Creating and Publishing Openly Licensed/Open Access Content

Chapter 26 – Libraries and Open Educational Resources (OERs): How Libraries Can Use Networks to Support Open Access Textbook Publishing

Kate Pitcher

by Kate Pitcher, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (bio)


The networked approach I describe in this chapter uses the Open SUNY Textbooks (OST) program at the State University of New York (SUNY) as a service model and hub for adopting, adapting, and creating content. OST grew from a grant program into a service model supported by SUNY system administration and campus libraries, and by SUNY Geneseo in particular. Its goal is to develop a networked approach to supporting the development of open educational resources (OERs), along with the more traditional publishing models of copy editing, peer review, and print­-on­-demand production.

In collaboration with specialty OER communities of practice (CoP), OST funds campus incentive programs to encourage SUNY faculty to adopt, adapt, and create OERs that can be shared via the OST platform. The sustainability of the services will depend on the development of a fee structure and membership model for participating institutions. The result will be a service model called SUNY OER Services, part of the framework for developing an open access publishing infrastructure for SUNY faculty who want to publish using alternative models and methods.

This chapter is a case study of how libraries in one university system are developing a networked approach to overcome the challenges and roadblocks of using OERs in higher education, and working to create a sustainable system to encourage and facilitate the wide-scale adoption, creation, and distribution of openly licensed textbook and course materials.

This chapter is a case study of how libraries in one university system are developing a networked approach to overcome the challenges and roadblocks of using OERs in higher education, and working to create a sustainable system to encourage and facilitate the wide-scale adoption, creation, and distribution of openly licensed textbook and course materials.

In this chapter I review the skills, processes, and structures needed to set up a system for improved delivery of OER services and support. I also discuss our efforts to establish a faculty incentive program for publishing openly-licensed textbooks, our program to support broader faculty adoption of OERs, and the mechanisms we’ve used to develop CoPs to support information sharing and knowledge transfer among librarians, instructional designers, and faculty.

The Babson Survey Research Group’s 2016 report on OERs in higher education reinforces commonly held assumptions about faculty behavior related to OERs: faculty cite discoverability (48%) and applicability to course content (49%) as two major barriers to OER adoption[1]. Libraries have been developing new services and models to support faculty in adopting and creating OERs. Some library services include programming to educate students and faculty about open access, copyright, licensing, and using OERs as alternatives to costly textbooks. Libraries also support faculty through consultations, interviews, instruction sessions, and pathfinders and research guides.

Developing services and functionality around the discovery, adaptation, and customization of OER content and platforms is a new service model for libraries. Challenges include the development of systems to curate OER content across disparate platforms, adapt it for reuse in different forms, and customize it for faculty use. Supporting faculty curricular needs and formats with new services means that libraries must systematically re-organize job functions and organizational capacity. This is by no means an easy or quick task.

SUNY is one of the largest public university systems in the country, with 64 campuses and hundreds of libraries. The system is comprised of two-year community colleges, technical colleges, four-year comprehensives, specialty institutions, and doctoral-granting university centers. With over 440,000 students enrolled in SUNY programs and over 90,000 employed faculty and staff[2] across the state, the system can most effectively leverage “systemness” at scale with opportunities like OERs, using coordinated, networked approaches to facilitating professional development, CoPs and platform hosting for content.

In our model, OST supports instructional designers and librarians who work with faculty to evaluate courses and the possibility of transitioning to the use of OERs. Once a faculty member has assessed a course’s needs and drawn up a plan, he or she is given access to OST’s authoring platform. After the material has been mixed or created, OST provides support for standardization of format, copy editing, and peer review (if the material is newly created) through a network of SUNY faculty and librarians.

Challenges to this model include gaining buy-in from library and campus stakeholders, engaging faculty, and developing key relationships with campus and systemwide business officers and administration. Communication, training, and the realignment of services and infrastructure to support these new models of instructional resource support are challenging as well.

Getting Started

OER Creation and Faculty Incentive Grants

The OST program began in 2012 when SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library and several partner libraries received a SUNY Innovative Instructional Technology Grant (IITG), a competitive award distributed by system administration to incentivize SUNY faculty and staff to develop innovative course designs and prototype new instructional models and systems. The grants are awarded at three levels, with funding capped at an upper level of $60,000 per proposal. Geneseo was awarded a Tier 2 grant of $20,000 to fund the development of an openly-licensed publishing model to incentivize SUNY faculty to create OERs, specifically textbooks. The pilot project had three goals:

  1. Reduce textbook costs for SUNY students.
  2. Reduce barriers for faculty who want to experiment and use new academic publishing models.
  3. Develop a library publishing infrastructure to support openly-licensed textbook publishing.

We issued an initial call for textbook authors across all SUNY system campuses, and received 38 proposals—a high number, which may be attributed to several factors. Faculty identified the monetary incentive—$3,000 upon completion of the manuscript—as a significant attraction. They were also encouraged and highly motivated by seeing copy editing and peer review support written into the proposal process, as this reinforced the scholarly publishing model. And while librarians sparked much of the campus interest and helped motivate faculty to submit proposals, provosts and vice presidents widely shared the call as well, ensuring overall campus support.

Since this was a system-wide effort, a selection committee of library directors initially evaluated the proposals. Applications were organized by textbook subject areas, broadly classified into English and foreign languages; computer science, math, and philosophy; anthropology, art, and music; education; business and economics; and all other sciences. Directors with interest or subject expertise as librarian or practitioner volunteered to review proposals. Four were identified as the most promising, and selected for inclusion. Additionally, four partner libraries contributed an extra $40,000 to publish an additional 11 books, allowing us to select 15 proposals.

The grant money was used to fund author incentives, at $3,000 per book. Another $1,000 was awarded if the faculty member(s) incorporated student contributors or assessment and feedback into the textbook. Additional funds were set aside for peer review of each publication ($1,000) and for copy editing. In the end, most of the copy editing work was completed by volunteer copy editors in SUNY libraries.

The grant money was used to fund author incentives, at $3,000 per book. Another $1,000 was awarded if the faculty member(s) incorporated student contributors or assessment and feedback into the textbook.

In 2013, SUNY Geneseo submitted a follow-up IITG grant application and was awarded an additional $60,000 to issue a second, modified call for author proposals system-wide, with improvements to the application process and timeline. Because of increased interest from faculty across the system, we decided to expand the number of open textbooks published, increase the number of participating libraries, and invite participation from our colleagues in instructional technology units on the different campuses.

In this second round of grants, we also decided to focus on the development of textbooks that serve widely enrolled general education courses. This decision was based on the varying subject matter of first round textbooks, and their applicability only to the author’s specific courses. We decided this time to strive for maximum impact by choosing material that could be widely adopted, and wrote this criterion into the grant announcement.

This call produced 43 proposals, and we selected 15. In this round, authors were awarded $1,000 upon completion of the manuscript, and two required peer reviewers each received $300 upon completion of the review process. The drop in award amounts was an economic decision to fund more textbook creation. We also decided to add a second peer review to each textbook and reduced the amount paid to each reviewer, mainly based on feedback from faculty authors and peer reviewers.

Responding to feedback from faculty authors, we decided to add more faculty participation to the selection process. Since faculty are the ones choosing textbooks for their courses, it made sense to include them in the grant award process as well. We actively encourage library directors across SUNY to have their liaisons in the disciplines covered by the proposals consult with faculty to review and select proposals as good candidates for open textbooks. Faculty reviewed blind proposals and made recommendations using a rubric with criteria such as applicability, content, and appropriateness for a particular level of undergraduate or graduate student. To date, 22 textbooks have been published (see for the complete list) and are available for anyone with the URL to download.

We learned several lessons from these two pilot programs. First, workflows and processes need to be consistent and documented for all participants. Second, regular and consistent communication with authors is essential. Adding regular check-ins (via phone or email) to our second pilot significantly decreased the time to completion of manuscripts and ultimate production of the book. Finally, providing guidance for authors is predicated on the simple fact that many have never written or developed a textbook. It was essential that OST provide authors with guidelines, resources, and, when necessary, consultations with instructional designers.

The next steps for OST include development of a business model, with plans for consistent sources of funding beyond the two grants, the hiring of dedicated personnel, and recruitment of volunteers.

SUNY OER Adoption Program

In the fall of 2015, eight campuses began additional work on a collaborative project to scale-up OER adoption. The project, SUNY Open Educational Resources: Improving Faculty Discovery and Adoption, received funding through the SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants (IITG), the same program which funded the OST (along with nearly 20 other OER projects within SUNY). The eight campuses outlined a plan to identify faculty from each campus to replace existing course materials with OERs. Our efforts resulted in over 50 faculty on the eight campuses transitioning their courses during the 2015–16 academic year. An additional three campuses later joined the team, bringing the total number of faculty to 65 and the number of campuses to 11.

Even with the successful faculty transition and buy-in, two areas were identified by the PIs, faculty, and students as obvious roadblocks to wide-scale adoption that should be addressed in any ongoing service model:

  • Campus expertise: Although there are talented and informed personnel throughout SUNY who help with adoption efforts on campus, a formal and robust mentorship program is needed to help train librarians and instructional designers in OER best practices so they can support faculty on their campuses. In addition, many personnel will need to create and rely on a regional support model, so that experts in their area can offer hands-on support when it is required.
  • Sustainable funding: To create a sustainable model for OER scale-up, SUNY and its campuses cannot simply rely on grant funding. A reasonable cost should therefore be assigned to courses using OERs, with the funds used to support existing OERs and support services, while also providing the system with a business model to implement and support future initiatives.

Next steps: Building a support network

Using the information gathered from both IITG projects, and the recommendations put forward, partner libraries within the OST project began to collaborate on a scaled-up, networked approach to support digital learning and the publication of OERs. The partners agreed that they needed to develop the necessary infrastructure, with a publishing platform, personnel, and new funding structures. The new service model would be called SUNY OER Services, and would incorporate the OST textbook program, This model now includes several key elements, as follows.

Faculty Course Support Teams and CoPs for OER Adoption and Development

Support teams consist of instructional designers and librarians, while CoPs include faculty working on OERs. Together, members can form small teams on a campus, or faculty from one campus can be assigned to work with faculty, librarians, and instructional designers at other locations.

CoPs form around similar interests, needs, and expertise levels, and in this case include practitioners interested in OER creation and adoption, instructional design, and discoverability. All CoPs are coordinated and managed through SUNY OER Services at SUNY Geneseo, which is developing a systematic program of professional development, training, and mentorship to support them in integrating OERs into their courses.

SUNY OER Services funds a series of hands-on professional development workshops and supplemental online webinars to train faculty, instructional designers, and librarians interested in joining the network, building a new CoP, or participating in an existing one. It also provides follow-up consultations to participating faculty who are interested in scaling up OER adoption and design at their campuses and who may have no course supports nearby. Ideally, faculty identify team members on their campus to receive this support, or work with OST to prepare their campuses to provide such support in the future. Either way, faculty work with OST to develop the CoP and course supports model that best suits their needs.

Development of a Digital Publishing Platform

The OST uses a WordPress website and, most recently, a locally-hosted installation of Pressbooks to host and push out OER content. Because of the faculty-identified need for a unified, flexible, and user-friendly platform, the development of a digital publishing platform that supports the creation and remixing of openly licensed content tailored to course learning outcomes is a high priority.

SUNY OER Services, through a partnership with Lumen Learning, will offer its OER content on Lumen’s Candela platform through course and platform subscription fees. OST contracts with Lumen for the entire system, eliminating the need for multiple platforms at multiple campuses, and thus keeping costs down. This allows OST to create and provide one sustainable, flexible digital learning and publishing platform and interface, through which faculty can discover, use, and reuse openly licensed content from all over SUNY, whether through digital collections, repositories, or archives. Faculty will be able to create new content as well.

The platform provided by SUNY OER Services allows faculty to publish high-quality course materials for wider use across SUNY and internationally, and provides access to metrics that are invaluable in gaining tenure.

Because faculty also identified integration with learning management systems (LMSs) as a significant need, learning tools interoperability (LTI) integration is enabled as part of the platform. LTI is a technology standard designed to connect different learning tools and to share data and information between learning platforms. Creating a platform and using LTI allows faculty to use their own OER content and make it available through the local campus LMS, and also allows the content to be made available through a system-wide interface for other faculty to find and adopt.

The platform provided by SUNY OER Services allows faculty to publish high-quality course materials for wider use across SUNY and internationally, and provides access to metrics that are invaluable in gaining tenure. It also provides an existing model of editorial support, including peer review and copy editing, which uses student editors and creates opportunities for applied learning for students across the system.

Development of a Sustainable Service and Business Model

The creation of a business model is crucial for long-term operational and system success. Buy-in from system-level and campus administration (including libraries, academic affairs, and business offices) is essential. Our framework (still under development) includes a model for collecting course fees as well as a membership model to fund ongoing operations and administration of the services. In addition, this model will necessitate the hiring of an administrator to coordinate OER course supports and the CoPs, along with the copy editing, peer review and any required print-on-demand production.

The creation of a business model is crucial for long-term operational and system success. Buy-in from system-level and campus administration (including libraries, academic affairs, and business offices) is essential.

In collaboration with the CoPs, the project will also fund a campus incentive program to encourage SUNY faculty to adopt, adapt, and create OERs that can be shared via the platform. Once an OER is being used in a class, the plan is to implement a course fee to provide funding for future projects. The fees will be assessed at enrollment, and while the amount will vary, it will usually be $10 per student per OER course. Levying fees on students will be optional for each campus, but home campuses will be invoiced by SUNY OER Services for the OER supports (LMS integration, instructional design, copy editing, etc.) provided to them for the course. A membership model will also be offered to campuses, which can pay a yearly fee to become a Partner, allowing them to receive additional services including workshops, training, consultations, and extra support for redesigning courses to include OERs or transition fully to OERs.

With each of these service models, instructional designers, librarians, and faculty are designated on each campus as advocates and work with SUNY OER Services to scale-up OER adoptions at a campus level. This OER Success Framework process helps campuses evaluate courses and particular needs for transitioning to OERs. Not all campuses are ready for campus-level engagement, and the service model recognizes that there will be different levels of needs depending on where faculty are in the process.


Ongoing development of the SUNY OER Services system-wide model faces several challenges, including program implementation and provision of financial support across a large, dispersed state system, faculty and librarian training, communication across campuses, marketing of both the services and the platform, sustainability, funding of future initiatives, and permanent funding for staff positions and ongoing professional development and support.

The biggest challenge will be resolving the inherent conflicts among the different campuses, many surrounding the fee structure and membership model. Support at the system-wide administration level is crucial, and is in place. Campuses already using the Lumen Learning platform are good candidates for pilot courses, and are already in conversation with SUNY OER Services. These campuses can serve as models for other SUNY campuses interested in implementing an OER strategy.

Questions of funding and sustainability are also key to the future of SUNY OER Services. Creation of a sound business model and commitment to funding by the system and home campuses will have to be negotiated and agreed upon by all parties. Initial support is in place within system administration and SUNY Geneseo, where SUNY OER Services will be based. In addition, permanent staffing needs to be part of the implemented business model.

While training of faculty and librarians across a large system will be a challenge, SUNY OER Services can connect to existing initiatives and leverage regional library and professional groups to tap into existing networks for instructional designers, librarians, multimedia developers, and faculty.

Questions of funding and sustainability are also key to the future of SUNY OER Services.

Another challenge lies in communicating the importance of adopting and creating OERs at this point in time. The conversation should focus on how higher education can grab the opportunity to design  its own future in the world of content creation and publishing. Faculty, especially, have the opportunity to work with their campuses, openly license their own content, and control its dissemination. Libraries can help by rethinking priorities and aligning services to support these new publishing and learning models.

Marketing of services is another challenge, but one that can again be met by leveraging existing partnerships, participating in conversations with faculty where they meet, and actively working with different campus constituents, including academic technology staff, student groups, faculty, and librarians.


The development of OER support services is a crucial step in enabling faculty to design, build, and use their own openly-licensed content.

This chapter documents our efforts to establish a faculty incentive program for publishing openly-licensed textbooks, as well as a program to support broader faculty adoption of OERs; it also describes our development of communities of practice (CoPs) to support information sharing and knowledge transfer among librarians, instructional designers, and faculty, along with our challenges in trying to scale up the networked approach and build a sustainable business model to support that system-wide endeavor.

Future & Conclusions

The future of SUNY OER Services looks bright. The OST network needs to capitalize on the existing infrastructure of SUNY communities to leverage shared resources of people, technology, and time. Using the membership model means that libraries, faculty, and instructional designers can actively participate in building communities of practice and in leveraging expertise in different areas, like instructional design, systems administration, faculty collaboration, and content curation.

One major outcome will be the development of a SUNY-wide CoP for creating, adopting, and curating OERs, coordinated through SUNY OER Services. The CoP will:

  • be a network of faculty, librarians, instructional designers, and multimedia developers
  • provide support and mentorship, develop best practices, and facilitate sharing of expertise across SUNY for wider-scale OER adoption and creation, and
  • include workshops, documentation, and assessment of training and instructional materials.

Another essential outcome will be the development of a course content authoring and publishing platform which supports the creation and remixing of openly licensed content, is tailored to course learning outcomes, and can be integrated into a campus LMS. This will be achieved by capitalizing on partnerships, such as the existing one with Lumen Learning to host the Candela open courseware platform for the adoption, reuse, and remixing of openly licensed content across the entire system. It will also include the design and implementation of a SUNY-wide catalog of openly licensed content, facilitating cross-campus adoption and new collaborations, as well as the creation of ways to share workflows and documentation for both publishing and editorial support training—key in scaling up services around the publishing platform.

The development of a sustainable model for OER course content design, adoption, and curation services through SUNY OER Services means that campuses can leverage their resources effectively by participating as members and sharing expertise through the CoPs. At the same time, we are also creating documentation and best practices around course fees, membership models, and course supports to inform future planning. Current benchmarks for success include the number of courses and enrolled students moving to OERs, dollar savings from textbook replacement, and, most importantly, assessment of real student learning outcomes in courses using OERs versus traditional texts. We are currently collecting data, and will evaluate benchmarks during the academic year.

By assessing course fees for all OER courses, SUNY campuses commit to creating a sustainable business model which supports the creation of additional OERs. An OER fee of $10 per course versus a textbook cost of $80–$300 creates significant savings for students.

One way for SUNY OER Services to enhance the membership model is by developing campus incentive programs to allow faculty and their course support teams to pilot the model before entering into a full membership with SUNY OER Services. The program waives payment for one year of a campus’ membership, and actively gathers and evaluates feedback from course support teams and campus administration about what works and what doesn’t.

The communities of practice, publishing platform, and service hub will be documented extensively to provide as much information as possible for those who might want to replicate the programs. All documentation and instructional content will be licensed with a Creative Commons license, “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0),” and shared via the SUNY OER Services website.

Without the fundamental institutional commitment to open access, scholarly communications, and OER strategies, libraries and faculty will find it difficult to create affordable content services that can scale effectively. Using network approaches (whether at the consortial or system levels) to scale up OER adoption is an alternative to libraries or other campus entities working in isolation. Working with partners across a network, librarians, instructional designers, and faculty can find a range of expertise to support content, technology, and pedagogy issues. By leveraging a network, a system gains the benefits of a common approach and effectively utilizes scarce resources, such as instructional designers, technologists, and faculty time. By partnering with one another, we can scale up OER adoption and save our students money at the same time.


Author Bio:

Kate Pitcher is Director of the Library, Archives, and Media Center at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she leads of staff of twenty staff and fifty student employees. Main responsibilities include oversight for financial, program, and operations management; organizational design and development; strategic planning; marketing and communications planning; and liaising with administration, policy makers and local and regional advocacy and funding organizations. Other responsibilities include roles as the interim library director at SUNY Geneseo and the principal investigator for the State University of New York (SUNY) grant-funded project, the Open SUNY Textbooks program, an open-access textbook publishing initiative funding the development and publication of twenty-six open educational resources, authored by SUNY faculty. Kate Pitcher received her B.A. from SUNY Geneseo, and her M.L.S from the University at Buffalo.

  1. Allen and Seaman, “Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16.”
  2. 2016 SUNY Fast Facts,