Category Archives: Scholarly Communications

For postings related to scholarly communications issues, including open access, copyright management, and institutional repositories.

A Librarian at the MLA

I recently attended the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. The theme of the conference, “Avenues of Access,” encouraged reflection on how scholars, students, and publics access the humanities within institutions and on their margins. What does access mean for students when many American universities are eliminating humanities departments and programs? What does access mean for scholars when, according to the MLA’s own statistics, only about half of all doctorates in languages and literatures ever receive tenure-track positions?

As librarians, we might think of “Avenues of Access” in a different way – libraries are the central physical and digital avenues of access to the humanities on many campuses. How can attending MLA and other disciplinary conferences help us do our jobs better as librarians? Among the panels I attended, three stood out in offering ideas.

The roundtable “Theories and Practices of the Literary Lab” (abstracts) brought together six panelists discussing literary labs as campus centers for research, teaching, and discussion. Literary labs are spaces for distant (as opposed to close) reading, quantitative textual research, and collaborative projects open to experimentation and failure. As one panelist argued, book history and bibliography are often missing from the conversation (there were no librarians on the panel). How can librarians use our expertise to enhance literary lab scholarship? When I asked the group this question, the general consensus was just as faculty culture had to change to accept and nurture new kinds of literary research, library culture had to change – in particular, to be less proprietary about data – in order to participate.

The session “How Many Copies Is Enough? Libraries and Shared Monograph Archives,” arranged by the MLA’s Discussion Group on Libraries and Research in Language and Literature, asked “As libraries rely increasingly on digitized texts and on partnerships for archiving print volumes, how do libraries and scholars cooperate to ensure preservation of copies with artifactual value for scholarly purposes?” (abstracts and bibliography) Some questions from the discussion: How do consortial agreements about legacy collections affect bibliographers’ decision-making about current acquisitions? How can we add value to catalog records to identify print copies with artifactual value? How do we adapt the serendipity of browsing in the stacks to browsing in the digital environment? What criteria do we use to define “unique” in terms of a print copy? (A sidebar: We learned at this session that the MLA is revisiting the 1995 Statement on the Significance of Primary Records and the subsequent 1999 report Preserving Research Collections: A Collaboration Between Librarians and Scholars.)

My favorite session, overall, convened by the MLA’s president, Michael Bérubé, was “Avenues of Access: Digital Humanities and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” Inspired by the advent of MLACommons, a new social media platform for members, Matthew Kirschenbaum performed an archeology of his own digital presence, excavating material from Usenet, listservs, and early 1990s websites (complete with flashing graphics on the Geocities platform). He made three assertions about access. Access engenders power, he argued, in patterns of contact acceptance in social media platforms that parallel in-person networks in scholarly institutions like the MLA. Access entails risk: as a doctoral student, he posted drafts of his dissertation on his website, writing in the agora, hiding his ideas, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight. And access requires time: we might envision a future where tenure and promotion are based on “cycles of attention” – the “likes” and retweets that make up the bibliometrics of social media. On the same panel, Bethany Nowviskie used William Morris’s statement that “you can’t have art without resistance in the materials” to make a case for the productive resistance on the margins of the profession. Those in adjunct positions and the alternative-academic movement, as well as librarians and technologists, are the translators and intermediaries, the generators of ideas and pedagogy in the digital humanities. By being generalists – jacks of all trades and masters of none – we enable the work of specialists and ensure access to scholarly communication for all.

One final note – as at most professional conferences, the MLA’s Twitter backchannel was a rich resource for commentary and discussion. Check it out at #mla13, and see my own comments at @laurabrarian

Responding to Change

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan, and John Unsworth, vice provost for Library and Technology Services at Brandeis University, speak on The Hathi Trust, Google Books, and the Future of Research. The event was the part of the BNN Symposium on the Future of the Academy sponsored by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP), the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and the Boston Library Consortium (BLC).

The theme of the day was institutional responses to technological change: how do we keep libraries relevant in supporting research? How can emerging technologies enable new kinds of research using traditional materials? How can we take advantage of changing technologies while preserving our values and services? This event was a great opportunity for thinking about these questions from a big-picture perspective.

Courant had a few central messages to his talk, which I summarize and comment on below. His words, paraphrased, are in italics, and my thoughts and questions follow.

  • Technology is a set of mechanisms that get you from input to output. Libraries produce value by making things reusable and sharing them; that’s a technology. We’re all using technology; there’s no such thing as a “technophobe.” Hardware and software, devices and databases, are all tools that function within this technology. Books are a technology: they move ideas along, from authorial input to reader output.
  • In a disrupted world, build things to see what works. Don’t wait for all the ducks to line up in a row. Dedicate time and energy for new initiatives, but don’t require that they be perfect, or have buy-in from an entire organization. Create and support spaces that enable experimental projects. (Is the Harvard Library Lab still operational? Are there others?) Learn from the things that don’t work.
  • The old system doesn’t tell you what to build. What do we do because we’ve always done it? Are there traditions (services, functions, processes) that we preserve for their own sake? What is worth preserving and what can we leave behind?
  • Look to purposes, not to things, although things can be the only way to some purposes. Is a traditional reference desk the only way to provide drop-in research help? What are other ways that we can provide time-of-need assistance? Must we be in the physical space of the library to provide this kind of help? Or does having a physical service desk in the centralized public space of the reading room encourage patrons to use librarians’ services? Does the presence of a reference desk enable user interactions that wouldn’t happen otherwise?
  • The library isn’t there for itself; it’s there to enable scholarship and learning. This is one of the “no-brainers” that I forget sometimes, especially with collection development. Creating an ideal collection with its own integrity can be very rewarding, but so can assembling connections to materials that enable and enrich research, teaching, and learning.
  • Preserve outcomes, not business models. Use the language of learning outcomes to help shape the direction of new projects. What do we want users to be able to do as a result of this service or product? What do users want to be able to do? How can we meet those needs using the resources we have?

Push-Us-Over-the-Edge Friday?

By now you’ve probably heard all about #OAMonday: May 21st, when the folks behind the open access advocacy site access2research.org unveiled the site and kicked off the push to petition the White House to allow public access to the results of taxpayer-funded research. The message has spread far and wide throughout the academic and library community, with amazing results: so far over 22,500 signatures have been gathered in just 12 days!

I’m sure that most ACRLog readers have signed the petition. Librarians have been and continue to be on the leading edge of open access advocacy, and the ACRL Insider published a post in support of the petition on the very first day. I’ve seen so many tweets and retweets about the petition amongst the librarians that I follow that I’ve lost count, and clearly all of our hard work has made an impact.

But there’s still a ways to go, still nearly 2,500 signatures required to guarantee an official response to the petition from the White House. Maybe you’ve already signed, but how can you help push us over the edge today and in the coming days?

Spread the word beyond the scholarly and library community! I know this might seem like a stretch: if you’re like me, many family members, friends, and acquaintances haven’t heard about and may not understand the issues around open access publishing or why an academic librarian would be concerned about them. It can also be hard to ask folks to sign a petition, and I know I’m always wary of potentially adding yet another message requesting action to possibly-overstuffed email inboxes.

I overcame my own personal petition-emailing fears last week, and the results have been pretty amazing. A neighbor responded nearly instantly that she had signed the petition. My mother signed it, forwarded it to her friends and colleagues, then emailed me the article in the Chron about the petition a couple of days later. I think that including links in my email to this concise and well-crafted video featured on access2research.org helped, and now there’s another great video available, too.

What other ways have you found to spread the word about the access to research petition? Share your success stories in the comments! (And if you haven’t signed yet, please head on over to the White House site and do!)

Open Access Beyond Academia

I live in New York City and have been following the Occupy Wall Street activities here (and associated activities elsewhere) since they began last fall. I hadn’t been directly involved, but recently that changed, and on May Day I facilitated an open access teach-in with my fantastic colleagues Jill Cirasella and Alycia Sellie from the Brooklyn College library of the City University of New York (I’m in the library at another CUNY college, NYC College of Technology).

Our happy group of learners. Note our amazing sign, hand-painted by Alycia. Credit: OccupyCUNYNews

Our teach-in was part of The Free University of NYC: an event planned to reimagine higher education alongside all of the other May Day demonstrations and protests. The Free U set up shop in Madison Square Park near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, and encouraged teachers to bring classes and anyone to sign up to facilitate a teach-in, discussion, or skill share. “Admission” was free to all, and topics covered ranged widely, from discussions of mounting student debt and income inequality, to the work of Occuprint, a group that’s collecting the posters and visual culture of the Occupy movement, to an occupied figure drawing class. Jill, Alycia, and I have been active in OA advocacy at CUNY, and when we saw the call for participation we thought that the Free U would be a great opportunity to continue to advocate for access to scholarly research for all.

We were scheduled for an early timeslot and the day dawned rainy and chilly, which meant that we didn’t draw huge crowds. But we had lots of great, lively conversation with the folks who did stop by, mostly graduate students and faculty at CUNY or other universities in NYC. We’d prepped for the possibility of a presentation, split between the three of us, but the opportunity for one-on-one interaction allowed us to tailor discussions to the specific questions participants had, like: “How can I make my own work available for all to read?” and “Will depositing my articles in an institutional repository hand over control of my work to the university?” I’m absolutely certain that we were able to change a few minds about open access that morning.

All in all it was a great day, and since then I’ve found myself returning to thoughts about how to bring the open access message outside of the academic library. In all of my mulling I was reminded of this great UK website Who Needs Access? You Need Access!. This OA advocacy site was launched earlier this year, and provides real-world examples of the benefits of access to published research from teachers, patients, nurses, artists, and others. I think it’s a great resource to use for our advocacy work.

And last week our own Steven Bell posted over at Library Journal about bringing the work of academic librarians outside of the library. Steven suggests a number of different venues and outlets we might consider, including the increasingly-popular Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs), local talks at unconventional locations like bars or restaurants, and skill-share or other community educational opportunities, some free and some fee-based. Outlets like these could be another way for us to spread the word about open access beyond the walls of our libraries and campuses.

Are you advocating for open access publishing outside the library? If so, tell us about it!

Georgia State E-reserves Case Roundup

Last Friday the Judge finally handed down a decision in the Georgia State University e-reserves case, a year after the trial and three years after the suit was brought by academic publishers SAGE, Cambridge University Press, and Oxford University Press. These publishers sued GSU for allowing faculty to upload course readings excerpted from books to the university’s course management system, alleging that the university had gone beyond the accepted guidelines for fair use.

It’s only Monday morning but there’s already been loads of commentary on the decision, a PDF of which was posted online late Friday by Nancy Sims, Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota. It seems that on balance the decision favors GSU and libraries: copyright violation was found in only 5 of the 99 instances of uploading course readings. I’m sure there will be more coming on this case, as neither GSU nor the plaintiffs have released comments on the decision. But here are some great articles to get you started considering this case and its potential effects on academic libraries: