10 Case Study: Portland State University Library

Karen Bjork

This institutional context case study was provided by Karen Bjork, Head of Digital Initiatives, Portland State University.

Publishing Initiative – How We Got Started

“PDXOpen: Reducing Student Textbook Costs,” was a project submitted to the 2012 Provost’s Challenge, reThink PSU, an initiative that offered to fund and support innovative ideas to improve student success. The challenge was “to deliver an education that serves more students with better outcomes, while containing costs through curricular innovation, community engagement, and effective use of technology.” We were awarded $15,000 to fund open access textbooks designed and authored by PSU faculty for their classes.

We issued a campus-wide request for proposals in May 2013 to develop open textbooks geared toward a specific field of study. Preference was given to proposals that applied to multiple high enrollment undergraduate courses. All proposed textbooks had to be original or a compilation of openly licensed materials. Successful authors received a stipend of $2,500 that could be allocated at the faculty member’s discretion for professional travel, research support, peer-reviewers, accuracy checkers, and copy-editors.

A four-person selection committee was formed, and included representatives from library and university communities. The five proposals that were selected spanned a variety of academic disciplines including Japanese, special education, graphic information system (GIS), gender and sexuality studies, and calculus. All projects were completed in December 2014.

Building on the success of the initial round of proposals, the library:

  • completed three calls for open textbook proposals (2015, 2016 and 2017).
  • published five new open textbooks in 2016, bringing the number of open textbooks published by the library to 10.
  • published two second editions.
  • has 12 open textbooks in production.

Nearly 1,000 students have used PDXOpen textbooks in their classes, and have saved over $100,000 on the cost of their books (reported winter 2017).


PDXOpen is an initiative that provides author funding and support –project manager, copyright/fair use/Creative Commons assistance — and a platform to publish open textbooks. We do not provide copy editing, proofreading, layout/design or peer review services. Authors use the $2,500 stipend at their discretion for these and other related services.

We work with faculty authors to publish high-quality open textbooks designed specifically for their courses, that are free to students at our university and to anyone throughout the world. By working directly with faculty, the library is framing open textbook publishing to not only save students money, but also align more closely with faculty objectives and priorities.

Lessons learned

Provide workshops. Just because faculty publish it does not mean they understand publishing. When we started PDXOpen the project team had made the assumption that faculty authors were clear about copyright permissions, fair-use and self-publishing. We discovered that while authors are well-versed in their area of academic expertise, they are not well versed in navigating copyright and understanding what it takes to publish an open textbook. Therefore, with each new round of funding we now provide two workshops:

  • Self-Publishing
  • Copyright and Creative Commons

For our workshop on self-publishing we partnered with Ooligan Press, a general trade publisher affiliated with PSU. The workshop covers information on hiring copy editors, designers and proofreaders.

Both workshops are offered at the start of the proposal cycle, and not only provide the opportunity for authors to meet one another, but to also start thinking about publishing needs and budget.

Define support and manage author expectations. During our first round of funding the project team attempted to be clear about its expectations. It was necessary to manage authors’ expectations of what would be done for them, versus what they would have to do for themselves. It also quickly became clear that the project team needed to appoint a project manager and set up routine check-in meetings. These changes allowed the project team to ensure timelines were being met, and become more involved with the author’s open textbook.

Consider budget. With each new proposal cycle we learn something new. Here are just a few things to consider when getting started:

  • Always develop a timeline and budget collaboratively with an author.
  • It is important to establish regular check-ins with authors to update timelines for future spending.
  • If possible, have a fiscal analyst or accountant on your team in order to make sure the budget is being spent correctly.
  • Decide early on (before advertising the grant opportunity, if possible) what types of expenses can be paid with the grant funds. Will you allow travel expenses, student employees, etc.
  • Decide early on whether funds can be used to pay employees only off-contract (summer support) or also on-contract (overloads/supplemental pay).
  • Note any differences between paying honoraria (such as for peer reviews) to non-employees vs. employees. For example, you may need to budget for other personnel costs like benefits, employer payroll taxes, etc. when paying honoraria and creating contracts for non-employees.
  • Provide “calculators” to help authors with various budget scenarios (such as paying themselves, regular employees or student employees).
  • Give authors guidelines for how much advance notice is needed for creating contracts, hiring employees, etc.

Peer reviewers are important. Peer reviewers strengthen the validity, effectiveness, and appropriateness of the text. While PDXOpen is aimed at PSU classes first and foremost, we also want the books to be adopted at other universities. Having peer reviewers who are not affiliated with PSU participate in a review process before the manuscript is published, is an important aspect to having our textbooks adopted at other universities.


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Authoring Open Textbooks Copyright © 2017 by Karen Bjork is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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