3 Language Matters: Making a Dual Case as an OER Expert and Creator

Emily Carlisle-Johnston

Case study writer: Emily Carlisle-Johnston, Research and Scholarly Communication Librarian

Institution: University of Western Ontario: University

Type of intervention: In this case study, I share the ways in which I’ve described my OER work for promotion and tenure (P&T).


I am a Research and Scholarly Communication librarian at the University of Western Ontario (Western) in Canada—a public, research-intensive, medical/doctoral university with 11 faculties and more than 30,000 students. Western Libraries is organized into six functional teams; as a member of the Research and Scholarly Communication team, my role centers on supporting and advocating for open publishing across the university.

Aside from work happening in dispersed pockets around Western, a coordinated open education program had been on hiatus for a few years when I started my job in December 2020. I have assumed leadership in OER advocacy, education, and support, and in 2022, I developed and launched an OER grant program in collaboration with library colleagues, Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and Instructional Technology Resource Centre (ITRC). I am also a coeditor for an open textbook on research data management (RDM) in Canada—a Canada-wide project that has been awarded five grants.

Librarians and archivists at Western are represented by the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, though our collective agreement and our promotion and continuing appointment processes are separate from faculty. As outlined in our 2019–2023 collective agreement, librarians and archivists hired at the rank of general librarian or assistant librarian have six years and four years, respectively, to receive continuing appointment (our tenure equivalent) and promotion to the rank of associate librarian. Criteria for promotion and continuing appointment are applied according to one’s appointment and rank across our responsibilities in the areas of Professional Practice (meeting needs of the university community), Academic Activity (scholarly activity), and Service (serving on committees and organizations at the library or university level and beyond).

All librarians and archivists have also been historically required to complete an annual report each year, in which we report on our achievements in Professional Practice, Academic Activity, and Service. Annual reports are included in promotion and continuing appointment files.


I started my job as a Research and Scholarly Communication librarian in December 2020 at the rank of general librarian, with the understanding that I would undergo consideration for promotion to assistant librarian within two years and consideration for continuing appointment and promotion to associate librarian within six years. I was hired with a workload distribution of 75 percent Professional Practice, 15 percent Academic Activity, and 10 percent Service.

Since December 2020, I have written two annual reports and submitted my file for promotion to the rank of assistant librarian. In our annual reports, Professional Practice is evaluated with consideration to application of professional knowledge, communication skills, innovation and creativity, leadership, and teamwork. For librarians and archivists undergoing promotion to the rank of assistant—like myself—promotion files are evaluated according to the following:

  • Demonstration of a sustained record of achievement in Professional Practice
  • Evidence of one’s ability to effectively use their professional education
  • Demonstration of a capacity to develop and extend expertise in Professional Practice and Academic Activity
  • Demonstration of a satisfactory record of performance in Service

When I am later under consideration for continuing appointment and promotion to associate librarian, my Professional Practice will be evaluated according to my demonstration of initiative, leadership, and creativity; my ability to apply skill and critical thinking to problem-solving; and evidence of continued growth in my expertise. My Academic Activity will be evaluated not on my potential in this area but instead on my record of Academic Activity and its quality, creativity, productivity, and significance to librarianship or archival practice. Per our collective agreement, an Academic Activity record typically includes invited or refereed journal publications, invited or refereed papers or conference presentations, published monographs, and other things like non-peer-reviewed publications, unpublished works or works in progress, and creative works.

OER in Professional Practice

In both annual reports that I’ve completed and in my promotion file, my leadership of Western’s OER portfolio featured heavily in my Professional Practice. In describing my OER work in my annual reports, I borrowed language from the evaluation criteria to detail how my OER projects and support demonstrate my application of professional knowledge, my communication skills, my initiative and/or creativity, and my leadership and/or teamwork.

For example, in detailing my establishment of and support for Western’s first-ever OER grant program, I emphasized that my leadership and initiative were what made the program happen. I noted that I initiated the program by writing a proposal for funding that Western Libraries’ Senior Leadership Team approved and by establishing connections with the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Instructional Technology Resource Centre (ITRC) that resulted in each unit dedicating expertise as in-kind support to grant recipients. I acknowledged my teamwork in collaborating with representatives from these units and with other librarians to build and launch the program while also highlighting my leadership in chairing each meeting and in shaping and driving the work of the group. I also listed the in-kind expertise that I provided or would provide to grant recipients (e.g., training on Pressbooks, support in finding and attributing openly licensed resources)—supports that I noted were a product of my professional knowledge.

In describing workshops I’d developed or consultations I’d held with instructors seeking advice on finding, creating, or using OER, I likewise highlighted the professional knowledge that I drew on. To make clear the impact and importance of my professional knowledge, I provided examples of things the instructors wouldn’t have been able to do without my knowledge and expertise, like acquiring a DOI and ISBN for the digital exhibit they created with Pressbooks or sharing their OER for others to use via a digital repository. That instructors were able to put the knowledge and expertise that I shared into action is also evidence of my communication skills, which I was sure to include in both annual reports.

The criteria for evaluating Professional Practice in a promotion file is more vague, at least when going up for promotion from general librarian to assistant librarian. The Professional Practice section of my file didn’t exclusively focus on OER, but I did borrow much of the examples and language around OER from my annual reports. These examples (which spoke to my leadership, professional knowledge, teamwork, and initiative) already provided sufficient evidence of my ability to use my professional education. To demonstrate a sustained record of professional achievement, and my capacity to develop and extend professional expertise, I traced my entire career as a librarian to date, including my two previous professional positions. OER has had a growing presence in my professional practice over the course of these three jobs; my file thus traced my growth as a librarian, culminating with the leadership that I’ve taken to establish an OER program at Western.

OER in Academic Activity

Coediting an open textbook on research data management is a more recent endeavor, and so it wasn’t relevant to my promotion file; my 2021–2022 annual report was the first time I wrote about this activity. In annual reports, Academic Activity is assessed according to ongoing engagement (i.e., progress on a project) and dissemination in a given year. Given that this project was in the early stages and not yet ready for dissemination, I noted what the eventual dissemination would be—a peer-reviewed, introductory open textbook with 18 chapters—along with the progress we’d made and my contributions to that progress. At that point, my coeditors and I had written and shared a call for proposals, reviewed all proposals, and sent rejections and acceptances with feedback. I had taken the lead in writing a style guide and chapter template that was shared with all authors and in writing peer review guidelines that were used by all peer reviewers. We had collaborated on a grant proposal that was successful—providing funds for professional copyediting—and in assigning chapter drafts to peer reviewers with relevant expertise. I included all of this in my 2021–2022 annual report.


OER in Professional Practice

In each of my annual reports, I’ve received a score of Very Good for my Professional Practice, which is well above the acceptable level. I was also promoted to the rank of assistant librarian without issue and without having to clarify anything I’d submitted in my promotion file. While I didn’t receive formal feedback on my file (beyond learning that I was successful), I did learn that nearly every single letter of support that was submitted by my colleagues at Western highlighted my leadership of the OER portfolio as one of the key reasons that they were in support of my promotion.

Receiving credit under Academic Activity for my work as a coeditor on an open textbook, however, was not as straightforward.

OER in Academic Activity

In my 2021–2022 annual report meeting, I was told I should classify my coeditor work as Service rather than Academic Activity, since I myself was not authoring the chapters.

Now this was not a concession that I was willing to make, nor were my coeditors (who are also librarians at Western Libraries). First, I already have a (more than) full Service load. But more to the point, I believe that if the library wants to increase OER use and creation on campus (and if it rewards people like myself for leading advocacy and providing the necessary supports to make this possible), then it needs to start by valuing the work of OER creation and use among its own. How are we supposed to tell faculty, instructors, and administrators across campus that this work is important and valuable if our own incentive structures don’t treat it as such?

To make my case, my manager and I returned to the language detailing Academic Activity responsibilities in our collective agreement, which states that Academic Activity involves some or all of the following: (1) the creation of new knowledge, including understanding or concepts; (2) the creative application of existing knowledge; or (3) the organization and synthesis of existing knowledge. I needed to revise the description of my coeditor responsibilities in my annual report, making it clear how these responsibilities fulfilled some or all of the eligible kinds of Academic Activity. I made the case that my role as coeditor for the open textbook fulfilled the latter two by stating,

The project itself—one only made possible because of my application of expertise in open education and open publishing—is a creative form of knowledge mobilization, in which existing knowledge is compiled and shared into formats suitable and effective for teaching those unfamiliar with the subject. In partnership with the other co-editors, I selected the topics that were essential for those needing an introduction to Research Data Management (RDM), and selected expert research partners to author chapters that synthesize those topics. I am working closely with authors to ensure that each chapter conveys the necessary content, and that the resource as a whole is organized logically so as to provide a comprehensive and consistent overview of RDM.

This explanation proved effective in making my case, for now; I was able to retain my categorization of this work under Academic Activity. I expect that in future annual reports and in my file for continuing appointment and promotion to associate librarian, I will have to remain intentional with how I describe my role in coediting an OER. My language choice should mirror the language used in laying out the expectations and evaluation criteria for Academic Activity to ensure that readers can clearly see how my role in the project is within scope.


To those engaging in the creation, use, or support of OER, who also intend to apply for promotion or tenure in the future, I recommend that you

  • Consult promotion and continuing appointment criteria before committing to OER responsibilities, to ensure that it is possible to make a case for your intended OER work within existing criteria.
  • Borrow language from your P&T criteria to describe and make a case for your own OER work, in order to make it as easy as possible for reviewers to see that this work does indeed fit within institutional criteria.
  • Accept support from any colleagues who are also engaged in or allies to your OER work. There’s strength in numbers.


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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Emily Carlisle-Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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