Considering (Non)Scholarly Communication

When I imagined myself writing a blog post for schol com, I naturally assumed I’d tackle an issue like the systemic and entrenched poverty affecting CUNY schools such as my own, which has lead to a decimated budget for the library, which in turn means we are unable to keep up with either book purchases or renewing some of our most popular database packages. Naturally, I’d discuss open access efforts, and ways in which those efforts give libraries hope, along with the ways in which those efforts sometimes fail to meet our gaping needs. All of that seems reasonable to address here, but lately I’ve been thinking more about a different kind of communication. There’s another gap in the ways people communicate, namely the ways in which scholars publish and the ways students read.

Since I turned forty, I’ve become a person who listens to talk radio while driving. Even worse: I listen to talk radio at the gym and during long bike rides as a way to feel “pumped” and motivated. As if this dorkiness transition were incomplete, I also recently deleted most of my social media apps and profiles, because I’m increasingly horrified by these systems’ desires to steal and share my personal data. I stand by my abhorrence of social media platforms, but this combination of slowing down and opting out means I’m becoming the kind of person who “discovers” what the kids are doing by hearing columns in the New Yorker– columns read to me by a calm voice while I use my elliptical trainer. So that’s the scene, if you can picture it.

Against this backdrop, I’ve been working with students on my campus who are putting together a new student publication. When I’ve attended their board meetings, I’m struck by the ease with which they navigate identity and gender pronouns, that they’ve all heard of “famous” YouTubers and can recite their massive interpersonal battles held online, that they grab images and files from online to use in their articles without a second thought to who might “own” those materials. In a This American Life episode (#637, “Words You Can’t Say”), Ira interviews a YouTube star, Laci Green, who became famous for her videos about sex ed. Her personal and online life exploded when she posted a video describing herself as a feminist, which got her attention from major traditional publications like Bustle, while also opening her up to significant harassment and death threats from anti-feminist YouTubers. As her story continues, the allegiance of her fan-base shifts, as an ultra progressive contingent harasses her for misusing identity-terms describing sexuality and gender (including her using the term “dyke,” which I’m personally a fan of). As her use of language becomes increasingly scrutinized by leftist activists, she becomes so frustrated that she reaches across the aisle and ends up befriending many of the anti-feminist crusaders who previously sent her death threats. Her former feminist fans don’t know how to forgive her. I don’t know how to even count the ways this story depresses me, but I have a feeling my students can speak about it with ease and fluidity.

A few weeks ago, the writer and activist Darnell L. Moore came to the CSI campus to read from his book, No Ashes in the Fire. He was perhaps the most electrifying speaker I’ve ever heard read on any campus anywhere, so afterwards I checked out his book from the LaGuardia CC Library (thanks, buds!). I was struck by how complicated he allows his narrative to be, how he almost insists on pushing the reader past their comfort zones. He describes dangerous sexual practices during the AIDS epidemic as a response to being told his death was a foregone conclusion (he’s ok); he describes his father’s physical abuse of his mother while also implicating himself in his future thought-patterns during relationships with his partners. He describes giving a fantastic and well-received speech about glbtq rights in Newark, but only after he first interrogates his own internalized misogyny in order to become the open person he needed to be to give that speech. This is what I found striking: Moore relentlessly details his mistakes. He doesn’t cast himself as an anti-hero, either; he describes himself as a well-meaning but imperfect person. These radical admissions in his narrative give me hope for a form of communication that can someday translate to the social media circus, a place where young people are currently able to express themselves freely, but not without extreme repercussions.

Meanwhile, back at my library,  I write academic articles I hope other academics can find and read from behind paywalls, and I also teach students to find, download, and cite worthy academic articles to support their schoolwork. Honestly, I struggle to bridge a gap in information literacy in an environment where students are fluent in forms of communication I find disorienting, like YouTube Communities, while I’m tasked with helping them understand why “peer-review” matters. Is there any sensible way to connect these dots? Perhaps those among us who have not fled the social media scene can offer me some insight into ways in which the discourse that happens online can fluidly shift into and inform academic spaces, and vice-versa. A thoughtful colleague of mine suggested to me that social media dialog and academic dialog might not be as disparate as I think they are, and that there are positive opportunities for academics to test out an idea on twitter, spark a conversation with others, and then bring those thoughts back into the academic sphere in the form of a blog post, an academic article, or a book chapter. I’m also aware of the myriad ways in which open pedagogy advocates are using blogs and interactive forms of online dialog as a way to expand conversations that would otherwise be sequestered to a physical classroom. There is room for scholars to explore ways to expand the traditional concepts of “scholarly communication” to include less structured forms of dialog with our academic communities (ah, but how to make non-traditional communication “count” towards tenure!).

Given that this post is a blog post, and inherently open to community feedback, I am open to your thoughts and suggestions! I am unlikely to respond positively to death threats (too soon to make a joke?) but would love to hear ideas about ways to bridge what in my darker moments seem like unbridgeable gaps in communication modalities. THANKS.

PS: your interpretation of the This American Life episode may differ from mine– go ahead and listen to it yourself! Also, Darnell L. Moore’s book is a solid read. Find it in a library near you.

-Anne Hays, Asst Professor & Coordinator of Library Instruction, College of Staten Island, CUNY

April 30 Event: Scholarly Communication at CUNY: Keeping Up and Looking Ahead

The LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable invites you to join us at our annual event! This event is open to all LACUNY members.

Scholarly Communication at CUNY: Keeping Up and Looking Ahead​
Tuesday, April 30th, 3-5pm
Graduate Center Room 9207

As austerity funding for CUNY libraries continues, and the unbreachable distance between library budgets and academic journal subscription costs only grows, the LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable invites you to join the open access conversation. We will start by looking at current tools for open access curation, followed by lightning talks about current literature. Finally, we will form breakout groups to imagine our scholarly communication goals (for ourselves, for our libraries, and for CUNY overall), strategize next moves, and start the conversation about collectively manifesting our scholcomm futures.

This event seeks to ask a simple question: what would it look like if CUNY libraries took proactive steps to actualize our scholarly communications goals? Event details:

  • Guest speaker Nicky Agate from The Idealis
  • Lightning Summaries of Scholarly Communication Articles that Excite or Inspire Us (audience participation)
  • Breakout Discussions—Moderated Action Lab

RSVP via Eventbrite

Browser Extensions for Point-of-Need Open Access

How often have you run across a paywalled journal article and then either taken a detour to Google Scholar to see if there’s a freely available version or just shrugged and decided not to pursue that article?

No matter your role at CUNY (or elsewhere), I’m guessing pretty often.

Did you know there are two browser extensions that make it easier to find legally available open access (OA) versions of articles…and harder to shrug and give up? Unpaywall and Open Access Button: learn a bit about them below and then add them to your browser!


Unpaywall detects when you’re looking at a paywalled journal article and adds a small color-coded tab to the right side of the page.

Green Unpaywall tabA green tab with an image of an unlocked lock means that Unpaywall can connect you to an OA version of the article. Want the article? Just click the green tab, and it’ll lead you to the OA version. A simple, single click, and you’re there.

(Do you consider yourself an OA nerd? If so, you can select “OA Nerd Mode” in the extension settings to have the unlocked tab display in different colors: green if the article is “green OA” (i.e., posted in an open access repository), gold if the article is “gold OA” (i.e., openly licensed on the publisher’s site), and bronze if the article is “bronze OA” (i.e., free to read on the publisher’s site but not openly licensed). Interestingly, bronze OA seems to be the most common “flavor” of OA.)

Grey Unpaywall tabA grey tab with an image of a locked lock means that Unpaywall can’t connect you to an OA copy. Either there is no legal OA version, or, if there is, Unpaywall isn’t aware of it (i.e., if none of its data sources include it).

Once Unpaywall is installed, the tab automatically appears when you’re on a publisher’s site — no need to do anything to check the status of a given article. It’s there when you need it and easy to ignore when you don’t.

Open Access Button

Open Access Button iconThe Open Access Button is a very similar extension, with three key differences from the user’s perspective:

  1. The extension adds a button to your browser’s toolbar, and you need to click it when you want to check for an OA version of an article. In this way, the Open Access Button is slightly less convenient than Unpaywall — you have to make the (extremely small!) effort to click the button.
  2. The Open Access Button’s data sources include the Unpaywall database but also numerous others (e.g., SHARE and CORE). This means that the Open Access Button is more likely to be able to connect you to an OA version of the article you seek.
  3. If the Open Access Button can’t find a legal OA version of an article you want, it can send a request to the article’s author. It makes sending an email to the author quicker and easier than it would otherwise be, and gives the author easy-to-follow instructions for how to proceed in making the article OA. In other words, it lowers the barrier to act for both the researcher and the author!
Screen when Open Access Button determines that there is no accessible version of an article
When the Open Access Button cannot locate an OA version of an article, it presents the researcher with the option to initiate a request.