Advice: One-year OER Librarian Positions

By | March 12, 2020

Question: My college is considering applying for a grant to fund a full-time temporary OER Librarian position for one year. What can be accomplished in one year? How can we write a position description that sets the librarian up for success? Is this even a good idea?

It’s pretty easy to imagine a worst-case scenario here. The temporary OER Librarian’s time is spent trying to demonstrate the value of the position by delivering on outcomes, even though the program is only in startup phase. They have to strategize for the next year and spend time on identifying and advocating for new funding, which takes time away from assigned work. Library colleagues are reluctant to support their efforts because if OER outreach is successful but the position isn’t renewed, everyone else’s workload will increase. It’s hard to plan for the future, but not being able to make medium- or long-term plans shrinks the OER Librarian’s ability to make an impact, which makes it harder to advocate for continuation. Given all the uncertainty, this person will also have to spend personal time searching for a job for next year.

With all these potential pitfalls, it’s valid to ask whether it would be better to wait for the institution to do more long-term planning before posting this type of position. In some situations, though, the thinking may be that a one-year position is better than nothing. Administrators may feel that it will be an easier sell to get funding for a permanent new position after a pilot period in which to demonstrate impact. There can be a real benefit to having a position dedicated to OER, especially when the institution needs to be accountable for spending grant funds. Further, a temporary position frees up time for other library faculty and staff who had been adding OER to their plates in addition to their regular work.

Advice for potential one-year OER Librarians

While there may be real benefits for the institution to fund a one-year position, the person taking that job must consider their own needs. Librarians currently in part-time roles who are considering taking on a temporary full-time job would be giving up other part-time work that they may not be able to return to when the temporary position ends. If the temporary person is an early-career librarian looking for a line on their resume, they must come out of the year with professional experience and references that they can talk about when they apply for their next position.

For librarians in one-year OER Librarian positions, good boundaries are essential. With just one year to prove the value of the position, the OER Librarian will be vulnerable to taking on too much in order to demonstrate their worth. One way to approach this issue is to keep a laser focus on being accountable to the funding source. For example, if the position is going to be funded out of a grant to improve outcomes for first-generation students, the OER Librarian would work with the courses that that student population is most likely to enroll in. Thinking laterally, the OER Librarian can find out about other programs or services at the institution that have been funded with one-year grants, and whether/how they were successful, to help decide when to say yes or no to asks.

Advice for administrators considering one-year OER Librarian positions

I talked with two librarians who are either currently or recently in one-year OER Librarian positions who had additional ideas to share. Big thanks to Kelsey Smith, adjunct OER Librarian, West Hills Community College in California (Kelsey’s position description) and Natascha Chtena, one-year grant-funded OER Librarian, College of the Sequoias (Natascha’s position description). Here is their advice for institutions creating one-year temporary OER Librarian positions to set their hires up for success:

  • Really, really try to get more than one year for your OER Librarian. If it’s truly not possible, consider 2 years at .5 FTE so that the person has more time to build relationships and demonstrate impact, and doesn’t have to give up other part-time jobs.
  • Get buy-in for the one-year position and deliverables with the OER Librarian’s future colleagues; don’t expect expect the temporary OER Librarian to persuade colleagues to buy into a program that requires more work after they’re gone.
  • Declutter the position description so that the OER Librarian has time to meet core open ed goals; pre-identify likely courses, faculty, or committee positions and have introductory meetings lined up so that the OER Librarian can start building relationships right away.
  • Know whether there is a possibility of extending or making the position permanent. If so, design the position to increase the likelihood that the temporary person can seamlessly transition to permanent. If not, be up-front with job candidates.
  • Plan the institution’s strategy for transitioning the program to a different staffing model next year if the position is not continued; don’t expect the temporary OER Librarian to develop and communicate this strategy.

Ideas to try in one-year OER Librarian positions

I also had a brainstorming session with Sarah Cohen, Senior Managing Director of the Open Textbook Network. With her bird’s-eye view into OER programs all over North America, she had lots of insight into what an OER Librarian might be able to accomplish in just one year. We tried to consider projects that have a likelihood of a temporary OER Librarian being able to see them through start-to-finish in one year, and that can continue on with minimal maintenance after the temporary OER Librarian leaves.

Of course, context is everything – the ability to complete any of these projects will depend on the starting and stopping point for the year. For example, if the temporary OER Librarian spends one year supporting course redesign, those courses may not be taught until the following year, so the librarian shouldn’t be asked to provide data on student savings.

With the usual caveat that your mileage may vary, here is the list that we made:

  • Run faculty surveys to understand needs
  • Activate the student voice through events, videos, letter-writing, etc.
  • Gather local data and establish a baseline to measure future progress against
  • Discover, share, and celebrate no-cost, low-cost, and open course materials already in use
  • Spend a target number of hours on faculty support, publish a target number of open publications, or help redesign a target number of courses
  • Write the charge and find stakeholders for an open education or textbook affordability committee, with a green light from the appropriate administrator
  • Create a web presence for open education and affordable course materials, relying on evergreen or dynamic content
  • Identify the courses that should be the focus of the next stage in the program (e.g. highest enrollment, highest cost, high-quality OER available, metrics relating to student populations that other programs are built around, etc.)
  • Train volunteers to become OER ambassadors with specific commitments for next year
  • Create a rubric to evaluate which courses to allocate redesign resources to, next time resources are available
  • Document the ways that open education work aligns with existing institutional strategies, initiatives, grant proposals, etc.
  • Join committees and be a broken record to raise awareness about open ed with campus stakeholders
  • Do something fun that takes place on a specific date and make it highly publicized: OER Champions award ceremony; reception with food and a DJ; grand opening of CC-licensed mural; etc.
  • Work with IT and bookstore manager to improve how cost and OER info shows up for students on the bookstore website, course schedule, and so on
  • Develop a 3-year plan that includes your 1-year contract as year one
  • Create and document a data management plan to streamline future data collection and reporting, including decisions about what will be collected and how it will be collected, and templates for emails, spreadsheets, forms, etc.

Got any additional advice about one-year temporary OER Librarian positions? Please leave a note in the comments! Got a thorny problem? Send an email at and maybe this advice column format will become a regular blog feature!