OA & OER: What are they?

Trocaire College Libraries

What is OA?

OA stands for "Open Access". It usually refers to scholarly publications released under an open licence. These resources are digital materials that are freely available to anyone to read, reuse, retain and redistribute.

  • The most common license is a Creative Commons License. It is extremely important that you follow the permissions of the original materials.

The 3 Rs or How can I use OA?:

  • Retain: make or own a copy of the original material by downloading, duplicating or storing
  • Reuse: to use the original content in may ways by using in a class, on a website or video
  • Redistribute: to share the original

Notice that the material is not changed or revised in any way. Usually OA requires that the reader adheres to the following when using or citing the materials:

  • requires attribution
  • verbatim use of the material
  • no commercial use of the material

What is OER?

OER stands for Open Education Resources. These resources are for teaching, learning and research. The main goal of OER is to make education more affordable, accessible, relevant, timely and effective. These materials are either released under the public domain or under an open license that allows use. These materials are extremely helpful to teaching faculty because they can customize the materials to "fit" their classes. Students benefit from the ability to access the information anytime and anywhere and that the materials are free to them.

Public domain refers to creative materials that are not protected by either:

  • copyright
  • trade mark
  • patent laws
Basically it is materials that belong to the public. You can use the materials without obtaining permission to:
  • share the original work
  • make derivative works based on the original
  • edit the original work

The most common license is a Creative Commons License. It is extremely important that you follow the permissions of the original materials.

The 5 Rs or How can I use OERs:

  • Retain: make or own a copy of the material by downloading, duplicating of storing
  • Reuse: to use the content in may ways by using in a class, on a website or video
  • Revise: to adapt, adjust, modify or improve the material
  • Remix: to combine with other content or material, "mashup"
  • Redistribute: to share the original or revision or mashup

OER digital materials may include:

  • Open access journals, journal articles and textbooks (some with restrictions)
  • Course materials such as: syllabi, assignment/activities, lesson plans, videos, powerpoint slides, simulations, etc.

Where Can I Find OA & OERs?

Below is a sample of several places on the web where you can find OA and OER.

Various Materials:

Here you will find open lesson plans, assignments and other teaching materials.


MERLOT provides access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools. Here you can browse by discipline/topic, add materials, create materials and portfolios. Membership is free if you would to take advantage of material creation and uploads.


Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS) is a search tool to find open content. As of June 2020, OASIS searches open content from approximately 100 sources and contains over 385,000 records. Subjects range from Anatomy to Women's Studies.

OER Commons

Here you can "explore, create, and collaborate with educators around the world to improve curriculum". There are over 50,000 high-quality OERs covering courses, lessons, textbooks, worksheet, activities and more.

Teaching Commons

High-quality OERs that are curated by librarians from leading colleges and universities.

Open Textbooks:

Open Textbook Library

The Library provides a growing catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks. As of June 2020 712 titles are available.


From Rice University a website that publishes high quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed college textbooks that are absolutely free online and low cost in print.

SUNY Open Textbooks

A catalog of open textbooks created by and used in the SUNY colleges and universities.



A collection of open and for pay images.


A collection of approximately 2 million high-quality images.


A collection of over 1 million high-resolution open images released under an open license that allows them to be used in almost any way, even without crediting the creator.

Open Collections:

Database of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

A multi-discipline database containing thousands of journals that have been released under open licenses.

Internet Archive

A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Publicly Available Content Database

This database brings together full text links to publicly available scholarly content.

Project Gutenberg

One of the first collections of open resources, containing eBook versions of thousands of public domain works. Most are older works for which the US copyright has expired. Titles such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes can be found here.

Skills Commons

A free open library of workforce training materials.

Other Resources:

OER Starter Kit

This is a free eBook from the Iowa State University that explains everything that you need to know about using OERs. Recently updated in 2019.

For more information on OA and OER, ask a librarian!

Revised & Updated June 2020