Opening New Doors with a Visit to the Open University

Joanne Culpin, University of Loughborough

Loughborough’s Joanne Culpin reflects back on a recent event hosted by and about the Open University library service.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable day which included an introductory talk and tour prior to lunch and then a selection of activities and talks in the afternoon, from which we were able to attend three from the following list of options:

1) Libopoly: A fun take on the classic board game that demonstrates the Library’s role in module production.

2) Accessibility: Take part in the Library’s role in Accessibility testing by using screen reader software to test resources for print disabled students.

3) The OU Archive: Delve deeper into the Archive which holds historical module materials and unique research collections.

4) Rights: Understand the Library’s role in clearing third party content and play a copyright game with the Rights team.

5. Helpdesk: See how the Library supports distance learning students across the world.

6) Acquisitions and Document Delivery: Understand how the Library purchases ebooks for OU modules and its Document Delivery service through two games.

The introductory talk was given by Selina Killock, Associate Director Library Services, Selina shared some inmpressive statistics about the Open University (OU), its staff and students. She explained that the OU is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019, having had 2 million students pass through their doors since 1969. There are currently 170,000 students registered, supported by 6,000 staff, which includes 80 Library colleagues. The average age of students is 28 and 20% have a declared disability.

Cheryl Coveney then gave more information about the OU’s Betty Boothroyd Library which was followed by a tour and the chance to talk to Library staff. The OU Library was originally not intended for students, just staff and researchers, however in the 1990’s a student protest led to the Library being opened to the student body. However, students, with a few exceptions, cannot borrow items from the Library. This is not usually an issue, as the OU’s e-collections are growing and new hardcopy (physical) books are rarely purchased today. There is around a 77%/23% split of online resources to hardcopy items, with the Library having almost 450,000 e-books and access to 535 specialised resource databases. Borrowing rights are given to staff and SCONUL members, with up to 6,000 external applications annually. Although, members of the general public cannot borrow resources or access them online, unless they are open access.

Like most academic libraries, the OU library staff is split into a number of specialised teams. These include: Digital capabilities, Content Licencing and IP, Engagement, Subject Specialist Librarians, Library Research Support, Enquiries, and Digital Archives.

Finally, here are some (possibly) fascinating facts about the university and library service:

  • Every 6 seconds an OU student or staff downloads a book chapter from the e-books or online journal article collections, meaning over 5 million online resource interactions per year!
  • There are over 2,000 research papers authored by OU researchers and staff which are downloaded daily globally [Editor’s note: Wonder how this stacks up against the other 22 Mercian Collaboration Libraries!]
  • There’s a correlation between degree success rates and the number of resources accessed by students.

In summary, the activities and talks were interesting and, in the main, interactive. The Open University staff were very welcoming and had obviously put a lot of thought and work into the planning of the day which was very much appreciated by the attendees.


If you want to find out more about future All the Same But Different events, or you’d like your university to host one – get in touch with your local Collaboration Staff Development Group representative.