Making Higher Education Accessible with Dr. Walter Butler
“So my interest was, how are [college] libraries changing? How are Open Educational Resources impacting their structures, and what new structures are now emerging to support this new effort?”
Dr. Walter Butler
SJSU Ph.D. March 2022
Dr. Walter D. Butler received his MLIS from UCLA in 2008 but always had an intention of continuing on to get his Ph.D.
Though he would not return until ten years later, Walter has expressed that he’s glad he actually spent time developing some work experience before he went back to school and immersed himself in academic life.
Walter began his doctorate as part of the San Jose State University Gateway Program with the Queensland University of Technology in 2018, which allowed him to continue his full-time position while completing his postgraduate degree.
Finding His Niche
Prior to his MLIS program, Walter worked at Everest College and also taught 10th-12th grade social sciences at Crenshaw Arts Technology Charter High School (CATCH), which motivated him to pursue school librarianship. At the same time, however, Walter was already working in an archive in West LA, so he went on to earn a specialized degree in Archives with a Teaching Librarian credential after finishing his master’s.
Even though he wasn’t initially pursuing a Ph.D., his work experiences were influencing research interests around vocational schools, wondering about the place of technical schools in academic libraries or even community college libraries, and thinking about how they don’t really have a voice in either library community.
But at this point, Walter now had a job at Pasadena City College, which later led to a full-time position.
Though his research questions changed with his career shifts (from vocational school libraries next to school libraries and then to community college libraries), Walter was able to bring his background knowledge of each with him to each unique context as he started his postgraduate studies.
Open Educational Resources
Walter’s postgraduate thesis ended up with a focus on Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are defined as resources that can be accessed and reused freely and openly, often to subset the cost of textbooks through transformable online resources.
The key word here is reusable: educational resources on YouTube for example, though they are freely accessible, are not usually intended to be remixed or edited without express permission.
With OER textbooks, students can access them online, print them out, and do what they wish with them, shifting the role of publishers, educators, and even librarians.
Libraries and librarians at academic institutions found themselves in the position of trying to find solutions to textbook prices — with some state or locally supported OER initiatives, and have worked to not only convince instructors or institutions to use these resources but also to support the process of creating OER. This dramatic change in the library’s role in education really helped shape Walter’s research.
“So my interest was, how are libraries changing? How is [OER] impacting their structures, and what new structures are now emerging to support this new effort? What value are they now creating for their institutions because of this and how do you replicate that value?”
Honing in on one specific community college OER group, Walter began to investigate how many librarians were involved and the kinds of questions they were asking to develop OER — as well as how successful they had been in their endeavors thus far. At this point in his postgraduate research, Walter had already been in charge of developing his own community college’s OER initiatives which allowed him to more intimately understand the other community college librarians’ challenges whilst also doing his best to separate his experience enough to avoid taking on a biased lens.
“Since the beginning what we focused on initially was raising awareness, first to get faculty interested in [OER] and what we discovered was there were already faculty doing this. It’s just looking at it and trying to figure out what support they need and how we can broaden it [across campuses].”
Thanks to the Zero Textbook Cost initiatives across California, Walter’s library began tracking the use of OER across Pasadena City College classes. This has also meant explaining how resources like articles found on databases need to be linked instead of uploaded as PDFs and other copyright adjacent rules that come when something isn’t strictly dedicated as OER.
“So once again, that’s another role. Libraries have never been really involved with analyzing class schedules and textbook adoptions — that’s not something we normally do. But that’s something we’ve done and now also [provide] professional development, creating different trainings for faculty and leading that, working with Associated Students very closely to figure out how we can make sure students understand what this [means for them].”
There’s also been a push to use this time to ensure that the materials are not only holistic but also more representative of different communities and identities than traditional materials.
“We want to make sure that there are different voices represented. And because we are creating them, we have that opportunity to do this with proper intention as much as we can.”
Walter finished his Ph.D. in March of this year and has since been able to put his focus back into his community college’s initiatives in a more hands-on way. Learning to find that work-life balance in graduate school is never easy, Walter admits, and it’s nice to have that time again.
Between the OER efforts and helping with the Librarian Technician Certificate Program most recently articulating this program to the University of Maine’s LIS program, Walter kept busy at Pasadena City College chairing various college organizations and committees — something that he says stems from his time earning his MLIS.
“Those external groups are definitely helpful and they build networks. People get to know you, and you get to learn about other library efforts across the nation and just feed into your awareness of what’s happening.”
On top of recommending that students get involved in student organizations (or their postgraduate cohorts), Walter also would suggest that any students considering a Ph.D. make sure they have a specific focus that they are aiming for, otherwise it may be wiser to start working and gaining first-hand experience to begin developing some of those research questions naturally.
A Ph.D. is a large commitment and something that is incredibly personal to each individual pursuing their own professional goals. Some people are interested in teaching or staying in academia. For Walter, on top of his research interests, he thought a doctorate would help open doors.
Since completing his Ph.D., Walter has also since found out that he was elected to the ACRL board as the sole community college librarian starting this month, and has recently moved on from Pasadena City College to start a new position as the Director of Library Services at Santa Monica College. Walter intends on staying involved in community colleges for a long time. He appreciates the student-focus that community colleges have, though Walter admits that finding community college library positions can be a challenge and that some of their libraries are not as staffed as they could be. Though every institution is different, all libraries need to be able to make assessments and efficiently argue for the effectiveness of their role and why new positions should be created.
For a practical tip, Walter does suggest that MLIS students looking to work at community colleges start applying for adjunct positions as they near graduation so they can begin to be considered for part-time positions in an applicant pool which can give them the experience they were looking for.