Make your library a hub for open access content

The library that I am entrusted to manage, the Open Access Digital Theological Library (OADTL), has a clear mission. We aim to make high-quality, open access content in religious studies discoverable to the global community through a single, curated search experience. Even though it may seem like an unreachable goal, I bet you could write a similar mission for your institution.

Fill in the blank:

Our library is committed to making high-quality, open access content in [our area of expertise] discoverable to the global community through a single, curated search experience.

Feels good to imagine, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you how you can accomplish that goal with very little overhead cost and no increase in staff.

The pieces are all there, just put them together

I’m sure you’ve encountered this many times. You’re searching for information for someone on any given subject and you find a great, highly specific work that just happens to be open access. You feel a sense of relief, perhaps, because you know that providing the link is going to be less of a hassle. No paywall, no authentication worries, etc. And you think, “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody put all the high-quality, open access stuff on this subject in one place for easier access?”

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That’s exactly what we are doing. And you can, too. The pieces of the puzzle, for us, were:

  • A specific subject discipline (religious studies)
  • Technology that allows for easy cataloging and creation of electronic collections
  • A training curriculum and someone to do the teaching
  • The needs of grad students for real-life work experience credits

Our “aha” moment was the realization that “looking for good stuff” to put into the open access collections could be done by library science grad students. What was an expensive and repetitive chore for my staff became an interesting, instructive treasure hunt that fulfilled a sense of purpose for young librarians.

A network of interns, a network of data

In many cases, great open access content is already available and has been cataloged by libraries, museums, scholarly societies, institutional repositories, and archives. It just hasn’t been collected and curated in ways that make it easily discoverable.

In starting this process, the team at the OADTL designed some simple training materials to get graduate library science students up-to-speed quickly on how to find worthy OA content that had already been cataloged in WorldCat. Within the sphere of religious studies, we gave them as much leeway as possible to create a collection based on their own interests, too. So, a student majoring in a particular historical period could find material from that era. Or someone with experience in a specific language, geographical area, or religious tradition might concentrate there. You get the idea.

From there, we trained them on the correct cataloging processes in WorldShare Collection Manager to create shareable WorldCat knowledge base collections. They also set the 856 field so that when searchers use the “Open Access” facet in, the record will display correctly there.

How did we locate interns for this project? Simply by reaching out to library science instructor colleagues at other institutions. I know that students are always looking for real-world experience that they can both get credits for and put on their resumes. The ability to create custom, subject-based, OA collections using highly regarded, popular platforms like WorldCat is an easy sell.

It’s a win, win, win, win, win

When a new collection is complete, it’s available through our search engine for anyone to access. That’s the end game for most projects like this, and the part that fits with our mission. But what’s been surprising is finding out how many “wins” we really get.

  • End-users get access to quality, open access materials
  • Educators concerned with equity issues can support their communities
  • Students get real-life collection-building and technology skills
  • Libraries, archives, and museums better reveal their existing e-content
  • Libraries save time and money when they can rely on well-organized open access content
  • Libraries can strike better bargains with publishers

Did that last one surprise you? Us, too! When we started getting a really good grasp of how much open access content we had, and a solid list across subject areas, our libraries could reply to content providers’ subscription quotes and ask them to back-out the open access titles they knew they already had available. In some cases that meant savings of nearly 50%.

Now it’s your turn

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you have a subject area that’s important to the educational mission, prestige, or economic proposition of your institution?
  • Do you have a person on staff who could do the initial project management and training for a program like this? (Not the work itself, but setting up students for success.)
  • Do you believe that open access materials play an important role in providing equity education and learning?

Answer yes to all three? You can get started right away.

The open access materials are out there, in our libraries, archives, and museums—sometimes visible but hard-to-find, sometimes even somewhat hidden. The audience of learners, students, and citizens want to find them. We have the tools to make them more readily and easily discoverable. And library science students today have the drive, heart, and sleuthing skills to make those connections—and they need the credits!

Let’s do what we do best … work together to make more valuable and free content readily available to the people who need it most.

Read more about how the Open Access Digital Theological Library uses WorldCat and WorldShare, or watch a webinar that Thomas and his colleague, Drew Baker, recorded.