All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

Supporting Our Communities

I’d originally planned a different post for today, but now it seems like that can wait. The election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States has come as a surprise to many. I’m still wrapping my head around it, both personally and professionally, as a librarian at a public college in one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world.

What’s the role of our college and university libraries after this election? I’m focused on continuing to support our students — young and old, immigrants and US-born, of all races, religions, and sexual orientations — in the academic work they are committed to this semester, and to making the library as safe a space as possible for them. I’m also keeping my colleagues in mind, both in the library and at the college. It’s an amazing community we have at City Tech and the entire City University of New York, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Out of the Margins: Reflections on Open Access Week 2016

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Lily Troia (@LilyTroia), Digital Services Librarian at the College of William and Mary, primarily working at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in digital scholarship, open access, and research data management.

This year marks the 9th annual International Open Access Week, a celebration that engages the global research community in issues surrounding openness. Open Access Week was first launched in 2008 by SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition and student partners, and seeks to raise awareness of, and encourage participation in, open access advocacy, working towards the goal of making openness the default in research. This year’s theme, “Open in Action,” aims to motivate individuals, institutions, and organizations to take concrete, actionable steps towards increasing open access to scholarly materials.

Access to research and scholarly articles gets to the heart of the library and information profession’s ethos. Conditions around access to information have the power to sharply segregate society into haves and have-nots—a circumstance acutely represented in the serials crisis academic libraries have been grappling with for 20 plus years. In a 2013 TEDMED talk, Elizabeth Marincola, CEO of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), warns of the repercussions of this commoditization of information, and a society in which only students at the wealthiest schools have access to the best research.

The open access alternative represents a commitment to the basic tenets of scholarly pursuits, and recognition of the incredible distribution potential of digital technology. The rise of the Internet Age has irrevocably changed the economic landscape for countless industries, especially those involving intellectual property, so it should come as no surprise that scholarly publishing would also face a similar reckoning. Yet open access offers all stakeholders an opportunity to evaluate what’s broken, what needs to be maintained, and to collaborate to create new methods and tools for communicating the fruits of research and academic labor to the widest audience possible.

The benefits of open access might seem obvious, but to many in academia, they are not. In a recent webcast Q&A with Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, and author of the seminal work Open Access, Suber pointed out 30% of journals are now OA, and roughly half of peer-reviewed articles are OA after publication within two years, indicating incredible progress towards the goal of making open the standard. A recent report revealed the growth rate for open access articles double that of published research articles in general. Despite these heartening statistics, Suber noted librarians continue to be the drivers of most open efforts, a necessity to the campaign, but one that will fall short without equal engagement from faculty and researchers. Continued (and amplified) focus on outreach will be crucial to the movement. Certainly the public’s right to know should resonate with many, especially when considering taxpayers fund a good portion of the research. The limitless analytical potential of text and data mining across wide swaths of intellectual output cannot be understated. For some researchers, the requirement to share data or their articles may be reason enough, yet the benefits of increased exposure, substantial citation advantage, fostering of collaboration, and opportunities to have huge public impact, should be continually reinforced via communications and policy.

Since its earliest days of inception as a grassroots, scientist-led initiative, open access and the related efforts around open data and open research have successfully shifted the conversation in scholarly communication, with funder requirements for OA the norm, and self-archiving allowances by for-profit journals common. While the cause has certainly advanced, bolstered by the momentum accompanying public access mandates, cultural shifts in academia, especially those surrounding tenure and promotion, have been slow to respond, and wading through this extended transitional period has resulted in traditional models and subscription costs maintaining a firm foothold. Researcher participation, most notably in the humanities, is still far from universal. Scholarly communications librarians, those working with institutional repositories, and university administrators[1] reveal concerns about slow shifts towards faculty buy-in and acknowledge researcher misconceptions around open access are prevalent.

While the open access movement is specifically focused on scholarly journals, it represents a broader shift towards openness made possible by networked technology. Open data has been at the center of the research community’s discussion surrounding reproducibility, and has many other implications: data sharing can stimulate innovation; like new analytical tools, it enables new research questions to emerge when datasets are combined, it serves as an incentive for better data documentation, and it can reduce costs associated with research by eliminating redundant efforts and other inefficiencies.

In addition, librarians must be ready to support non-traditional uses of data and collection materials – like digitization of archival materials, artistic projects, or software programs. While tangential to the serials-focused movement, special collections and archives must be involved in open initiatives, and educating information professionals working in these fields will be paramount to developing a unified message and building strategic alliances across the open data, research, and science movements.

Suber acknowledged institutional change is among the hardest hurdles, yet implored librarians to maintain optimism, and encouraged actionable efforts such as blogging about open access, publishing their own works in OA outlets, and refusing to peer-review for non-OA journals. Advocacy to increase open access is needed now more than ever. Many organizations, professionals, and policy-makers are responding to the call, with targeted work aimed at building both internal and external support, and development of policies and platforms that promote greater participation. It is critical these conversations are inclusive, and identify (and work to deconstruct) the privilege and power structures inherited from our communities of practice. In a recent blog post, April Hathcock, Scholarly Communications Librarian at NYU, calls upon the open community to address ways the movement simply recreates the dominating “Western neoliberal research institution . . . fully colonized across the globe;” and notes any transformation of scholarly communications must demand openness and transparency in its own discourse.

Above all, open access advocacy is about collaboration with all research communities, and the broader public, who are also key stakeholders—and investors—in this process. We must form alliances with like-minded publishers, expand our role in digital scholarship, and build public awareness around the ways that open issues touch all of our lives. Advocacy also involves enlisting the support of our institutional administrators, anticipating and addressing faculty concerns, engaging early researchers and even undergraduates, and ensuring all academic librarians are confident in their understanding of copyright, open licensing, and new modes of publishing.

Forward-thinking institutions like William and Mary are creating new positions such as mine, focused on facilitating academic digital services, expanding open research, and recognizing the vital importance these roles play in promoting a healthier flow of scholarly communication. I feel incredibly privileged to have been tasked with organizing our International Open Access Week events here at William & Mary Libraries, and view these outreach and educational activities as essential components of open access advocacy and action.

In 2009, when asked to give his outlook for the future of open access, Suber referenced the sage words of computing pioneer Alan Curtis Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The outlook of digital scholarship is riddled with unknowns, so it is up to us to engage various stakeholders and audiences, enlist their support in open access initiatives, and empower the academic community towards sustainability. It is up to us to ensure the dissemination of information is not stymied or stalled by lack of action, and to stand firm in our commitment to make certain the future is open.

[1] See more on this discussion (specifically in the context of IR participation) in a recent series of blog posts and responses: Q&A with CNI’s Clifford Lynch: Time to re-think the institutional repository?; Institutional Repositories: Response to comments; Repositories vs. Quasitories, or Much Ado About Next To Nothing

Director at the Desk

This week I’m trying something I’ve never done before: I’m working one evening and one weekend shift at our Reference Desk. All librarians in the library where I work take a few short Friday evening shifts, including me, but until this semester I’d not yet done reference up to our later weeknight closing or all day on Saturday (though in the past I’ve taught classes at both times).

My main interest in taking these shifts is to learn more about what the library’s like during our evening and Saturday hours. We do a full headcount multiple times each semester of everyone using the library, and keep the usual statistics about reference transactions, circulation, and printing, so we do have some sense of how the library’s used when the full-timers aren’t there. And of course our evening and Saturday library faculty and staff share any concerns or news with us, too. But as both a library director and a researcher interested in how students do their academic work, I’ve been more and more curious to see for myself. How are students using the library outside of the standard work week? What areas of the library see the most use, and are there bottlenecks (if any)? Are there services or sections of the library that aren’t used in these off-hours?

I admit that I was somewhat nervous in the run up to this week. It’s not that I’m concerned about making grave errors — our work is important, but the library’s not an emergency room. But since I’m not on the desk often I feel like my reference skills are somewhat rusty. Our discovery layer was added after I became a director (and stopped teaching regularly), so I’m much less practiced at using it than I was with our online catalog. Technology questions can be tricky, too; I’m grateful that we’ve added a dedicated tech support staff member at the reference desk, which is a huge help for the inevitable questions about campus wifi or using the LMS, not to mention printer jams.

I drafted this post during the second half of my evening shift, and I was delighted to be there! I’m a little bit out of practice in explaining the research process clearly and concisely, but I’m getting better with each question. Midterms are only just over a week away so I’ve had a fair number of research consultations in between requests for the stapler and scanners. It’s been interesting to see the ebbs and flows — we are really, really busy during the 5-6pm class break, especially with students printing out assignments and readings before class, but then things slow down considerably. The quiet floor is quieter than during the day, and the talking floor is quieter, too. I still miss the regular interaction with students that I had before I became Chief Librarian, and it’s been great to have that experience again this week.

Other than scheduling enough time for me to eat before my shift started (which was entirely my own fault), I’m chalking up my stint at reference earlier this week as a success. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m looking forward to going back for more.

Taming Tenure as a Newbrarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Dylan Burns, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Utah State University.

This month I’ll end my first “year” at Utah State University, only about 3 months in real human time. That is when my tenure calendar, which trudged on before I was a glint in the eye of my search committee, ends the first year. Given the short amount of time I’ve been in Logan I believe I’ve done well in my position as Digital Scholarship Librarian, but the tenure dossier and meeting I schedule in few weeks still makes me think about the tenure process and what it means for librarians.

How am I approaching tenure?

A common refrain amongst faculty librarians is the “failed academic” route to our success. Many of us dreamed of being on campus albeit as research or teaching faculty rather than where we landed in the library. This doesn’t mean that the library wasn’t ultimately the spot in academia that fit my interests and goals the best; In fact, I will say that I should have been shooting for librarianship for a longer time that I actually was. We all hear stories from kids in library school (I can say that now right? Since I’m library #adulting?) where they knew from a young age that librarianship was their be-all end-all, but I wasn’t one of them.

What this means is that in my prior grad school life, I had a completely different set of research interests and projects which may or may not fit in my life as a librarian (depending on how much you squint). In my previous program I presented and published on gendered bananas in advertising and American diplomacy as well as the end of the world in country music. While the end products of my research, strange discussions of cultural politics of bananas aside, fit well in many humanities departments across the country, these aren’t the research projects that librarians need to make themselves better and improve the larger discipline.

What I do think these prior flights of fancy in scholarship give me is a larger context for the work I ultimately am doing as an academic librarian. In my meetings with faculty I can share these experiences with them and draw from my own previous life as a researcher to better design a digital scholarship unit at Utah State which confronts problems and assuages fears.

In a larger context though, I find that academic librarianship allows us to see the larger picture of both the University but the entire scholarly world. Scholars on campus are brilliantly narrow in their pursuits, a necessity of the current state of academia. Librarians, on the other hand, are interdisciplinary to their core.

This leads to a potential pitfall that all of us face. With the new brand of freedom granted by not having to take classes or read assigned texts I’m left with the burden of this freedom. I guide my own path, with the guidance of experienced librarians and my committee. I chose what to read and what skills to learn. This is a great freedom but also a deep frustration: What I am going to do now? In a lot of ways we are experts in gaining expertise. We guide researchers to their own information needs and goals. How do we do this for ourselves?

With my short year concluding I felt a lot of pressure to hit the ground running. I think that is a burden that all first year librarians feel. We see colleagues doing great work and we judge ourselves against what they’ve been able to do in years rather than weeks. Remembering that we’re new and these connections and projects take time to develop is key to early success. Sometimes we come to our jobs with projects in mind, I have some on the backburner, but when confronted with new environments and new colleagues it is imperative that we jettison those projects if new ones come along. I have taken every single opportunity to work with my new friends and colleagues on projects essential to the future of our library.

What I idealized as the Baudelairian scholar or poet in the tower who worked on scholarship as a singular and lonely force is ultimately the wrong approach. Librarianship is one where we can all work on projects together to further the field. Being open to collaborations and being interested in forming these connections has been one of the most important things I’ve learned thus far.

Furthermore, after decades of school, I think I tend to view most of interactions as competitions. Competitions for grads or grants or for articles or conferences or graduate assistantships and jobs. It is easy to carry this competitive edge into the job and tenure does not discourage that kind of thinking. But I remind myself every day that I am in competition only with myself and any opportunity to cooperate and collaborate carries everyone forward together.

In some ways tenure in library circles mirror current debates about accreditation for library schools, in that these are larger discussions over the professionalization of our occupation. How do we as academic librarians view our status at the university? There are some librarians who believe that we are second class citizens at the university, and I think this, unfortunately, might be more reality than fiction at some schools. What tenure and faculty status allows is a gravitas to our work and our status at the university.

As a first year faculty member, I have been attending workshops and classes with new teaching faculty, and I must pause and take heart that while I’m not a doctor I have the same role in the larger university machine. This is a hard thing for faculty librarians, including myself, to fully cure. But there are opportunities to find common minds in these interactions and I am thankful that faculty status allows me this kind of in with new professors. I research and they research. I teach and they teach. Even in my short time at Utah State some of my most rewarding experiences have been with working with faculty members as equals in the university’s mission.

Lingering Lockout Questions

It’s been a week since the faculty — including library faculty — at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus returned to the Fall semester. Just before the semester began, they were locked out by the university administration when their contract expired and before they could vote on a new contract. I know many of the librarians at LIU, some were formerly at my own university (City University of New York), and I count them as both colleagues and friends. I also live and work very close to the campus; I walk right by it on my way home each day.

While news of the lockout was initially slow to break, after the first few days both mainstream and education news began to run coverage of the lockout. If you weren’t following the lockout as it happened, you can catch up on the websites of my local paper, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and our own Barbara Fister’s great piece on Inside Higher Ed. And for a thoughtful discussion of the end of the lockout and future concerns, I recommend Emily Drabinski’s interview in Jacobin Magazine. Emily is both a librarian and the secretary of the faculty union (and, full disclosure, a friend); her Twitter updates were instrumental in getting the media attention that the lockout deserved.

I’m so relieved for the librarians, other faculty, and students that the lockout is over, that I no longer see police fences to corral protesters when I walk home past LIU’s campus. But I’m left with lots of questions, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’d been a member of CUNY’s faculty union when I was Instruction Coordinator, the only union job I’ve ever had. As a Chief Librarian I’m now on the management side, since mine is a title that’s excluded from the union. CUNY has had its own lengthy contract negotiation process, settled only this past summer after the old contract expired in 2010. But I realized over the past few weeks that I know little about unions, the history of labor, and the impact on librarians and libraries. I care very much about library workers — at my place of work and libraries generally — and it’s clear I have work to do to learn more.

I’m also left with questions like “what’s next?” Certainly LIU’s faculty and administration go back to the bargaining table to begin contract negotiations again. But what’s next for academic libraries? For higher education more generally, at institutions with and without a union? When faculty are replaced (even temporarily) and students walk out, is the college still doing the work of a college?