Since taking part in ITHAKA’s The Next Wave 2016 a few weeks ago, I have been reflecting on what I heard and what it means for the libraries and publishers we work with every day. As higher education changes to meet the needs of 21st century students, libraries and publishers must also adapt. Here are just a few of the big takeaways from my perspective.

We need to align behind student success.

The student is no longer the 18-22-year old who lives on campus for four years. State and national initiatives that promote a better educated citizenry have resulted in students who range widely in age. Some are learning in part-time programs on campus; some are learning online. The majority of today’s students start their educational programs in community colleges. Many students earn academic credits in multiple institutions. Colleges and universities are implementing programs that provide more targeted advising and support programs for first-generation college students.  And they are increasingly focused on student success, degree completion, and affordability.

Implications for libraries and publishers are significant. In looking at factors that can accelerate and reduce barriers to student success, institutions are moving to Open Educational Resources (OER) as a replacement for textbooks. Faculty and administrators recognized that the high cost of textbooks often meant that their students were trying to complete courses without buying the required readings. Online students who could afford to purchase the textbooks often had difficulty acquiring them in a timely fashion. Several institutions have moved in part or completely to OERs to ensure that all students have immediate access to the reading materials they need to be successful in their courses, while reducing some of their out-of-pocket expenses.

Are there opportunities for publishers to think about new and more affordable ways to offer scholarly resources to students, potentially taking advantage of the strong relationships they may already have with faculty authors? How can libraries support this shift? Marie Cini, provost, University of Maryland University College, one of the speakers who discussed her institution’s move to OER, praised librarians who have been instrumental in identifying high-quality OER for courses offered in her institution’s adult education courses. She noted that librarians must consider ways in which they are contributing to student success as their metric of success. Mark McBride, director of Monroe Community College Library, also called on librarians to help their institutions reduce costs for students by building repositories of Open Educational Resources that support the curriculum. This is a new role for librarians, and it requires a different set of skills.

Students are everywhere, and we need to meet them wherever they are.

Librarians and publishers alike must also be thinking seriously about how their services will have to adapt to meet the needs of students who are located all over the world. This need abounds, and was highlighted at the meeting by Charles Isbell, who inspired Next Wave attendees with his story of global enrollment for the cost-contained computer science master’s degree from Georgia Tech. Publishers will need to make course content convenient, timely and easy to purchase for students and their institutions, and that content must be more readily integrated in learning management systems. Libraries located in proximity to the online students are likely to be called upon to provide support, even though the students are officially enrolled at Georgia Tech or another distant institution. While our institutions are in many ways still bound by physical place and local budgets, students are not, and their expectations will challenge our old concepts of service.

Collaboration is hard, growing, and essential.

Librarians who spoke at the Next Wave described how they are relying on collaborative efforts and more responsive organizational structures to meet the emerging needs of higher education. Open Access and community-based efforts are priorities for many librarians, as these seem most promising for expanding services while containing or reducing costs. They are working with colleagues to build repositories that collect and preserve locally-produced scholarship and make it freely available, but this requires reallocating resources and developing new organizational structures to support the effort. Publishers are challenged to find ways to enable sharing of digital content across institutions and are exploring ways of providing more of their content through Open Access platforms, all while maintaining a business model that allows them to continue to publish new research. All of this is challenging, but we see time and again, the need to scale and make what we do more efficient.

Hearing the call.

The striking, overall story at The Next Wave was not OER, online learning, or shared initiatives.  These are emerging solutions. The overall, poignant story was the opportunity that exists for librarians and publishers to redirect services in ways that will deliver the result society is demanding: greater access to higher education that is more affordable and with better outcomes for a much wider population. The Next Wave was a call to all of us to provide this support and to be part of the solution.