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.

Reflection: Enhancing the Institutional Repository – Learning from the OER Experience

Why is so hard to get faculty to self-submit their papers in our institutional repository? Our recruitment is moderately successful for short periods of time after we make presentations on the value of open access to faculty and the university. I began to think that we might need to strike a chord with more essential values in order to motivate faculty. Student success is both an essential and urgent value. In fact, student success is featured in a Chronicle of Higher Education report as a movement that “has made greater completion rates, equity, and social mobility institutional responsibilities at two- and four-year colleges.” [https://blog.scholarshipamerica.org/the-student-success-movement-creating-a-college-completion-culture ] Will faculty be motivated to deposit academic articles in an open-access institutional repository to support student success?

While working with faculty on using Open Educational Resources (OER) in their classes for almost two years, I observed a connection between OER development and academic institutional repositories. For me, the most striking observation was to see faculty eager to submit their OER to our institutional repository –the same repository where  our open access articles reside!– to enhance discovery in the university community and on the web. This caused me to think about harnessing some of the factors that propel faculty to submit their OER to the repository to motivate them to self-submit their scholarly publications as well—submissions which at our college have been slow to accumulate in a widespread, sustained pattern. I think the big factor to harness is making a connection between our repository of open access materials and  student success.

Student Success

Faculty developing OER are deeply committed to student success. The investment of time and energy in creating or adapting an e-textbook, or curating open-access materials on an OER website, is substantial. It is a natural extension of the desire to support the students in their classes for faculty to want their OER to be available to a wide population of students worldwide. Enter the institutional repository. Faculty grasp easily the value of the repository in providing free access to learning materials to students beyond their classes. Moreover, many OER are designed for self-paced online learning and appeal to an audience of learners in the general population. Equally as important to faculty, is making their OER available under Creative Commons licenses to educators who can employ the Five R’s (Remix, Revise…) to spawn a variety of new OER from the original work. The institutional repository disseminates work beyond the university to plant seeds for future development and collaboration.

Why is it that when encouraging faculty to deposit their scholarly articles to the repository we have not received the same response? We might get agreement in principle, but sporadic follow-up actions. Perhaps we are not placing student success front and center in the many benefits of posting to the repository.  In pitching open-access to faculty, we often stress metrics, boosting one’s academic profile, links to a community of scholars, and we might fail to highlight the significant benefits to students.  We could emphasize the benefit of open-access to the wide community of students worldwide who are studying for degrees and entering the workforce post-graduation.  These students will benefit from free access to scholarly articles in repositories– articles that will be available in full text through Google or Google Scholar. These students might be studying in online degree programs or in schools without libraries, or without extensive access to databases. As librarians, we need to connect the dots for faculty between the institutional repository and student success. We need to unpack and discuss this repeatedly with faculty, in formal and informal venues, so that it becomes self-evident.

Student Work

On my campus, Lehman College of CUNY, there is interest in Open Pedagogy among faculty who are developing OER. Open Pedagogy emphasizes renewable materials, which are assignments and activities where students create materials that are shared with their fellow students or anywhere in the world through web portals and repositories. This learner-generated content can enhance student engagement and learning outcomes. As students become more involved in OER, librarians could mentor the process and close the circle of open-access publishing by posting both student and faculty authored materials in the institutional repository.

Could we seize this opportunity to encourage faculty to deposit their own publications (beyond OER) in the repository as well? The cohort of OER faculty, dedicated to student success, will be receptive to hearing about how the repository helps students with all types of open-access publications. Often we have found that faculty first become aware of the repository when it comes time to post their OER. It is the perfect moment to entice them to deposit their scholarly articles.

Moving Forward

My work on OER and the institutional repository have taught me that placing a high value on student success is crucial to both projects.  OER and scholarly publishing are integral parts of at least two frames of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Information Creation as a Process and Scholarship as Conversation. [http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework ] I think librarians could consider emphasizing the connection between student success and widening access to faculty publications in the repository, in much the same way we link student success to OER. Raising the awareness among faculty to this core value will be a slow, ongoing process that will benefit faculty themselves, their institutions, and their students.

Author: Madeline Cohen is Associate Professor and Head of Reference, Lehman College, CUNY. She is co-coordinator of CUNY Academic Works at Lehman College, and the OER initiative at Lehman.