What We Know and What They Know: Scholarly Communication, Usability, and Un-Usability.

Over the past handful of years, a lot of digital ink has been spilled on library responses to #icanhazpdf, SciHub, and, most recently, the #Twitterlibraryloan movement. This hit home in my life because  in recent discussion with students at my University, we found that students told us outright that they used SciHub because of its ability to “get most things.”

How we talk about piracy with our patrons is an important topic for discussion, and places a tremendous amount of emphasis on the ethics of a for-profit publishing model. But it places librarians in a precarious situation defending publishing practices that build barriers to research.

SciHub Pirates, from the Rjiksmuseum in Amsterdam. Schip van de schrijver Jean de Thevenot door zeerovers overmeesterd, Jan Luyken, 1681

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Thorn wrote an excellent piece about teaching professors and students about the importance of legal means of acquisition, pointing to an expectation of immediate access and declining library budgets as culprits in this explosion of piracy. Thorn suggests pointing to the ways in which piracy hurts small presses and not-for-profit publishers and how the library can and should fill these needs. She also suggests that we point to several open models that provide access to materials without the illegality of piracy.

Switching gears slightly, it reminds me of the difficulties I have in working with faculty on online scholarly profiles. Because I administer DigitalCommons@USU, and its profiling system Selected Works, I am often confronted with faculty and students who use the for-profit academic profiling systems (I’m using this difficult phrase to talk about the systems that we all know but I’d rather not name) that are extremely popular across the world and across disciplines.

What brings these two examples and issues together is the way in which we, as librarians, promote ourselves as experts in this realm and how, in a lot of ways, our strategies for promoting our services fall flat. Faculty are not cynical monsters who actively search for ways to be “anti-library,” but make rational choices that fit what they need. They aren’t very often knowledgeable about the inner working of collection development or the serials crisis but they are knowledgeable about what they need right now in their academic careers.

I explain to my faculty, much like Thorn suggests, that the for-profit profiling systems are sometimes deceptive, corporate, and, often times, include illegal materials. While the illegality of the for-profit profiles often reaches faculty, who want to avoid any legal entanglements, the prevalence of these systems does not seem to be waning. The library’s 100% legal version pales in popularity in comparison to the others, who are often much more popular in certain fields. Who am I to tell professors not to choose these options in academic areas where for-profit profiles are more valuable than the library’s resources? Despite my feelings to the contrary, sometimes the for-profit profiles fit certain scholars well.

This brings me back to the issues surrounding SciHub and #Icanhazpdf. The important thing to remember about our users is that they spend much less time than we do worrying about these things. For them, the ease of use of a for-profit profile or a pirated pdf warehouse is an issue of access and not a preference towards profits or not-profits. While each choice we make as actors is political, I do not believe that our faculty who use these platforms are willfully ignorant or disloyal to their institutions, libraries, or librarians. They just want what they want, when they want it.

Carolyn Gardner and Gabriel Gardner speak to this in their College and Research Libraries article from earlier this year:

“Poor usability is also hindering our patrons from gaining access to materials. Librarians need to apply user experience thinking to all our online systems. At our respective libraries, we have to click multiple times just to discover if an item is own. Besides complicated discovery methods, software or holdings errors are possible…Librarians need to view these crowdsourced communities as alternatives that fill a gap that we have yet to meet as opposed to purely underground and shadowy communities.” (CRL February 2017 pg 144)

When the film and television industries felt the crunch from piracy they invested in Netflix and created Hulu, and when the music industry faltered we got Spotify and other streaming platforms. Each of these systems allowed for the quick access to media that users stole to gain access to. Libraries should view SciHub and for-profit profiling systems not as a betrayal but as a call to change and action. If SciHub is easier to use than the library we cannot blame our users if they use it over our complicated systems. If the for-profit profiling systems are superior to the library administered in someways, perhaps that is what our faculty are looking for.

We as librarians shouldn’t  “teach” our patrons to adapt to our obtuse and oftentimes difficult systems but libraries should adapt to the needs of our patrons. I really do not want to be at odds with my colleagues who call for education on these issues, because education is needed on these issues. After all, we are in the business of education. Yet, I believe that, in some ways, we should respect our faculty for what they do know. They know that they need resources to do their job. They should know that the library is often the best source for these resources. They also know that there are some platforms that provide easier access to these materials. I do not begrudge faculty who seek easier paths towards the resources they need to do their jobs, as much as I don’t begrudge undergraduates (or librarians) who use Wikipedia as a first source of quick info. It is a symptom of the age of easy access to materials online, and it is something that we as librarians should learn about what our scholars are looking for.

The second part of this is adpatation. We should not only respect our patron’s decision making processes but we should listen when  faculty seek sleazier means towards library services, and adapt to this need. If the for-profit profiles do something that my profiles don’t, I should think about ways to build my system to reflect those needs. If access to materials needs to be quicker than three clicks through our system, we should work to make it easier to gain legal access to materials. We shouldn’t claim that we know more than they do just because we deal with our obtuse systems on the daily, we should adapt to their needs when they arise.

 

Here We Go Again: Net Neutrality

With so much in the news since the new federal administration took office earlier this year it’s easy to be overwhelmed — I certainly have been, especially in recent weeks. So you might have missed the announcement that the Federal Communications Committee has proposed to repeal regulations on commercial internet providers that guarantee net neutrality. Net neutrality is an admittedly somewhat clunky term that requires companies that sell internet access to treat all content equally. As a concept it’s a bit easier to explain using the negative example: if net neutrality ended, companies like Verizon and Comcast could force consumers to pay different rates for different kinds of content, for example, high-bandwidth content like streaming video (think YouTube or Netflix) could be more expensive than content that doesn’t require as much bandwidth. Rolling back net neutrality could make it much more challenging for many of us to access the internet.

The FCC last proposed changing these regulations in 2014, at which point John Jackson wrote a concise overview — Keeping Up With…Net Neutrality — on ACRL’s website, which is a good place to start to learn more. Margaret Heller’s thorough post on the ACRL TechConnect blog is also a great read; in What Should Academic Librarians Know about Net Neutrality? she offers a clear explanation of how content gets from content providers via internet service providers to us as consumers. And how does this affect us as librarians? Content that our communities need could be made more difficult and expensive to access, costs that neither our communities nor our libraries may be able to bear. Even more troubling to consider are possible effects on information freedom and free speech, since as Jackson notes

The loss of net neutrality would add additional layers of economic influence on the structure of the web.

The FCC’s previous efforts to roll back net neutrality were met with a strong campaign from consumers and content providers that was ultimately successful. Both ALA and ACRL issued a statement late last month opposing the FCC’s plans. The FCC was accepting public comments on the proposal, which is scheduled to be reviewed at its open meeting on May 18th, but as of May 12th has entered a “sunshine agenda period” and is not currently accepting comments. But don’t despair — the good folks at the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) are making it easy for you to register your opinions about net neutrality. Visit their Dear FCC site to add your comment, which will be submitted by the EFF when the comment period reopens.

Meta Top Ten: An Infinitely Regressive New Year to You!

infinitergression_fractal_stuartpilbrow_flickr
stuartpilbrow CC BY-SA 2.0

One of my favorite things to do as a kid while my mother practiced the organ was play in the church’s bridal suite.  It had this closet of two large mirrored doors opening to a floor-to-ceiling mirror.  I’d close the mirrors on my leg or arm, slide around in there and watch my appendages travel into infinity.  As a librarian this has always been my go-to symbol of all things meta —  metadata and (my favorite) the you-don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know problem.  Answering the New Year’s call for reflection, I thought I’d put a meta twist on the top ten themes from my 2016 and some 2017 resolutions in response to the same.

10. Death – The 10 Best and Worst things to say to someone in grief

It feels like 2016 brought a lot of death.  Maybe I’m just becoming more aware of it as I age. Then again, the first of the year marks the death anniversary of a dear friend and my first experience of losing someone very close to me.  So, loss and grief have since then been particularly acute themes this time of year.  In 2016, I experienced death in my professional life as well. Navigating this brought to mind the list above and an American Libraries article on death cafes in libraries. Knowing firsthand the physical effect of stress on one’s health, and the reverse benefits of de-stressing, death can be a brutal reminder of the stakes involved.  So, I’ve resolved to relearn and practice coping skills for anxiety and stress at work this coming year.

9. Happiness 15 Things Incredibly Happy People Do

I first learned some of this list’s tips during my involvement in organizational and staff development work at my institution — #1 through Brene Brown’s vulnerability research and #3 through mindfulness.  I have since put many more to use during stresses like the tenure review process and reorganizations.  One of my 2016 resolutions was to do more perfectly reasonable travel (#4 on this list), which I did to two neighboring states this year. Less reasonably, I was even able to get all the way to Hawaii!  In 2017 my focus will be going offline, building relationships, and taking more chances, all helping me with meta list items 5, 3, and 2 below.

8. Reduce Stress De-Stress at Your Desk

After a back injury two years ago, I’ve made fits and starts at keeping up an exercise practice.  The stretches my chiropractor recommended were a lot like these, but not nearly as fashionable or fun.  This year I finally have a morning yoga routine down, and hope to kick it up a notch in 2017 by adding these moves back in during the day.

7.  Time Management How to Design Your Time Rather…

One of the professional colleagues who passed this year, Shane Lopez, was the author of Making Hope Happen.  His work is one among many built upon positivity research.  Similarly, this 5-minute read from Fast Company gives a positive strengths-based approach to time management.  But you should really check out the time research of Dawna Ballard who was the 2016 ER&L conference opening keynote speaker.

6. The Election Behind the Lens: 2016 in Photographs

The presidential election was certainly was a significant marker of 2016, and the issue of fake news cycles signaled renewed attention to digital information literacy for libraries.  White House photographer, Pete Souza, reflects on the Obama presidency in one of my favorite list mediums, a photo series.  And to healthy resolutions (laughter being the best medicine), I’ll just leave this bonus list right here.

5. TechnologyHere’s What Happens to Tech in 2017 (Unless 2016 Was All a Dream)

The election cycle had me enmeshed in social media, leading me to consider some serious de-teching resolutions in 2017. So far that’s meant removing Facebook from my phone and an online password management overhaul.  The former took two seconds, the latter the better part of an entire day.  This year also brought a number of new technologies to my work — VoIP phones, among others.  WIRED magazine is great for keeping up to date on such things, even if it does sometimes cause me existential dread.

4. DESJ Recommended Readings in Critical Librarianship

My university welcomed both a new dean of libraries and a new provost in 2016.  Both have shared a strong commitment to action on issues of diversity, equity, and social justice (DESJ).  My 2016 reading, limited as it was, occurred mostly in this vein.  Since exploring this in my first ACRLog post, I’ve been learning about the use of gender pronouns, my own biases, and microagressions.  My resolution in the new year is to facilitate conversations about how these issue play out beyond the service desk in our daily work.

3. More Reading and WritingThe Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors

Feeding my recurring resolution to read more, here’s another recommended reading list by one of my favorite sources. In 2016 I took to writing about the changes in my work for traditional publishing venues.  But joining the team of bloggers ACRLog in 2016 has been an amazing opportunity to learn from other academic librarians and (hopefully) become a better and more habitual writer in my profession.  Still a newbie, I confess that each post so far has been met with part inspired anticipation and part crippling anxiety.  I know reading and writing more are the surest ways to improve each skill.  Surely with such practice (and above lists 9, 8, 7) the intensity of it all will ease.

2. Ask for help5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help

I also know the benefits of asking for help.  Unfortunately this is also the hardest for me to put into to practice, so much so I considered leaving it off the meta list altogether!  Interestingly, these suggestions for improving that ask mirror some approaches I’d like to take in my research this year.  Ultimately, I want to take what the reference interview did for patrons asking librarians for research help at the desk and apply it in other, different kinds of information needs in the library.  How do patrons ask for help differently when troubleshooting access to digital resources?  How do we ask help of our colleagues when needing their assistance to change workflow? How do we ask for help when power dynamics change from patron and librarian to staff and supervisor?  A big resolution will be getting this research question out there (no, really, this time) and asking for help.

1. Cats The most popular cats on YouTube

Really nothing at all to do with the old or new year, but what library meta list would be complete without cats?

Do you have another list, resource, or comment to add on these themes?  Please share!

 

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.

Open Education Week 2015: A Reflection on IP, Infrastructure, and Interest

This year, Open Education Week ran from March 9th to March 13th. Open Education Week, like Open Access Week, is a celebration of what has been accomplished and what is currently being done within the greater open movement. The Open Education Consortium sponsors the week by compiling resources, marketing materials, and educational tools for librarians, faculty, and other instructors around the world. One of the best parts about this process is that after the week ends, the Open Education website becomes a repository of sorts for events that happened that year. The resources for each event include recorded lectures and webinars as well as supplementary guides and tools. This year, just the webinar topics ranged from ensuring quality of digital content in the classroom to the impact of the open educational movement on the internationalization of universities globally.

This is the first year that UIUC has participated in Open Education Week and I was lucky enough to help create and lead two of our events, which were spearheaded by the Office of Information Literacy. Before I describe my experience with those events, it might be helpful to back up and explain why open education is important, especially within the library community, and what Open Educational Resources (OER) are. SPARC defines OER broadly as any learning resource that is released “under an open license which permits…free use and repurposing by others”. I would argue that the most important word in the last sentence is repurposing. The Open Education movement is built on the idea that education is about sharing, expanding, and refining knowledge. That can only happen if licenses allow educators to revise, adapt, remix, combine, and then redistribute resources. If you take a learning object that another educator created, improve upon parts of it, and then only share it in the classes that you teach, some would argue that you are not fully participating in the Open Education movement. Re-sharing is key.

But why does all of this matter? The Open Education movement works to mitigate the legal and technical barriers that impede collaboration and instructors’ ability to create the absolute best learning objects possible. Instructors are often frustrated with traditional learning content platforms, like textbooks and even course packets, which paint their course with a broad brush and often do not allow adaptation and flexibility. Likewise, students become frustrated when they have to buy a $100+ textbook and it is not completely or consistently used. To make the matter more complicated, many educators (including librarians) find fair use law subjective and confusing. OER is a solution to many of these issues. In addition, OER often reduces the costs we put on our students, many of whom are drowning in an incredible amount of debt already. The use of OER has been proven to increase retention and foster equitable access to learning regardless of socio-economic status. Librarians obviously care deeply about both of these goals.

My department hosted two sessions, one for library staff and one for instructors across campus. We used the same companion LibGuide for both sessions but the learning outcomes for each session were different. I taught the session for staff and my colleague, Crystal Sheu, taught the session for instructors. It’s important to mention, however, that we created the lesson plans and presentations together and we often consulted each other and our boss, Lisa Hinchliffe, about learning activities and presentation details. I share a few reflections below with the hope that others will think about how this type of programming could affect their library programming and culture and possibly make OER a more central conversation on their campus. Please note that these views are my own.

Interest

Getting buy-in is difficult! Both of our audiences were definitely smaller than we had hoped. This was our first year doing this type of programming so smaller numbers are to be expected. At the same time, it is important for us to think about why there might not currently be a large audience for this topic. Do faculty already know about OER? Do librarians get enough OER training through their professional development experiences? Do faculty not have the time to find and adapt OER? Are librarians weary of telling their faculty about yet another thing they should think about doing? Should we have used different marketing techniques?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions and I think that’s okay. Still, whenever we do this type of programming, whether it is internal or open to the entire campus, I think it is important to find a deeper understanding about what’s happening. Sometimes there are just odd conflicts or planning issues. But for the most part, there are structural reasons people do or do not find value in something. Even putting the programming out there allows us to gauge our audiences’ interest and then do further research based on that.

IP

Somehow it always surprises me just how complicated intellectual property and copyright is. OER definitely attempts to reduce the confusion around the legalities of sharing by using Creative Commons licenses. We introduced these licenses on a very basic level, in case any of our audience members weren’t familiar with them.

Nevertheless, even CC licenses can be complicated and require thoughtful planning. One great example is the Share-A-Like license. We tried our best to tell participants that Share-A-Like requires intentionality. When you take an OER (or any licensed material) under a Share-A-Like license and adapt it, reuse it, and then share it again, it has to be licensed under the same original license you started with, which is obviously some variation of a Share-A-Like license.

When I first learned about this license, I was excited about its function. On face value, the license seems to take a major tenant of the open movement and put it into practice. If you use something that someone else has spent time and energy creating, you, too, should share your final product openly. Yet, a more critical look of this license paints a more nuanced picture. By making openness “infectious,” we take away the creator’s ability to choose how they would like to share and disseminate their work, which (I believe) is one of the most important reasons we have become author rights and open access advocates. Note: this assertion is most definitely being influenced by some of the resources I have been exploring lately, including one of the best critiques of openness and assuming openness is always the best option that I have ever read and a project that contextualizes information instead of assuming that it should always be free and open to all, specifically in regards to cultural heritage objects that have historically been attained through violent and colonialist means. I also recognize that “open” often means different things when thinking about educational resources, publications, cultural object, data, code, and software and we can’t group them together. While I think sharing is the point of OER, I’m not sure licensing is the place we should force educators to do it.

I’m currently taking a data policy seminar with Victoria Stodden. A trained statistician with a legal background, Dr. Stodden has been an incredible advocate for the open science movement. She regularly speaks about sharing data, code, and software to increase reproducibility and progress within the scientific community. Our last class session focused on intellectual property, with a more specific focus on licensing data and code. The Share-A-Like license came up in our conversation and, of course, I was a huge proponent for it. I explained that in a movement like Open Education, where the goal is to take some power and autonomy back from the commercial entities that make textbooks and other learning materials, Share-A-Like is imperative for making sure that no one is selling OER that have been adapted downstream. Her point, however, was that Share-A-Like actually impedes the OER movement to some extent. She argued that if an instructor finds two OER under different Share-A-Like licenses, they can’t combine these two resources and re-share whatever they make. Why? Because both licenses require you use that same license and you can’t use two licenses on one OER.

This is getting confusing, right? My point is simply that as we embrace CC licenses, many of which make our lives easier and make sharing less complicated, we need to continue to be critical of their purpose. Likewise, we need to teach instructors that CC licenses aren’t a quick fix for everything but instead one option in an entire toolkit of legal resources. Moreover (and this is my epiphany from Open Education Week), every library that expects to do robust outreach around OER or OA needs to have at least one person on staff that understands some of the intricacies of copyright and intellectual property rights.

Infrastructure

This brings me to my next point. Before really starting OER outreach, your library should start to think about what kind of infrastructure it has to support such a movement. It is difficult to get people excited about an OER initiative when there isn’t much in place within the library to help get it off of the ground. Now obviously some libraries have more resources than others. But I’m suggesting you ask the same questions you ask before you start any outreach, including everything from information literacy sessions to collaborations with other campus programs.

Who will be the primary contact person for OER? In other words, who is the face of the library’s initiatives in this area? If you have a strong subject specialist model, how will the library foster collaboration between OER experts and subject specialists? What forms of internal training are needed? Similarly, who will be the point of contact for IP and copyright issues (if there isn’t one already)? Is this person familiar with OER and CC licenses? What’s really challenging is that the library needs to help instructors with copyright, instructional design, and technology. This means that teamwork and internal communication is essential.

I believe that one of the most important forms of infrastructure in the OER conversation is the University IR. If we are telling instructors that sharing and re-sharing is important, are we backing that claim up through our resources? Many institutions, including the University of Michigan and MIT, have repositories for their OER. This fosters internal collaboration and sharing, especially when two instructors might teach a similar class and learn from each other. Additionally, most (if not all) of these institutional repositories for learning objects are open to non-affiliates, which aligns with the greater open movement. I’m not suggesting that learning objects have a place in the IR that usually holds research materials. But there needs to be an outlet or service for instructors that would like to go beyond disciplinary or general OER sharing.

Alternative uses

The session aimed at staff really surprised me. We based our lesson plan on the standard subject specialist model: you talk with your faculty about OER and teach them the standard process of finding, evaluating, and repurposing OER for their classroom. Our participants had much more nuanced and complicated reasons for using OER. Some examples include using OER as a solution to sharing educational materials internationally. We often think about this as giving others access to our OER but I think we have just as much to learn from their learning objects. Covering this intended use meant taking a minute to talk more explicitly about access and repositories in other languages.

An additional use that we hadn’t thought of was using OER when working with unaffiliated patrons at the reference desk. Because of the size of the library and our great VR service, Illinois often gets questions from around the nation and world. Community members are also some of our most regular patrons. We are often able to help patrons with their needs, but if they do not have access to our electronic or physical collection, OER could be a potential resource for their question because they can be accessed by anyone.

Moving past consumption

The Office of Information Literacy recently applied to present some of this information at Illinois’ Faculty Summer Institute (FSI). If we are accepted, our primary audience will be faculty members that have applied to be a part of the institute in order to learn more about new instructional movements at Illinois. Our goal for this session is simply to go beyond consumption. The two workshops we just taught were primarily based on how to find, evaluate, and use others’ OER. But what if you have an existing learning object you’d like to share as an OER? What is the right venue for you? How can you use your subject expertise to create metadata and documentation that allows re-use by others? What license fits your needs? Our profession is continuing to teach students and instructors that they aren’t just consumers of information. They create and disseminate information every day. Our hope is that faculty are see the value in sharing their expertise with others teaching within their discipline.

Libraries are apt to do this work!

I made the following graphic for my session with staff. I think that it’s important to keep all of these in mind when doing open education work.

library explination

We are experts in many of the areas OER touch upon! Our time at the reference desk is often spent locating hard-to-find information through a variety of sources. We teach information evaluation everyday. Many of us have some expertise or understanding of copyright and/or copyleft. We are trained in instructional design and instructional technology; we spend a lot of our time crafting learning outcomes and identifying activities and assessments that can foster experiences that address these outcomes. We have all of the tools we need to be conversant with faculty, staff, administrators, and colleagues about the need for open education and the use of OER. It is time for us to embrace the Open Education Movement as a valuable tool for increasing access to education, improving learning, and furthering the mission of the campus library.

A special thanks to Lisa Hinchliffe for letting me explore my interest in OER. Thanks, too, to Crystal Sheu for collaborating with me to make this vision a reality. Thanks to Sveta Stoytcheva, Kyle Shockey, and the Twitterverse for pointing me to the awesome critiques of openness discussed above.