This semester I’ve had a few opportunities to think and talk through my librarian and pre-librarian work, and especially my commitment to open scholarship and teaching. First I was delighted to welcome the graduate students from across the disciplines who are working with my smart library colleagues to develop OER in our open knowledge fellowship this semester. And a few weeks later I was a guest in the Foundations of Information course which is required for Masters students in Pratt Institute’s School of Information. Funnily enough, I wrote about open access publishing in my very first post on ACRLog back in 2008. Revisiting that post was clarifying — it’s easy to forget what our thinking was and how it might have changed, and I’m retroactively grateful to my past self for documenting my thoughts then.
In talking with the students about my disciplinary background and journey to open I started with an introduction: I’m Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, and before that was Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech), and before that Head of Instruction at City Tech. Prior to getting my MLIS I worked in digital publishing, in project management and web production jobs. And before that I was an archaeologist and anthropologist, in graduate school and doing fieldwork and contract work in Ireland, New Jersey, and New York City.
In graduate school at New York University in the early 1990s, very little of the research and scholarship I needed access to was digital. I remember spending lots of time subwaying around to other academic libraries in the city and the New York Public Library’s research libraries for journals and books, and lots of time and dimes photocopying (and inhaling copier fumes). While time-consuming, being in NYC meant that I was usually lucky to be able to get access to all of the resources I needed for my coursework and research, and of course the textbooks and coursepacks we were assigned were much less expensive than they are now. Then as now, interlibrary loan was a lifesaver; I’m probably not the only academic to confess to having interlibrary loaned a few out-of-print books that I then photocopied in their entirety, completely oblivious to the copyright implications.
I started working in online media in the latter half of my doctoral program, and my time in publishing made it clear that digital materials were going to be critical to research and scholarship, and also that the transition would be challenging. Thinking back on those positions I’m struck now by how much work, at that time in the late 1990s, it took to figure out how to get the content in our print media published online to our websites as well. And because I was working in commercial publishing there was a lot of concern about how to retain subscribers once our magazine articles were available online.
What I didn’t realize then was what was happening with academic publishing, especially scholarly journals. It wasn’t until I went back to graduate school for my MLIS that I learned about the serials crisis, now a sort of old-fashioned term to describe the continuous price increases by commercial academic journal publishers. And of course commercial textbook publishers have also raised their prices enormously and out of step with inflation. When I look back now, I see that there are a few things that insulated me from this realization during my archaeology degree. One was that NYU (a private institution) and New York City have robust research libraries, for which I’m grateful. But another was the disciplinary conventions of archaeology. I did a lot of citation tracking in my research, and also relied heavily on my advisors’ networks. And realistically there weren’t that many scholars working in medieval Irish zooarchaeology (for example) — if I needed an article by one of them I would ask my advisor or the scholar themselves.
Learning about open access publishing in my MLIS program certainly opened my eyes to the unsustainability and fundamental inequity of scholarly communications. When I started working at City Tech and learned more about our students and CUNY’s public mission to educate “the whole people” of New York City, the imperative for open access publishing (and, a bit later, open educational resources) felt even more urgent to me. I’ve published all of my own scholarship open access, even before I got tenure, and I was vocal about the benefits and quality of open access publishing inside and outside the library at City Tech. My experience as a practitioner and researcher working with CUNY students, including work with my colleague Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College on how, where, when, and with what tools undergraduates do their academic work, has only strengthened my commitment to open: our scholarship relies on CUNY students’ lived experiences, and should not be locked behind a paywall.
Disciplinary and institutional differences remain a challenge for librarians committed to shifting researchers and educators to open scholarship and curricular materials, though there’s been so much work before and since I’ve been in librarianship. I’m grateful to be joining smart folx at and beyond my institution in this work, and for the chance to speak with students in LIS and other graduate programs about its importance.