-offs and conduct accessibility and format reviews. When not working on theses and projects, the students could assist with copyediting, typesetting, design, and marketing for HSU Press, as well as with general scholarly communications-related work.

HSU Press has published five titles through BePress’ Digital Commons platform, with three manuscripts in current development, six additional manuscripts scheduled for 2018–2019, and ten proposals under active discussion. It has also facilitated the hosting of seven journals and assisted with the digitization and posting of out-of-print publications and yearbooks. HSU Press works with Omeka, Digital Commons, and Humboldt Digital Scholar to facilitate digital humanities projects and to preserve and provide access to videos, research posters, research data, audio, photographs and other digital objects.

Open Textbook Incentives

HSU Library received grant funding from the CSU Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) program to incentivize the creation of open-access textbooks. As part of the grant, the newly created HSU Press offered authors $1,500 compensation for accepted proposals and provided peer review, copy editing, design, typesetting, local marketing, and assistance creating a print-on-demand account. This grant was envisioned as a way to launch a new press of open-access textbooks and to establish another approach to lowering textbook costs at the university and across higher education.

HSU Press promoted the offering across the campus’ weekly notice boards, sent flyers and information to campus deans and department chairs, and distributed information to deans on other CSU campuses. A preference for textbooks that could be published by the next year led us to favor manuscripts already in development and smaller works that could be created within the abbreviated time frame.

HSU Press received and accepted two viable textbook proposals. The first, To Catch the Rain, was a cross-disciplinary, academic approach towards building low-cost rainwater catchment systems. The proposed textbook would borrow extensively from a wiki-type collaborative space, Appropedia, that only permitted reuse under a Creative Commons license. The second proposal was a textbook on exercise physiology that overturned traditional wisdom on the topic. Already in completed draft form, the book faced a difficult publication path through traditional textbook publishers because of its challenge to existing paradigms. For both of these projects, our press provided the most promising path to publication.

The limited number of viable proposals made us question whether our author incentive was too low. Textbook publishing has been built on a certain level of compensation for the expertise and labors of academics, a level well-known to educational authors. One faculty member who contacted me, and ultimately declined to submit, commented that while he supported publishing in open access, the $1,500 stipend paled in comparison to the compensation he would receive submitting his manuscript to a traditional textbook publisher. This was but one conversation, but it is not hard to imagine his perception being shared by other academics.

Kortemeyer (2013) noted that higher educational faculty need to have an understanding of the OER ideology before they can be convinced to contribute teaching materials. Wiley (2015) talked about this as “evangelism work:” the need to persuade faculty to accept the religion of open-access before creation and sharing can occur. Indeed, both authors who published with us had enrolled in three-hour workshops on OER adoption and authoring (see next section for details). Perhaps this introduction helped convince these authors to embrace open access and accept less compensation for their work.

In hindsight, this project raised questions as to whether incentivizing OER authors was the best path for HSU Press. In hindsight, this project raised questions as to whether incentivizing OER authors was the best path for HSU Press. Said another way, were the options of low compensation and no compensation viewed as equal in the minds of prospective authors? Furthermore, did the incentivized program hinder HSU Press’ ability in the long run to encourage the creation of OER textbooks? Would we have been better off simply announcing HSU Press as a social justice, open-access press working towards publishing OERs for the public good—a messaging and pathway we could sustain—and not trying to compete in the unsustainable compensation model of traditional publishers?

In the book Drive (2011), Pink discusses the experiments of Russian economist Anton Suvorov on compensation and its effects.

By offering a reward, a principal signals to the agent that the task is undesirable. (If the task were desirable, the agent wouldn’t need a prod.) But that initial signal, and the reward that goes with it, forces the principal onto a path that’s difficult to leave. Offer too small a reward and the agent won’t comply. But offer a reward that’s enticing enough to get the agent to act the first time, and the principal is “doomed to give it again in the second.” There’s no going back. -Pink, Drive, pg. 52

Textbook creation is more involved than the simple tasks Suvorov used in his experiment, and the tradition of paying faculty for their educational offerings was established long before HSU Press came along. Still, I was troubled that stipends themselves, rather than their goals, were the focus of most conversations I had about the project. When two faculty who approached me after the deadline learned that the stipend was no longer available, neither took me up on my offer to review their proposals anyway.

These interactions also suggest the limitations with short-term, grant-funded work. If the press had been able to sustain the incentives, even in that reduced amount, could we have produced two more publications and built on the success for more in the future?  Extended messaging and the showcasing of successes could only have helped our call for OER submissions. Perhaps potential authors just needed time to come around to the conceptual change of open-access publishing.

Regardless, it is essential for new OER publishers like HSU Press to consider the benefits and consequences of operating within an incentive-driven publishing model. HSU Press received this grant in part because we proposed a recognizable academic model of author compensation. We announced our press and project using this model, thereby legitimizing our new press, brand, and services. By adopting this model, however, we also reinforced a long-adopted practice of judging publishing opportunities by the compensation provided, so perhaps we should not be surprised that the press received viable proposals only from authors who could not take advantage of traditional and more lucrative publishing opportunities.

The incentivized book project did create one positive result: as of Spring, 2018, we are readying for the open-access release of To Catch the Rain. The author has already been using his notes and manuscript drafts in two upper division classes, accounting for an over $2,000 in student savings. In addition, the author launched a prepublication kickstarter campaign that raised over $12,000 to support translating the book into multiple languages. The cross-disciplinary and non-academic language that may limit its broad adoption as an OER may ultimately make it an uniquely valuable resource to communities worldwide that are working to harvest clean, drinkable water.

Incentives have their value. We are indebted to those who have sustained the production of OERs through competitive incentives; they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings at our university alone. But for a small rural state college with limited resources, we decided that, moving forward, we needed a different model of encouraging OER production. The next section addresses an alternate incentivized model to encourage and facilitate the creation of OER textbooks.

Adoption to Authoring: The Faculty Training Approach

Across the 2016–2017 academic year, grant funding from CSU’s Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) provided faculty $300 stipends to attend a three-hour, hands-on Sustainable Learning Workshop to learn about, explore, and evaluate OERs. A team of five librarians, including the Library Dean, held multiple sessions to introduce more than 80 faculty participants to Creative Commons and OER concepts, online sources of OER content, ebook and library resources, and OER development.

The workshop began with a quick discussion of goals and an introduction to concepts, then moved into a one-hour, hands-on exploration of three popular sources for OER content: the Open Textbook Library, OER Commons, and Merlot, CSU’s own OER repository. Each faculty member then chose an OER resource to evaluate, and spent 15 minutes answering evaluative questions based on a rubric designed by BCOER librarians (BCOER, 2015). The second half of the workshop addressed alternatives if faculty found no perfect OER resource: using library resources such as ebooks and articles, editing an existing OER, or creating an OER. The librarians also highlighted ways to improve student engagement and classroom relevance by including students in the process of creating an OER.

The Library Dean and I led the 15-minute section on open-access authoring, addressing both how to create and publish OERs and how to integrate students in the process. We showcased a class that had used such an approach, highlighting the impact on classroom relevance and student engagement, and providing a step-by-step recipe of how publishing could be applied in the classroom (see next section for more details).

After participating in a workshop, four faculty approached HSU Press with proposals for open licensed works. Two have been accepted and are scheduled for peer review and publication in 2018–2019. One will be implemented in the classroom, first as an OER tailored to a specific HSU course, and then, with modifications, as a broadly applicable open textbook.

The impact of the OER workshops is illustrated by the growing number of HSU courses now offering OERs. The impact of the workshops on OER creation and publication, however, was similar to that seen with the grant directly incentivizing authors. Perhaps we would have received more proposals had the class been focused on authoring or if we had addressed authoring earlier in the workshop. The authoring section fit logically at the end of the workshop, but after more than two hours, faculty might not have been as fully engaged in the 15-minute lecture as they would have at the beginning of the session.

The workshops exposed both faculty members and my cohort of librarians to the methods and value of OER authoring. Still, the workshops brought many positives. The collaboration allowed the librarians to pool our resources and collective knowledge and provide an impactful learning experience that changed hearts and minds about OERs. The workshops exposed both faculty members and my cohort of librarians to the methods and value of OER authoring. They also allowed me to spread the word about HSU Press, to detail our support services, to better brand the press as a social justice, open-access publisher, and to show how open-access authoring helps fulfill HSU’s social justice mission and contribute to the public good. And, ultimately, the workshops started conversations on OERs and open-access authoring that centered not on compensation, but on authoring works that could impact the classroom and/or the world.

Once the workshop ended, most participants went their separate ways and did not communicate again. However, the few workshops attended by more than one member of a particular department sparked conversations pointing to the possibility of future discussions. We talked about how we could develop our sessions to encourage more of these discussions outside the workshops to facilitate the adoption and creation of OERs.

Adoption to Authoring: The Department Training Approach

In the new Director of Academic Technology, the Library Dean found a collaborative partner. Seeing an additional benefit of OER adoption for course redevelopment, the two collaborated on a grant from the AL$ and Course Redesign with Technology/Quality Assurance (CRT/QA) to work with selected departments to encourage OER adoption and improve course design. The joint grant offered $5,000 to departments and $300 to individual faculty to participate in a multi-week training session, which included an introductory meeting to discuss goals; a targeted two-hour version of our Sustainable Learning Workshop to locate and evaluate affordable textbooks in their field; a facilitated, asynchronous, two-week online training course focused on course redesign; and a follow-up meeting to discuss progress and future goals.

Weller (2014), Langem (2014), Wiley (2015), and Blascheke (2016) noted a variety of individual, organizational, and audience-specific motivations that may be at play in adopting OERs. Even this initiative, with its specific audience of faculty and lecturers within a campus department, spoke to differing interests and goals. The library addressed this by researching OER options for each course taught by the participating faculty in advance of the workshop. By providing a specialized OER list to each participating member, we were able to condense the hands-on OER search portion of the workshop, shorten the entire workshop, and give more focus during the sessions to evaluation, implementation, and authoring.

Striving to improve the messaging of our previous workshops, we tailored a variety of messages and deliverables to engage differing interests and learning styles. Over the course of the workshop, we presented faculty with research data, visuals, and personal stories to touch on how OER adoption could improve student success, student retention, class design, and even the profile of the course or department. To align with the social justice mission statement of HSU Press and the university, we developed a social justice narrative based on unequal access to resources.. And we showcased the following workflow on how to incorporate students into the developmental process.

  1. Organize the class into teams, assign textbook topics, and set goals and deadlines.
  2. Direct the teams to build resource lists and bibliographies. Test students for content knowledge.
  3. Use Google Drive for the creation and curation of content. Weekly team presentations can help monitor progress and allow for peer advice.
  4. Have teams review each other’s finals drafts using a predefined rubric. Allow teams time to integrate edits and resubmit for final grading.
  5. If needed, revise and refine across multiple courses or internships, then publish with HSU Press.

Wiley (2015) mentioned that Lumen moved from encouraging adoption from individual faculty to supporting faculty groups. We noted many advantages with this strategy, especially with a department focus. The departmental dynamic allowed us to discuss the potential for a zero-cost degree program and the associated benefits in student impact, departmental marketing, and student recruitment. It also improved the learning community environment that had been largely absent in the previous workshops. For example, when faculty discussed implementing or developing OERs in this version of the Sustainable Learning Workshop, their department peers chimed in with subject knowledge advice and support. The two-week online course facilitated and rewarded continued discussions on course redesign and OER implementation. In addition, those conversations continued outside of the trainings as the faculty worked to implement OERs and redesign their specific courses.

Cox (2004) noted how, through faculty learning communities, “results can be obtained faster, more efficiently, and with greater insights when shared with supportive and inventive colleagues.” Indeed, at our wrap-up meeting, faculty noted these exact advantages of completing the workshop as a department. The workshop brought faculty together around a common cause and created a support system for expedited OER implementation and course redesign. Faculty familiarity with their colleagues’ courses and areas of expertise facilitated improved discovery of OER options and greater sharing of resources.

The greater depth of conversation among librarians, instructional designers, and faculty across multiple meetings made this incentivized grant project the most positive to date. All five department participants implemented OERs in their classrooms. Two are collaborating to create an OER textbook, while a third is implementing an online OER resource. The five faculty also have shared their experiences and knowledge with the remaining department faculty, and have devised a plan for a degree pathway that includes a zero-cost textbook program.

At the end of the 2018 academic year, the faculty will present their experiences and results to the HSU campus community. Hopefully, their success will motivate other campus departments and provide a foundation for future discussions on OER adoption and creation. The project has certainly provided library and academic technologies staff with a direction for future collaborative projects and incentivized grant initiatives.

Publishing as Pedagogy

Not all OER textbook or openly licensed projects on campus have come to HSU Press as a result of incentives or, in fact, from any targeted initiative on our part. Some OER authors have responded to our outreach efforts with new proposals, already formulated plans, or, in some cases, completed drafts. Perhaps because they have been developed outside of the control or direction of HSU Press, these projects have been some of the most informative in shaping my perception on how OERs might be created and valued at our university.

Two such projects involved faculty who approached HSU Press to publish openly-licensed works created by their students. Because I had bought into the model of compensating academic experts for the creation of educational works, I was skeptical about the ultimate value of these projects. Through the course of working on both projects, however, the faculty and students changed my view of the full impact of OERs. These projects demonstrated not only the value of using publishing as pedagogy to transform the classroom and the student experience, but the value of student-produced OERs.

Publishing as pedagogy—a term borrowed from Hicks’ (2017) discussion of leveraging student authoring as a transformative classroom practice—comprises one of the most impactful opportunities of OERs. Student-produced OERs tap into what Herrington (2014) describes as the authentic learning experiences that “place learners in the context of real-world experiences and challenges.” In addition to student engagement in these real-world assignments, the end products are OERs that are well-aligned with students’ mindset and cultural vocabulary.

Case Study #1: Communication Study Textbook

In 2009, two faculty members wrote and published an open-access textbook in Wikibooks for an introductory course to Communication Study. They posted the work hoping that other faculty who used the book would contribute to and update the text. When this did not happen, the authors saw an opportunity to involve students.

We have increasingly moved our pedagogy in our courses to move beyond what we call “the audience of one.” Traditional classroom models are set up in such a way that professors give students assignments, students complete the assignments, the professors grade them, then give them back to the students. The only audience that encounters the students’ work are their professors—an audience of one. We have found that when we create assignments that are written for the public, the motivation and work of our students rises dramatically.

Given the move to go beyond the audience of one for our students, it occurred to us that our open source textbook would be a perfect fit as a class project for our students. Thus, we developed our senior Communication Capstone course in such a way that our senior Communication students would be the editors of the “second edition” of Survey of Communication Study.

–Paynton and Hahn, Survey of Communication Study, “Preface”


By Fall, 2017, one of the faculty members was again teaching the capstone course and decided to put his students to the test of updating the book. He invited me to support the process through an instruction session on copyright and plagiarism, and also to visit the class periodically and witness the process over the course of the semester.

Tapping into their learning over the past years, the students identified evidence of communications theory at play in today’s world, then adapted and integrated that content into the textbook. Some of the content was original information, such as communication theory in social media. Other content involved the replacement of outdated examples and the addition of new ones, such as how communication theory has been at play in football player protests.

Each week, class groups presented on their topics and progress. The content and examples reflected the particular interest and knowledge-base of the students, with limited instructor input. A group working on social media communication, for example, did not choose the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election as an illustrative example, but instead delved into suicide postings on Facebook. The end result was an academic textbook illustrated with examples most pertinent to today’s students.

Besides creating a resource for students and by students, student activity and engagement demonstrated the pedagogical power of student publishing projects. As each group presented, other students chimed in, providing support for their work and guidance on areas for improvement. The faculty member focused on facilitation and commented when appropriate, but, most importantly, listened and learned through the process. When students recommended referencing a Friends television episode as an illustrative example, for instance, the faculty member and I learned something about the students’ cultural vocabulary and what would be relevant and interesting to those using this textbook.

By adopting publishing as pedagogy instead of the traditional lecturer-as-expert model, the faculty member transformed the class from a hierarchical structure into a true learning community, one with all the associated benefits Cox (2004) describes of engagement, support, and innovation. Miller (2013) states that the real goal of faculty is to relinquish their authority and allow students to assert their agency, which is exactly what happened in this project. The student voices were not just heard but validated, and in a public, published work. Two groups that presented at the end of class mentioned the unique value of navigating an ambiguous, real-world project, and meeting that challenge with a finished product. Another spoke to their heightened engagement and how their choices for the textbook might determine which elements of history would be remembered and which forgotten. This resilience and engagement is the promise of publishing assignments.

In their book Authentic Learning Environments in Higher Education, Anthony and Jan Herrington report that the more authentic the tasks and activities, “the more students are engaged, the more they learn, and the more they retain.” The Communications class demonstrated the power of publishing as pedagogy as that authentic learning experience, with impact on student learning both for the creators of the OERs and the students who will be learning from their resource.


Case Study #2: Courageous Cuentos

Publishing as pedagogy does not need to result in a textbook to be of value to a class. HSU Press was approached by a faculty member in Fall, 2016, to publish the creative writing of students in the Chican@/Latin@ Lives and Growing Up Chicana/Latino classes from the Department of Critical Race, Gender & Sexuality Studies. Here is the synopsized origin story in the words of the instructor.

In spring 2015, students of ES 107 were expected to respond to a prompt related to the assigned readings with a freewrite at the beginning of each class…. After fifteen minutes of writing, students had the opportunity to share what they wrote with the whole class. Early into the semester, it was clear that students could not wait to write, could not wait to share, could not wait to listen to what their peers had written about their dreams and hopes, the stories they survived, and the tales they hear and tell…. [Ultimately] the students argued tenaciously, more accurately, they demanded that I help them share the stories of their lives—in their own words, in their own language(s), and importantly, in their own voice, en su propia voz—with the world.

They wanted to write for the whole world to read. They wanted their friends and family members to know—the ones who did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education—that lived experiences are factually valid knowledge…. In our class, we read stories written by accomplished and eloquent authors, by talented and creative poets, and storytellers…. The students of the Ethnic Studies 107: Chican@/Latin@ Lives class yearn to write such narratives; the kinds of stories that their professors, indeed, cannot write. We, the teachers of ES 107, wish to support their writings and publish them to boot.

-Corral-Ribordy, Courageous Cuentos, “Journal’s Genesis”

Wiley (2017) states that OER development by students increases “the diversity of voices and perspectives available for study by later students.” Indeed, even the diverse class readings by prominent Latinx authors could not speak to the multitude of lived experiences of the students in the classroom. The instructor for this class understood that works by students and for students not only expand the reservoir of voices, but resonate beyond what faculty-selected readings or lectures can achieve. Only by including student voices in class resources, by giving those voices the same value as any other—including the instructor’s—could the faculty member expose the students to the broadest range of Latinex/Chicanx experiences, and create the kind of learning community that validated every student’s authority, value, and identity.

[The student reflections] reveal the pedagogical power of creating a space for students to write/speak about their own lived experiences and the impact such process has had on their sense of self as writers, one which validates them as authorities of their own lives, and truths. [They] illustrate the potential power of this form of pedagogy to liberate the students, in the words of [student] Demetria Martínez, to name their own reality and “become a subject, not an object, in history.”
-Corral-Ribordy, Courageous Cuentos, “Introduction”

Two semesters of classes published their collective works online through HSU Press. The publication launch event drew over 50 people the first semester, and over 100 the next, and had the audience laughing, wincing, and crying along with the speakers. Students promoted the publication and event in the campus newsletter and on a local community radio show, further building on their learning experience while spreading their counternarratives far beyond those who attended the events.

The ways in which we facilitate classroom publishing projects is part of the broader issue of how we transform the tradition of lecturing experts and disposable assignments into collaborative learning communities and real-world learning experiences. Resistance to this transition, and specifically to student publishing, comes in many forms. Faculty have spoken to me about the disappointing engagement and work of their students, implicating any student creation as suspect and unworthy. Student publications cannot be fully controlled, thereby introducing unproductive, risky, or even dangerous elements to the classroom. Publishing as pedagogy requires additional faculty time for course redesign and for editing the final product, time which many faculty note they do not have (Allen and Seaman, 2016, showed this as a commonly noted barrier to OER adoption as well). These are not easy issues to address, but if we can demonstrate the benefits and promote the incredible power of student publishing for pedagogical transformation, it will expand not only the number of OER publications, but the relevance of higher education to our students.

Conclusion: Adapt, Promote, and Survive

HSU Press was launched on the back of grant-funded initiatives to encourage faculty to create and publish OERs. Each library’s situation and position will be different, but we have learned what works best within the context of our particular university environment. We will not seek further grants to directly incentivize authors for OER textbooks, as we will not be able to sustain the incentives over time, and that reality may ultimately work against our long-term efforts. Incentivizing attendance to OER workshops allowed us to pool skills and resources and have a great impact on OER adoption, but proved to be a less efficient method of encouraging OER authorship. Incentivizing departments and department faculty to complete a more involved training in both OER adoption and course redesign yielded the highest percentage of attendees both adopting and creating OERs. Based on this success, we will be pursuing more grants and collaborations to incentivize department-based initiatives.

For all these efforts, as of Spring, 2018, HSU Press has published one OER textbook. Grant projects to incentivize OER adoption have brought in two more OER textbooks for publication in 2018–2019, and a student-authored OER textbook has dropped into our publication schedule independent of any incentive. Since my start at HSU Press in the summer of 2016, the total savings to students because of my work to develop OER textbooks is a little over $2,000.

Based solely on the production of OER textbooks and the cost savings to students, this limited success does not provide a strong argument for the continued support of HSU Press or OER initiatives. This is a common problem with OER initiatives that emerge out of short-term grant projects. Both Wiley and Gurrell (2009) and Annand and Jensen (2017) comment on the challenge of OER projects surviving beyond their start-up funding. Simply surviving to continue the work is one of the big challenges facing OER development.

HSU Press has survived because of the unflinching support of the Library Dean, who has helped us weather limited textbook development, library budget cuts, and changes in university priorities. HSU Press has also adapted and found ways for the dean and the library to argue for its continued support.

The collaboration of HSU Press with librarians and instructional designers on OER adoption has had a huge impact on student expenditures. Over the past two years, the switch to more affordable classroom materials has saved HSU students more than $1 million. HSU Press has also shown value through its support of open-access journals. HSU Press manages ideaFest Journal, the peer-reviewed journal of student research and creative works on campus, co-manages the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Innovative Pedagogy journal, and helps facilitate the publication of four other open-access journals on campus.

Student-published works like Courageous Cuentos and Survey of Communication Study have shown the value of HSU Press to student learning and engagement. Student assistant, internship, and volunteer opportunities with the press have provided students real-world learning experiences in publishing and digital scholarship. Outreach and support of student-managed journals and periodicals has further integrated the press into student learning and engagement on campus.

The popularity of HSU Press across a wide swath of the campus community demonstrates broad support for our services. Authors of the manuscripts currently in development, on the 2018–2019 schedule, or in current negotiation include six retired HSU faculty, five HSU faculty/lecturers, two HSU staff, two HSU alumni, and four local community members. We have contributors and supporters from across the sciences, humanities, and professional studies departments creating works in an assortment of genres, including textbooks, manuals, poetry, fiction, reports, children’s books, biographies, and histories.

The outreach to retired faculty has been a particular boon. Our first five publications came from emeritus faculty authors, whose attendance at HSU Press events has facilitated stronger emeritus faculty connections and engagement at the university. We collect no fees from authors to support our services, yet two emeritus faculty authors have signed over their royalties from print-on-demand sales to support the work at HSU Press. Four others have donated over $2,000 to support library scholar internships for students to gain experiential knowledge and skills working with HSU Press.

HSU Press also works with people and organizations unaffiliated with the university to support and facilitate campus and community engagement. We will soon publish a children’s book illustrated by local elementary school students, with print-on-demand proceeds going to support music and arts at the school, and will be publishing student works from the Redwood Writing Project, helping promote and support this historic local writing program.

Our publishing of openly licensed works aligned with the university’s social justice mission has also helped justify the press. International diversity and reach are demonstrated by the published and soon-to-be published manuscripts, including works set in Chile, India, Vietnam, Japan, Central America, and Western Africa, addressing a broad range of issues such as rainwater catchment, community connections, cultural incursions, congressional apportionment, Native American rights, LGBTQ civil rights, and homelessness. The authors retain copyright over their creations and can republish for profit, but all so far have taken advantage of the print-on-demand opportunity to raise money and awareness for causes and foundations. Although print sales have been low (as expected with works with free digital versions), their works have been collectively downloaded or otherwise shared over 1,000 times and counting, spreading their diverse voices to the world.

Individual narratives behind the publications have helped sell the press and its services as well. One open-licensed trade publication has recently been adopted in a classroom as an OER. Another resulted in a well-attended book launch event that has ignited plans for a week-long series of civics events and a voter registration drive. Another is being translated into three languages to expand the dissemination of its beautiful story of hope and community.

Open-access publishing has a broad impact, and powerful narratives and arguments can attract and engage an audience in any environment. Because of our successes, HSU Press can continue to speak for OER production and serve to influence the creation of OER textbooks, publishing as pedagogy, and the greater social good. If we can continue to empower authors through open-access publishing and market our successes, we can, we hope, continue to convert others to OER success and continue to expand a movement.


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Author Bio:

Kyle Morgan is the Scholarly Communications and Digital Scholarship Librarian at Humboldt State University. He facilitates the publication of research, scholarly publications, and creative works at Humboldt State University Press, an academic-friendly, open-access publisher dedicated to improving the human condition, environment, and our community. He helps manages thesis and project workflows on campus and provides support and instruction on topics related to digital scholarship and publication.