for librarians, researchers and educators interested in information management

Joining the MOOC game: the role of the library


The topic of MOOCs is getting a lot of attention at the moment, and there is a growing discussion in the library community about what support libraries can, or should, provide.

MOOCs appeared on the higher education scene about a year ago (although of course, online education has been around much longer).   They started out as free online classes for no credit, from providers such as Coursera, Udacity and EdX, taught by faculty from eminent Ivy League universities.  Increasingly, MOOCs are being offered by individual academic institutions, and there are also many other online courses offered that are related to the MOOC movement, such as Khan Academy, Gale Cengage’s Learn4Life,, etc, all of which are experimenting with different forms of credentialling.

What is the role of the library in the growing MOOC phenomenon?

Meredith Schwartz has outlined some of these roles in her Library Journal post, Massive Open Opportunity: Supporting MOOCs in Public and Academic Libraries, in which she suggests that the library has a role in development, production, advocacy, support, data storage and preservation, as well as content creation.  More specifically these include:

1. Clearing copyrighted content

Libraries can help faculty ensure the materials they use, either in their presentations or as assigned reading, adhere to copyright.

2. Advocating open access

Libraries can be advocates for open access and respond to the recognition by faculty that there is a need to make their own writings, and those of their colleagues, accessible to their students.

3. Supporting production

Academic libraries can potentially offer tools and training for faculty members to record and edit their MOOCs, and adapt their material to new formats.  The library can provide exertise in providing instructional support.

4. Supporting students

Should academic libraries be supporting MOOC students the way they support traditional (ie paying) students?  Will they need the help of a librarian?  Humanities MOOC students may well need to look at supplementary materials, but whether the provision of such support by the library is sustainable, is open to question.   The minimum might be providing links to tutorials and research guides provided by the library website as recommended by D-Lib Magazine.

5. Capturing MOOC data

There is a need to capture granular data about how MOOCs work, and assess or measure the ‘success’ of MOOCs.   There is an emerging role for academic libraries in creating ‘big data’ repositories, including an opportunity for them to store and analyse this MOOC data.

6. Preserving MOOC content

MOOC platforms are likely to undergo changes, potentially leaving MOOC content stranded, if not lost.  MOOC providers should look to store their content in their institutional repository so the work is not siloed off by third parties.  Academic libraries at MOOC-providing institutions have an opportunity to not only store the content, but design a preservation structure to ensure earlier versions of courses are not lost.  Libraries can also play a role in preserving the work created by the MOOC students.

7. Creating content

Libraries can create MOOC content (this is already in the pipeline with Future Learn, a UK based MOOC provider who is partnering with the British Library).  The possibilities exist for libraries to offer MOOCs on research and information literacy skills.

8. Providing opportunities for library staff

Library staff can become students of MOOCs offering courses in librarianship . Some examples are The Hyperlinked Library and the New Librarianship Master Class, but there are also many other non-library specific courses that would be useful to librarians looking to brush up on their skills.  Such courses would not only provide professional development oppportunities for librarians but also help potential librarians decided whether to pursue librarianship as a career.

While many of these roles are specific to the academic library, there are also significant issues for public libraries to consider:

– being the go-to place for MOOC students, and potentially having to face a raft of specialised reference questions

– providing access to equipment and facilities for students to do the courses

– using MOOCs to supplement their online support of patrons (eg homework, literacy and tutorial support)

– provide a local meeting place for people doing MOOCs.

Clearly, there are many opportunities for libraries to be involved in the evolution of MOOCs.  To what extent they take advantage of these opportunities and claim a role in this emerging phenomenon, remains to be seen.

For anyone interested, there are some great resources on this subject, including videos and slides of the presentations give at the  OCLC symposium held in March 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: MOOCs and Libraries: Massive Opportunity or Overwhelming Challenge?


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This entry was posted on July 16, 2013 by in MOOCs.
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