It’s Not (Just) About the Cost: Academic Libraries
and Intentionally Engaged OER for Social Justice
LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2020 (“OER and the Academic Library,” edited by Elizabeth
Dill and Mary Ann Cullen), pp. 469–87. © 2020 The Board of Trustees, University of Illinois
How can librarians seize the radical aordances of OER to compli-
cate standard narratives with the stories of those historically and
systemically marginalized? Using work created through the University
of Idaho’s Think Open Fellows 2019–20 Cohort as a starting point,
the author explores how these projects created OER content that
demonstrates Lambert’s three principles of OER and social justice.
The author discusses the unique potentials of the academic library
to support intentionally engaged OER as well as the responsibility
of librarians to center marginalized perspectives in their work with
faculty as cocreators and identiﬁers of OER. A discussion of some
of the transformative aspects of this work follows, including the po-
tential impacts on librarians with marginalized identities in creating
intentionally engaged OER, as brieﬂy examined through bell hooks’s
notion of engaged pedagogy. The article concludes with a call to ac-
tion, inspired by hooks and Austin, to speciﬁcally and intentionally
diversify the perspectives represented in the OER we identify and
create as librarians.
Open educational resources (OER) are part of a broader framework of
open pedagogy, which can loosely be deﬁned as an educational praxis that
uses new technological aordances to reduce barriers to education (Cro-
nin and MacLaren 2018). OER and open pedagogy are new enough ﬁelds
that deﬁnitions are still developing and will be discussed in some detail in
the OER Scholarship Landscape section of this article.
OER proponents have done a great deal to raise awareness of the po-
tential for OER to positively impact students and faculty. OER adoption
has obvious and quantiﬁable beneﬁts, such as savings for students and
470 library trends/fall 2020
increased availability relative to physical textbooks. To date, much of the
existing scholarship on OER is concerned with either deﬁning and nam-
ing open practices or is research that seeks to measure OER quality and
ecacy in a variety of educational settings.
Within the existing scholarship on OER, little theorizing or research
exists on the topic of diversity and OER, and even less on how the new
publishing aordances of OER can challenge or complicate the standard
narratives found in many traditional textbook curricula. Fortunately, two
works by Lambert and Adam et al. lay a foundational framework for evalu-
ating social justice themes in OER. Using Lambert’s three social justice
principles, deﬁned as recognitive, representational, and redistributive jus-
tice, this article explores ongoing work at the University of Idaho Library’s
Think Open Fellows Program that intentionally and speciﬁcally engages
with social justice themes.
After exploring examples of open praxis at the University of Idaho, I
discuss how an intentionally engaged OER praxis complements existing
library values and work. I close with the unique aordances intentionally
engaged open praxis provides librarians from marginalized identities and
a call to action inspired by Black feminist scholars Regina Austin and bell
OER Scholarship Landscape
Research on open education can be challenging because of the wide
range of activities, practices, and concepts covered by the term “open.”
Current discourse on open education and OER should be distinguished
from historical concepts of open education, which typically centered on
the physical layout of classrooms and the physical methods of delivery and
instruction of curricular concepts (Cuban 2004; Kohl 1970). While the
praxis and deﬁnition of open is still very much under development, a few
recurring features emerge. At the broadest level, open praxis focuses on
creating and disseminating free or low-cost materials that are free to be
used, shared, and adapted by others.
The current scholarly landscape on open pedagogy and OER is domi-
nated by two central discourses. One discourse is preoccupied with the
deﬁnition and direction of open as a term and praxis; I call this a theoriz-
ing discourse. A second discourse seeks to address questions around OER
and quality, as well as assessing OER impacts on student success. I call this
the practical discourse because of its emphasis on quantiﬁable beneﬁts.
From the theorizing discourse, I locate open as a praxis that is a similar
to a tributary-river model, with distinct paths in open theorizing that all
ﬂow into a broader model of open pedagogy.
Within this model, some key tributaries of open are deﬁned by Creative
Commons (2019) as follows:
social justice/sierferle-valencia 471
• Open educational practices, from Cronin and MacLaren’s 2018 paper
“Conceptualising OEP: A Review of Theoretical and Empirical Literature
in Open Educational Practices,” situates open as using, creating, and
sharing OER in conjunction with collaborative, peer-focused learning
environments that utilizes social and participatory technologies with
the aim of learner empowerment (Creative Commons 2019, Module
• Open pedagogy, from DeRosa and Jhangiani (2017), deﬁnes open ped-
agogy as “an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education
and a process of designing systems and tools for learners that enable
learners to shape and contribute to the public knowledge commons of
which they are part” (Creative Commons 2019, Module 5.4).
• Wiley and Hilton’s (2018) OER-enabled pedagogy, a set of teaching and
learning practices only available when the work is formed and licensed
with the 5Rs in mind (retain, revise, reuse, remix, redistribute). This
requires appropriate licensing as well as a willingness for practitioners
to engage with the 5Rs (Creative Commons 2019, Module 5.4; Wiley and
A review of open scholarship suggests that, in many academic libraries sup-
porting open endeavors, there are a range of each of these types of praxis
co-occurring. For this article, I reference some aspects of these deﬁnitions,
as well as put forth a briefer deﬁnition later on speciﬁcally informed by
open praxis at the University of Idaho Library.
The other discourse, which I refer to as the practical discourse, seeks
to assess the impact and ecacy of OER on student learning, including
open textbooks and other OER such as curricula and assignments. Related
concepts include evaluating how overall student success is impacted by
implementing open textbooks as measured by metrics like the drop-fail-
withdraw rate (DFW). Other avenues of scholarship are more case study
or place oriented and sometimes explore reducing costs for students with
or without the use of an explicit OER tool by using low-cost materials like
past editions of textbooks or library systems like course reserves.
Questions around OER quality and ecacy have been investigated in
both postsecondary and K–12 settings with consistent results that OER
can match and sometimes improve upon standard textbook quality and
outcomes when evaluated by student performance (Kimmons 2015; Kelly
and Rutherford 2017; Chiorescu 2017; Hunsicker-Walburn et al. 2018;
Clinton 2018; Clinton and Kahn 2019). According to Hilton, Mason, and
Clinton’s OER “Review Project,” which is an online literature review of the
research to date on OER ecacy and user perception, the quality of OER
has consistently been shown across studies to meet or exceed traditional
textbooks, with students using open texts performing as well as or better
472 library trends/fall 2020
than peers using traditional texts. Hilton, Mason, and Clinton note that
across dozens of ecacy studies on OER outcomes, in only one study did
students using OER perform worse than their peers using traditional text-
books (Hilton, Mason, and Clinton n.d.).
The practical discourse does include some metrics that might be prox-
ies for diversity, but rarely engage with the subject directly. For instance,
several studies have shown improved outcomes for Pell Grant recipients
who are in zero-cost courses, oftentimes at rates notably higher than their
more auent peers (Delgado, Delgado, and Hilton 2019). Similar work
by Colvard, Watson, and Park (2018) revealed “that OER adoption does
much more than simply save students money and address student debt
concerns. OER improve end-of-course grades and decrease DFW (D, F,
and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students. They also improve
course grades at greater rates and decrease DFW rates at greater rates
for Pell recipient students, part-time students, and populations historically
underserved by higher education” (262).
While OER and open pedagogy have been broadly connected to im-
plied social justice themes in both the theorizing and practical discourse,
research on diversity in representation and authorship of OER content
selection and creation is scarce. Despite having elements related to social
justice in both of the primary discourses discussed above, none of domi-
nant discourses feature race, gender, or other social justice themes as an
overt or central element of the current scholarly discussion. It is not all
bad news, however, with promising ideas on OER and social justice emerg-
ing within the past two years.
Emerging Discussion on Social Justice and OER
Lambert notes in her 2018 article, “Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinc-
tive Social Justice Aligned Deﬁnition of Open Education,” doing schol-
arly research on open and OER social justice consideration is tough work,
thanks in part to both the plethora of potential topics covered by search
subjects like open, as well as the actual scarcity of scholarly content on
the social justice potentials of OER. Lambert’s research ﬁnds that while a
vague, but at least articulated, goal of social justice is part of original OER
founding declarations, it is absent from the majority of the seminal dec-
larations and scholarship since 2018. To address this deﬁciency, Lambert
ﬁrst deﬁnes three social justice principles and then situates open educa-
tion within those deﬁnitions.
Building on the work of Keddie, Fraser, and Young, Lambert arrives
at the following deﬁnition of social justice: “A process and also a goal to
achieve a fairer society which involves actions guided by the principles of
redistributive justice, recognitive justice or representational justice” (Lam-
bert 2018, 3). Lambert then identiﬁes three central principles of social
justice as follows:
social justice/sierferle-valencia 473
Redistributive justice is the most long-standing principle of social justice
and involves allocation of material or human resources towards those
who by circumstance have less (Rawls 1971). Recognitive justice involves
recognition and respect for cultural and gender dierence, and repre-
sentational justice involves equitable representation and political voice
(Fraser 1995; Keddie 2012; Young 1997).
Lambert (2018, 3) then speciﬁcally situates these three social justice prin-
ciples in open education using the following examples:
Redistributive Justice: Free educational resources, textbooks or courses
to learners who by circumstance of socio-cultural position cannot aord
them, particularly learners who could be excluded from education or
be more likely to fail due to lack of access to learning materials.
Recognitive Justice: Socio-cultural diversity in the open curriculum.
Inclusion of images, case studies, and knowledges of women, First Na-
tions people and whomever is marginalized in any particular national,
regional or learning context. Recognition of diverse views and experi-
ences as legitimate within open assignments and feedback.
Representational Justice: Self-determination of marginalized people
and groups to speak for themselves, and not have their stories told by
others. Co-construction of OER texts and resources about learners of
colour by learners of colour, about women’s experiences by women,
about gay experiences by gay identifying people. Facilitation to ensure
quiet and minority views have equal air-time in open online discussions.
(Lambert 2018, 3)
Adam and colleagues build a similar model in a 2019 blog post on the
OER19 Recentering Open Blog, which itself builds o of Hodgkinson-Wil-
liams and Trotter’s 2018 article, “A Social Justice Framework for Under-
standing Open Educational Resources and Practices in the Global South.”
Both the article and blog post put forth a rubric that is similar to Lam-
bert’s, with some dierences in the ﬁnal deﬁnitions of the social justice
Having established a rough framework of what can be meant by open,
and using Lambert’s three principles as a foundation, I now examine how
these social justice principles have manifested in actual OER work at the
University of Idaho Library. Here we deﬁne OER to mean digital educa-
tional resources created with sharing-friendly licenses that are distributed
free of cost (Anderson et al. 2019). This deﬁnition ﬁts well into a number
of the deﬁnitions discussed but may also fall short of deﬁnitions like Wi-
ley and Hilton’s that foreground the 5Rs (Wiley and Hilton 2018). This
deﬁnition is used here because it best reﬂects the context of OER practice
to date at the University of Idaho generally, and the University of Idaho
Think Open at University of Idaho Library
Through my work as the open education librarian, I collaborate with fac-
ulty and graduate students to implement open or low-cost materials into
474 library trends/fall 2020
assignments and curricular content for both undergraduate and gradu-
ate students while using my research interests and background in digital
critical ethnic studies to foreground social justice concerns as much as
possible. This work occurs both in my work as a liaison to the College of
Education, Health and Human Sciences and as part of the Think Open
Assignments and curricula created by the 2019–20 Think Open Fellows
• Challenge traditional notions of who can be an author by incorporating
students in curriculum creation.
• Complicate, challenge, or replace the standard historical narratives
with representations of women, Black, Indigenous, and Non-Black Peo-
ple of Color, and GLBTQIA people.
• Expand and complicate regional histories by centering archival records
documenting the lives and times of people with marginalized identities.
• Introduce learners to concepts around critically evaluating and inter-
rogating authoritative sources.
In addition to changing up traditional sources and narratives, these OER-
ventions (OER interventions) can demand an updated teaching method
as well. This year’s cohort has experimented with novel assignments using
platforms like Twitter and Spotify, as well as developing renewable assign-
ments to be used in both the University of Idaho College of Education and
local elementary schools. Wiley and Hilton deﬁne renewable assignments
as those “which both support an individual student’s learning and result in
new or improved open educational resources that provide a lasting beneﬁt
to the broader community of learners” (2018, 137). The renewable as-
signments in development invite students to be cocreators of content by
identifying relevant digital primary objects on topics that expand current
curricula. These primary documents form the base of assignments and
activities that will be codeveloped as a class and will be used next for these
classes next year.
The Think Open Fellowship program was created at the University of
Idaho Library in 2017 by then scholarly communication librarian Annie
Gaines. This program is designed to increase OER adoption and creation
by University of Idaho faculty and graduate students via a competitive fel-
lowship program. Each year, four faculty and one to two graduate students
are awarded a modest ﬁnancial award and the opportunity to work inten-
sively with library faculty to create an open course curriculum. The pro-
gram to date has saved students an estimated quarter of a million dollars
in textbook costs. Think Open projects have ranged in complexity—some
Think Open Fellows have created entirely new textbooks that use technol-
ogy to provide new learning opportunities for students, such as Professor
social justice/sierferle-valencia 475
Sean Butterﬁeld’s “Inquiry-Based Music Theory,” which features the real-
time ability to edit and compose music scores. Other Think Open Fellows
have focused on pedagogical innovation with assignments and syllabi, as
well as using unabridged open textbooks from creators like OpenStax.
The most current 2019–20 cohort of Think Open Fellows features sev-
eral University of Idaho faculty and graduate students actively engaging
with themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the design and creation
of new course materials. I work collaboratively with fellows to identify and
evaluate various resources and, in some cases, cocreate accompanying as-
signments. A brief discussion of several Think Open projects demonstrates
that intentionality in creating representative resources leads to innovative
and impactful contents and curricula.
Re-Historying Anna Murray Douglass
Graduate student Rebekka Boysen-Taylor worked in partnership with the
Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives to create custom assignments for sev-
enth-grade students at a local charter elementary school, centering the life
of Anna Murray Douglass. These assignments are used both by College of
Education students in teaching focused courses as well as in a local middle
These assignments introduce primary documents related to the life
and activism of Anna Murray Douglass. In the current standard narrative,
Anna Murray is known as the wife of Frederick Douglass and little beyond
that. For instance, Anna Murray does not have her own entry in the online
Encyclopædia Britannica but is instead listed in name only under “Facts &
Data of Frederick Douglass” (Encyclopædia Britannica n.d.). This is a signiﬁ-
cant omission, as Boissoneault notes that without Anna Murray, Frederick
Douglass’s work would not have been possible, both for her role in freeing
him from slavery and in providing all manner of logistical support to the
underground railroad (Boissoneault 2018).
Boysen-Taylor’s curriculum rightfully centers Anna Murray as a civil
rights champion who helped Frederick Douglass escape slavery by both
inspiring him and providing practical aid and logistical support to his
escape. Murray went on to assist untold more when she established an
underground railroad headquarters in Syracuse, as well as in her lifelong
work as an active abolitionist (Thompson, Conyers, and Dawson 2010).
Learners interpret and analyze primary documents identiﬁed in partner-
ship with Library of Congress reference librarians and from the archives
of Douglass’s direct descendants and leaders of the Frederick Douglass
Family Initiatives, Kenneth B. Morris Jr., and Nettie Washington Douglass
(Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives n.d.). Using a process of critical in-
teraction via guided questions and exercises, students learn more about
both Anna Murray and the struggle for freedom, as well as the implicitly
sexist omissions of the dominant storyline.
476 library trends/fall 2020
Culturally Competent and Low-Cost English 101
Graduate student Kathryn Pawelko’s work focused on identifying no-cost,
culturally competent materials to support English 101 students who speak
English as a second language and/or who come from the University of
Idaho’s CAMP Program. According to the University of Idaho, “the Col-
lege Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) assists students who have quali-
fying migrant/seasonal farm work backgrounds by providing ﬁnancial and
academic support services” (n.d.).
Pawelko identiﬁed resources and then built them into a custom cur-
riculum designed to support standard learning objectives while also in-
cluding culturally competent materials. Strategies employed range from
selecting freely available culturally inclusive readings to using bilingual
captions on YouTube videos to increase content options.
Pawelko’s work also resulted in a plan to put one of the current manda-
tory titles for English 101 online as a digital course reserve through the
University of Idaho Library. Utilizing familiar services like course reserves
can be a good short-term strategy to reduce student costs while larger
OER implementation awareness and course conversion eorts happen on
Native American Perspectives Video Series
Professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens is creating a series of short interview-
style videos with Native American community members with connections
to the University of Idaho and/or to the greater Palouse region. The
videos focus on what the speakers think Idaho educators should know
about working with Native youth, and how their own perspectives as Na-
tive people inﬂuence their work, research, and scholarship. The ﬁnal
product, which will be ready in Fall 2020, will include a series of short,
high-quality videos, as well as a how-to guide for other educators hoping
to create similar curricula in partnership with local Native communities.
This project is in collaboration with the Oce of Equity and Diversity and
via existing relationships between Anthony-Stevens and Native community
According to Reclaiming Native Truth’s 2018 Research Findings Report,
Native Americans are largely perceived by Americans as invisible and/
or extinct. Content, both factual and ﬁction, about Native Americans is
largely controlled by non-Native people, and stereotypes abound through-
out depictions of Native people (2018). Recent research has shown poor
representation extends to current K–12 curricula (Sanchez 2007; Sleeter
and Grant 2017).
Each of these points underscores the need for content by and about
Native Americans. While progress has been made to decolonize children’s
literature thanks to eorts like Debbie Reese’s blog “American Indians
in Children’s Literature (AICL),” which “provides critical analysis of In-
social justice/sierferle-valencia 477
digenous peoples in children’s and young adult books” (Reese 2019),
standard textbook curricula remain at best limited in their depictions of
Native American histories, cultures, and current day realities (Sanchez
2007; Sleeter and Grant 2017). To help combat implicit and explicit bias
by future adapters, Anthony-Stevens will use her expertise as a culturally
responsive educator, as well as her connections with local Native commu-
nity members, to create a brief guide on adapting and creating culturally
responsive content with an emphasis on collaboration with regional Na-
tive communities and campus members. This guide will also include gen-
eral technical ﬁlming guidelines to help empower future users to create
polished and professional content.
As a librarian, I support this work by codeveloping the concept, provid-
ing technical expertise for ﬁlming and editing, writing instructional docu-
ments on technical aspects of ﬁlming, and ensuring ﬁnal licensing is both
appropriate for sharing and in respect to participants’ wishes.
Decolonizing Spanish 393: Culture and Institutions of Latin America
Professor Ashley Kerr identiﬁed and created original OER assignments for
a Latin American survey course, Spanish 393: Culture and Institutions of
Latin America. This class is a required course for the University of Idaho’s
Spanish major, a popular major with Latinx students, many of whom also
participate in the CAMP program described above. Missing from the cur-
rent narrative in the standard textbook for this course are Indigenous
viewpoints, as well as those of women and GLBTQIA people.
Kerr used past in-class exercises and conversations designed to bridge
these gaps as a base to build new OER assignments and discussions that
forgo the limiting and expensive textbook. Kerr and I also worked together
to identify existing OER assignments, materials, and readings that support
a more representative retelling. Some assignments and lessons include
formal OER identiﬁed, while others are built around freely available plat-
forms or content. One new assignment asks students to demonstrate their
knowledge of a particular historical ﬁgure’s viewpoint by tweeting from a
fresh Twitter account made speciﬁcally for the task. Another assignment
uses local restaurant menus and open resources on the Columbian food
exchange to challenge students to create a totally European meal without
using endemic North or South American foods. These assignments are
fun and creative, but also underscore important points about the Eurocen-
tric framing of Western society and colonization (Hira 2017).
Analyzing for Redistributive, Recognitive, and Representational Justice
As can be seen in table 1, each of the discussed 2019 Think Open proj-
ects engages with Lambert’s principles of OER and social justice. Gen-
eral themes include centering marginalized perspectives, ideally as told
by marginalized people themselves, and challenging or expanding the
standard narrative. Each project strives for recognitive justice, as voices of
478 library trends/fall 2020
traditionally excluded people are being included in curricula where they
are historically and currently absent or marginalized.
Representational justice is more complex, as all four practitioners dis-
cussed are white cisgender women working in collaboration with me, a
transmasculine, disabled, feminist, brown person on Latinx, African
American, and Indigenous histories. At a minimum all four of these Think
Open Fellows engaged with representational justice by seeking out self-au-
thored content by and from marginalized viewpoints. Depending on the
level of collaboration, my input helps projects achieve outright representa-
Table 1. Applying Lambert’s three principles of social justice to 2019–20 Think
Open projects at the University of Idaho Library.
project Redistributive Recognitive Representational
Yes, leverage academic
(relative to many
K–12 teachers) to
Family Initiatives to
create free content
that can be used or
remixed for use by
Yes, standard curricula
do not center
the lives of Black
Yes, idea and content
created in partnership
with Anna Murray’s
and founders of the
English 101 Partial, this course
still uses a paid
text which is in
process to be
available on course
reserves as a result
of Think Open
Yes, typical English 101
curricula are often
designed to allow
Partial, content is
to be from multiple
the Think Open
Fellow is not from
groups targeted for
Yes, creating totally
new content and
that is not currently
available and will
be available free of
curricula do not
or concepts told
from an Indigenous
Yes, idea and content
created in partnership
with local tribal
partners and the UofI
Oce of Equity and
Spanish 393 Yes, eliminates
text; many students
in Spanish major
are CAMP students.
Yes, standard curricula
do not survey
or tell South
Partial, content is
to be from multiple
the Think Open
Fellow is not from
groups targeted for
social justice/sierferle-valencia 479
tional justice, as in the cases where I am actively codesigning assignments
on marginalized identities I share. For cases where I am less collaboratively
involved in content creation, my experience in digital critical ethnic stud-
ies, as well as expertise from my lived experience, can help to suggest and
inform ideas and directions for curricula and assignments.
Of the three principles, it was most dicult to quantify the redistrib-
utive impacts of these works, especially for those not replacing existing
texts but rather creating whole new areas of content, as in the case of
Boysen-Taylor’s Douglass project and Anthony-Stevens’s Native American
perspectives videos. I argue each of these Think Open eorts harnesses
the unique intellectual capital of the University of Idaho to create knowl-
edge and resources for all Idahoans, including those in less privileged
circumstances and from marginalized identities. In this way, each project
mentioned engages in redistributive justice.
In summary, more than half of this year’s Think Open Fellows cohort
(four out of six total projects) created work that actively engages with the
three principles of social justice as identiﬁed by Lambert. While each is
working in a dierent context and sometimes in dierent modalities, all
share a focus on representational, recognitive, and redistributive justice.
With this in mind, let us now turn the focus to intentionally engaged OER
and the academic library.
Intentionally Engaged OER and the
Since the start of scholarship on OER, authors have noted the unique po-
tentials of the library to support OER creation (Kleymeer, Kleinman, and
Hanss 2010; Smith and Lee 2017; Okamoto 2013; Davis et al. 2015; Hess,
Nann, and Riddle 2016; Woodward 2017; Katz 2019). However, much like
in the broader open scholarship, the potentials of libraries to speciﬁcally
support intentionally diverse or representative OER content appears to be
undiscussed. Here I examine the ways intentionally engaged OER maps to
existing library values and praxis.
The praxis of creating representative OER is deeply compatible with
many existing library goals and functions and is not inherently transforma-
tive to library functions. Libraries who have made the leap to supporting
OER, in whatever capacity, can easily prioritize diversity and inclusion as
central goals of OER practice alongside better known goals such as stu-
dent success and cost savings.
Intentionally engaged OER work supports the American Library As-
sociation’s goals for librarians for creating and supporting inclusive and
diverse content (American Library Association n.d.). More speciﬁcally to
academic libraries, the 2018 Association of College Research Libraries
Plan for Excellence says, “The Association will acknowledge and address
historical racial inequities; challenge oppressive systems within academic
480 library trends/fall 2020
libraries; value dierent ways of knowing; and identify and work to elimi-
nate barriers to equitable services, spaces, resources, and scholarship” (As-
sociation of College and Research Libraries 2019a).
A review of university mission statements shows similarities in universi-
ties’ goals—Wilson, Meyer, and McNeal found in a 2012 analysis that 75
percent of university mission statements include language around diver-
sity. Similar results were found in Morphew and Hartley’s 2006 thematic
analysis of mission statement rhetoric. College and universities are already
“hotbeds of OER creation,” according to the Creative Commons, so it
seems logical that universities might want to encourage ongoing and fu-
ture OER work to include antiracist and/or decolonial curriculum inter-
Intentionally engaged OER work is also an excellent ﬁt for collabora-
tion with library departments like special collections. Primary sources for
OER content can be identiﬁed in special collections at a home institution,
in regional aggregators like Archives West, or in the wide range of state
and national digital holdings oered by historical societies, archives, and
libraries (LeFurgy 2013). According to Garcia, Lueck, and Yakel, archival
objects are increasingly popular in instructional and curriculum settings:
“The rising interest in facilitating learning with primary sources spans
across primary, secondary, and postsecondary contexts, and aligns with
broader changes in the American educational landscape” (2019, 94).
Finally, academic libraries are sources of the special expertise needed
to create and share OER, such as licensing concerns and repository guid-
ance. Creative Commons licenses are legally enforceable licenses that re-
lease some of the rights normally reserved as part of copyright. Creative
Commons licenses are a popular OER tool, as they allow users to share
content while reserving rights the creator deems critical. While many li-
braries already have in-house Creative Commons licensing expertise, li-
brarians new to Creative Commons can develop skills via informal learn-
ing pathways like YouTube videos and lectures or through more formal
means like the Creative Commons Course Certiﬁcate (Creative Commons
2019). Many libraries may already have some copyright expertise that can
be expanded into Creative Commons and other sharing-friendly licenses.
Similarly, librarians’ database skills can facilitate the discovery of relevant
existing OER, while familiarity with metadata for sharing and OER shar-
ing platforms can assist faculty at institutions without an open institutional
repository in identifying appropriate sharing outlets.
From these perspectives, intentionally engaged OER is nondisruptive
and, in fact, deeply compatible with many existing library departments,
systems, and institution-level values. However, when viewed from an ex-
periential lens, the praxis of intentionally engaged OER oers many pos-
sibilities for professional and personal growth.
social justice/sierferle-valencia 481
Opportunities for Representational Social Justice
Work for Librarians with Marginalized Identities
Recent studies have documented the overall low morale experience of
many library faculty and sta and the especially toxic environments many
librarians of color face (Kendrick 2017; Alabi 2015; Brown et al. 2018).
Library workplaces are frequently sites of higher than average incidences
of bullying (Freedman and Vreven 2016), which, when combined with
homogenous racial demographics (Chang 2013), can create oppressive
or isolating environments for many librarians of color and women, as well
as gender queer and/or disabled librarians (Misawa 2014; Benjes-Small et
al. 2019; Krueger 2019; Pionke 2019). In response to this dicult environ-
ment, librarians of color may experience what Kendrick calls deauthenti-
cation, brieﬂy deﬁned as the suppression of certain aspects of the self for
fear of being racialized or othered. While I do not propose that OER prac-
tice alone can address major systemic issues in the profession, I do believe
intentionally engaged OER work presents unique opportunities for librar-
ians with marginalized identities, as well as a few common challenges.
In terms of drawbacks, work on speciﬁc diversity-focused eorts often
comes with a plethora of unintended and unwanted consequences—be
it microaggressive comments, skepticism from colleagues, or fear of be-
ing (further) entrenched as the resident diversity expert (Alabi 2015).
On a content level, librarians of color may experience secondary trauma
from interacting with historical objects documenting traumas and abuses
of marginalized people. Additionally, the context of often being the only
marginalized person in the room while working with people of privilege
around topics with historical racial violence or bigotry can also create
scenes and spaces ripe for unfortunate opinions and comments that ring
in a marginalized person’s ears well after the end of the work day.
Despite these challenges, advocating for and cocreating OER that cen-
ter marginalized identities is an armative step librarians of marginalized
identity and experience can take for themselves. Intentionally engaged
OER allows librarians from a range of identities to advocate for represen-
tation of often-suppressed aspects of their own identities, ﬁghting deau-
thentication at a root level. Librarians actively experiencing deauthentica-
tion can use OER as a micro-practice of representation, as a way to ﬁnd
arming collaborative colleagues both inside and outside the library, and
to practice what hooks calls “engaged pedagogy”:
Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy” is more demand-
ing than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike these
two teaching practices, it emphasizes wellbeing. That means that teach-
ers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that
promotes their own wellbeing if they are to teach in a manner that
empowers students. (hooks 1994, 15–16)
482 library trends/fall 2020
Librarians may not be teachers by title, but most do have an educational
capacity to their role, and many, such as those with faculty teaching ap-
pointments, practice formal lecturing and teaching. Thus, from hooks’s
perspective, librarians also have a responsibility to be self-actualized. I ar-
gue in the realm of OER this means to consider how our contributions
of resources and instructional design helps to arm our own and other
identities. For those with privileged identities, OER can present an op-
portunity to center a story other than a familiar standard narrative. For
those who have been omitted, OER can present an exciting opportunity
to co-construct new historical narratives and curricula that better reﬂect
ourselves and others with marginalized identities.
Those who are educators, healers, or helping professionals of any kind,
hooks goes on to say, must strive for continual self-actualization as part of
a truly antiracist educational praxis (hooks 1994). According to hooks,
Thich Nhat Hanh’s deﬁnition and practice of Engaged Buddhism is foun-
dational to her thinking on engaged pedagogy, a term she coins in 1994’s
Teaching to Transgress (hooks 1994). While it is dicult to summarize an
entire religious and philosophical practice succinctly, Engaged Buddhism
posits that enlightenment is a function of the continuous cultivation of
self-awareness via mindfulness, and that same mindfulness will inspire in-
terventions to injustices both perpetuated and experienced by the self and
others (Hanh 1987).
This type of mindful self-actualization, hooks argues, is essential for
helping professionals of all kinds. She oers a call to responsibility based
on her now seminal phrasing of one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings:
“Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized that ‘the practice of a healer, therapist,
teacher or any helping professional should be directed toward his or her-
self ﬁrst, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many
people.’ In the United States it is rare that anyone talks about teachers in
university settings as healers. And it is even more rare to hear anyone sug-
gest that teachers have any responsibility to be self-actualized individuals”
(hooks 1994, 15–16).
To embrace hooks’s message is to also understand that librarians are
included in this call to self-actualize toward justice, as a responsibility to
ourselves and our patrons. The freedom and possibilities of OER creation
and customization creates space for systemically marginalized librarians to
self-actualize and empower others via redistributive, recognitive, and rep-
resentational social justice. The process and ﬁnal outcomes are interven-
tions for both the creators of the resource and the receivers of the harm
caused by the dominant historical narrative. When marginalized librar-
ians are empowered to create OER that center their or others’ marginal-
ized identities, a unique opportunity for work that is holistically arming
emerges. Further, this work suggests that by critically and holistically en-
social justice/sierferle-valencia 483
gaging with the self, all librarians can take an authoritative and active role
in positively transforming content and pedagogy.
A Call to Commit
The overall lack of scholarship on OER and social justice concerns sug-
gests speciﬁc and intentional inclusion of social justice aims are necessary
if they are to be achieved. This is not a new idea, especially in the lens of
Black feminist praxis. In her 1989 foundational Black feminist legal ju-
risprudence article “Sapphire Bound!,” Regina Austin “calls for minority
female scholars in the legal ﬁeld to straightforwardly, unapologetically,
and strategically use their intellectual pursuits to advocate on behalf of
poor and working-class minority women” (Evans-Winters and Esposito
Evans-Winters and Esposito argue that Austin’s ideas not only are still
relevant but apply to most aspects of education: “Even though Austin is
arguing from the perspective of a woman of color, with experience and
interest in the legal ﬁeld, her comments are also relevant to conceptual,
theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical eorts in the ﬁeld of educa-
tion” (2010, 12). Austin’s writing itself argues that antiracist or antisexist
work must be explicitly and deliberately so. As this article has shown, open
pedagogy as a practice could beneﬁt from this type of direct and clear
intention to use the aordances of open to create intentionally engaged
With hooks and Austin as inspiration, a call can be made that more
must be done to make OER work explicitly and speciﬁcally antiracist and
antisexist in deﬁnition, praxis, and content. In addition to antiracist and
antisexist goals, OER work must also take up content that represents queer
and trans perspectives, as well as those from systemically marginalized
groups like Indigenous peoples, disabled people, neurodivergent people,
migrants and refugees, and the systemically impoverished.
Librarians can advance intentionally engaged OER by selecting inclu-
sive and representative OER, exploring OERventions for those people
missing from dominant-narrative-aligned resources, and insisting that in-
tentional and speciﬁc social justice work is an essential part of open praxis.
By seeking out opportunities to create recognitive, representational, and
redistributive justice with intentionally engaged OER, open practitioners
can engage with the truly radical and transformative potentials of open
OER is powerfully positioned to positively impact diversity equity and
representation in college and school curricula. Library programs like the
University of Idaho Library’s Think Open Fellows can support the social
484 library trends/fall 2020
justice potential of OER by encouraging faculty and graduate students to
consider what perspectives are missing from current texts and help them
ﬁnd and adapt more representative resources.
Libraries are natural facilitators and incubators for this type of work,
including serving as connectors to the intellectual capital necessary to
identify and amplify marginalized narratives. Academic librarians inter-
ested in creating open resources that center marginalized perspectives can
ﬁnd collaborators in librarian subject specialists, faculty, and sta, special
collections both on campus and beyond, and other units on campus like
oces of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Public librarians can also utilize
community expertise to create regionally relevant resources that create
space for the often unheard or overlooked histories, events, and people
of their locality.
Scholars like Lambert oer promising ideas evaluating how OER prac-
tice might embody speciﬁc social justice goals. My analysis of OER at the
University of Idaho Library shows Lambert’s three R principles manifested
in our work to foster and support critically engaged OER, with particular
success in the principle of recognitive justice.
Intentionally representational and recognitive OER complements ex-
isting academic library values such as centering diversity, as well as utilizing
existing core services and departments like course reserves and special
collections. At the same time, this work presents exciting possibilities for
librarians of marginalized identities and their antiracist allies to actively
create and share OER curricula and content that center systemically op-
Inspired by hooks and Austin, I argue those working as open practitio-
ners have a responsibly to speciﬁcally and decisively center self-represen-
tations of women, people of color including Indigenous people, trans-
gender and queer people, people with disabilities, and neurodivergent
people, as well as all other systematically marginalized people, in OER
content and praxis. To not seize the opportunity to challenge the limiting
standard narrative with queered, cripp’d, feminist, and colored OERven-
tions is to implicitly side with that standard narrative. Future OER creation
must recenter historically marginalized people into a new, iteratively more
just narrative, or itself contribute to that marginalization. Black feminist
scholars, critical educators, and decolonizers of all disciplines have shown
us the way; now it is up to us to forge a new path of intentionally engaged
Thank you to my University of Idaho Library colleagues, as well as 2019–20
Think Open Fellows: Professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, graduate stu-
dents Rebekka Boysen-Taylor and Kathryn Pawelko, and Professor Ashley
Kerr, who each taught me a great deal and are all a delight to work with.
social justice/sierferle-valencia 485
Thank you also to Maria Cotera and Linda Garcia-Merchant, whose col-
laboration with me on the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective
is foundational to the ideas and praxis discussed in this article. My deepest
thanks to the many Black and Brown feminists who greatly inspire me as
a person and academic.
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Marco Seiferle-Valencia is the open education librarian at the University of Idaho
Library. He is also a cocreator of the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective,
which holds a signiﬁcant collection of digital records and oral histories collected from
the personal archives of prominent Chicanx, Latinx, and Indigenous feminists. He
graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Information in 2013 with a
specialization in community informatics.