Blog Post

MOOCs: Where are the Librarians?


On August 3rd, I participated in a Twitter discussion with Hybrid Pedagogy and David Stavens of Udacity. I posed a question that seemed to create a bit of a stir. “Has anyone thought of embedding librarians into MOOCs?” Mr. Stavens replied that all of Udacity’s classes had a professional teaching team supporting them.  I asked if a librarian was working with the instructor as a collaborator in teaching the class. I asked if classes had access to scholarly databases for research.  The lack of a direct affirmation leads me to assume the answer is no. I find it hard to believe that in all of the MOOC furor no one is considering a crucial part of education: the research component, the librarian component.

I must admit, I’ve never completed a MOOC.  I have only lurked a couple, never to return. There appear to be writing assignments involved as a means of assessment. And “peers” are assessing each other’s work? Are you kidding me? Does some random peer grading my blog know anything about prose and composition?  What if they’re not from my country? From whom are the references coming? Are they scholarly? Peer-reviewed? Are students citing their sources? Is anyone checking for plagiarism? Are they writing according to an established writing style? Do MOOCs care?  Or are MOOCs so limited they can’t afford to care about serious scholarship?

I recently graduated with a Master of Library and Information Science degree.  My entire program was administered online.  My work was submitted to plagiarism tools for detection. My work was scrutinized by faculty for depth of content and adherence to APA.  I had synchronous meetings via web conferencing software.  All of these technologies were crucial in ensuring that the standards of my education were met.  I can’t imagine a serious online offering without them.

I don’t believe these massive online course offerings will never equate to legitimate education without serious modification.  I noted that Cathy Davidson posed a question in her blog, asking where are the students in the MOOC equation?  I ask, where are the librarians? Where are the serious research components that allow for critical thinking, higher-level educational outcomes?  Do Harvard and Berkley and Penn all of the others seriously believe MOOCs replicate classroom education or even accredited online education? I can’t believe they do.  I can’t believe we as educators are even considering the question. Have we forgotten what education actually entails? I can't help but wonder if MOOCs are the greatest marketing technique in higher education since naming a building after a donor.  Where are the librarians??? 



Elizabeth  when you did your library science degree, your tuition dollars (and other sources of funding) were used to purchase access to all those nice proprietary databases and pay for print materials - and librarian salaries.  Since many MOOCs are offered at no cost to participants, how much support will any institiution offering a MOOC be willing to supply?  Would your library director be willing to assign some of your time to a MOOC? If not, are there enough librarians  willing to participate in MOOCs and volunteer their help for free in appropriate courses?  Something else to consider:  Many students in MOOCs do NOT have access to an academic library. They aren't enrolled in an academic institution.  They may not live anywhere near an academic library.  Some of them may be in situtations where there is no library access at all!  We need to be thinking about this!  (Peer assessment:  There's a lot of research literature about use of peer assessment. We should take a look at that too! )    So... given some of these things that are NOT like education as we're used to, do some participants in MOOCs learn something? Anything?  I say yes, but that might come under the heading of "personal opinion." More questions than answers! 



Hi Ilene,

I received a graduate assistantship to in the eLearning Department to pay for my degree. Forgive me, I do understand your point.  I am a strong believer in the Open Access movement and more databases are being offered at no cost online.  For instance, is a link to an open source Shakespearean database. I have also had fairly good results searching with Google Scholar. 

I hope you are not misunderstanding my thoughts behind the post.  I believe librarians should be part of the MOOC conversation.  I don't think librarians should be required to participate in MOOCs for no pay.  As an academic librarian, I certainly understand the constraints on one's time. However, world-renowned professors are not being paid for MOOCs, and I believe MOOCs are in and of themselves an interesting marketing opportunity.  

I for one do not believe true academic librarians' function are as support staff to professors.  I believe they are educational collaborators.  Since I hold this to be true, I believe librarians should have a place at the table discussing the pedagogical implications behind MOOCs. I think they should be consulted in the MOOC equation and their thoughts respected, that’s all.

I think there are plenty of librarians who would love an opportunity to help in MOOCs.  I don't think there would be a need to force anyone to participate. 

Thank you for your thoughts,







For sure! I think we librarians ought to be part of the conversation!  But I'm not sure if the entities that offer MOOCs are going to provide a lot of student support services - like writing coaches, librarians,, study skills assistants, tutors,etc.   We'll see!  Hey, take a look at OER University ( They are working on setting up mentors, etc.  - volunteers who are willing to help students with their learning.  The goal of OERu is college credit for open courses - and they have a number of universities signed up to work on ways to do that.  They are thinking about information literacy.  There's an opening there for some enterprising librarians!  Very interesting!! 


Hi Elizabeth;

I'm a librarian, and I joined this MOOC partially because I wanted to experience it as a librarian and see how libraries and librarians could be part of the MOOC movement, and also if and how MOOCs were informed by information literacy and other concepts held dear to the heart of library people.  I'm also wondering abut the role of public libraries in MOOCs (although I am an academic librarian myself).

I'm also interested in the impact of scholarly communication issues including the divide between what is freely available (open access, CC, etc.) versus material behind publisher and database paywalls and how that affects the resources people draw upon in their MOOC work...