Editor’s Choice: What We Know and What They Know: Scholarly Communication, Usability, and Unusability

This excerpt, from an article by Dylan Burns, originally appeared on the ACRLog

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.”


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.

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.

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It’s Not Just Always About You: Thinking about Preservation and Academic Works 

This morning, I walked past City Tech’s showcase for faculty work. The showcase is located in a stairwell that many students and faculty use to go from the main entrance to the first floor. Most of the time, the showcase features a faculty book with a reproduction of the cover and a press release featuring a photo of the author. 

Today, the display featured our student/faculty journal TECHNE. Published by our Architectural Technology department, TECHNE is a high quality, open access publication. It is common for schools of architecture to publish journals that features essays by students and faculty. TECHNE, like its counterparts at Yale, MIT, and other architecture programs, also highlights current student/faculty projects. For example, City Tech successfully competed in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon as Team DURA.  TECHNE, as a formal publication, helps to document Team DURA’s accomplishments.  

So, what does TECHNE and Team DURA have to do with scholarly communications and Open Access? TECHNE is open access. Anyone can read it. Team DURA has a beautiful, comprehensive website. All wonderful but will readers be able to find, let alone access, TECHNE decades or even nearer in the future? The answer to this question is where librarians and Academic Works come in. 

Ting Chin, one of the editors of TECHNE, reached out to the library in June 2016 about using Academic Works to disseminate the journal. After further discussion with Ting and a consultation with Megan Wacha, CUNY’s Scholarly Communications librarian, we decided to create a designated archives area for TECHNE within Academic Works. This ensures that the journal gets a wider readership: each issue has metadata to make it more findable. More importantly, TECHNE is now preserved.

We do not talk enough about preservation and the institutional repository. Why? Most non-library faculty are far more concerned with increasing their dissemination and related citation rate through making their articles open access. When I promote Academic Works, I keep the message focused on the immediate and short-term benefit to faculty. The profound importance of long-term preservation, however, does not usually come up in conversation unless I sense that my colleague is concerned about broader issues of information equity.

 Preservation, which provides for long-term findability and maintenance of our scholarly, creative, other works, is a core librarian and archivist value. For any librarian working with institutional repositories, preservation is also a core concern. When Megan came on board with CUNY, she shared Clifford Lynch’s still important article from 2003, “Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age.” Lynch’s words are still so powerful:  

an institutional repository is a recognition that the intellectual life and scholarship of our universities will increasingly be represented, documented, and shared in digital form, and that a primary responsibility of our universities is to exercise stewardship over these riches: both to make them available and to preserve them. (1)

Academic Works and other institutional repositories differ from other open access platforms specifically because institutional repositories are committed to long-term preservation. So many of our works are born-digital and lack the important metadata that makes these works findable. That further strengthens the need for preservation and the need for sharing your work in Academic Works.   

Yes, it’s not always about you. As we have moved away from print, we have not sufficiently thought about how future generations will have access to our creations. When you share your work in Academic Works and advocate for institutional repositories, you are making a major contribution to a sustainable scholarly future.  

(1) Lynch, Clifford A. “Institutional repositories: essential infrastructure for scholarship in the digital age.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.2 (2003): 327-336.

The FCC Net Neutrality Rollback and Open Education

Save the Internet Protest in front of White House
Image Credit: Stephen Melkisethian, CC BY-NC 2.0

In the flurry of the news cycle this week, I’ve tried to carve out some time to really understand the impending FCC Net Neutrality rollback and what it means for librarians and social justice advocates. A lot of the reporting on this issue has seized on the potential impact of the ruling on small businesses and a growing controversy over fake public comments. For librarians and activists, the FCC ruling isn’t just another issue that we’ll fume over for a couple of weeks after our efforts (sitting on hold with congressional reps and signing petitions–at least in my case) don’t stop the FCC from gutting the regulations that currently check the power of ISPs.

This ruling has significant (and potentially dire) implications for libraries, universities, and social justice advocates, particularly in relation to the open education movement. This is because FCC rollback will ultimately threaten the “open internet” and undercut core library values that promote open and equal access to information online.

Without an “open internet” the open education movement will be irreparably compromised.

Here’s why:

  • If regulations are rolled back, ISPs may start charging institutions more for content that they host and create like OERs, streaming content, online classes, and locally hosted open access scholarship
  • In a pay-to-play model, institutional and nonprofit publishers and hosting platforms may have to compete with commercial monoliths
  • ISPs may start charging commercial academic publishers more and these costs will likely be passed along to libraries
  • Increased financial burdens on libraries and institutions will worsen information access gaps between larger, well funded institutions and smaller, public institutions
  • The net neutrality rollback will also worsen the digital divide and dis-proportionally disadvantage low income communities and people of color

This FCC ruling would certainly effect CUNY, which has finally made large strides in building university wide OER and Open Scholarship initiatives in spite of budget cuts. I’m not optimistic about congressional intervention but I’m also not willing to accept the rollback sitting down.

What can we do?

Sign (more) petitions!

Call your congressional reps

Attend a protest

Learn more:

A Lump of Coal in the Internet’s Stocking: FCC Poised to Gut Net Neutrality Rules

Keeping up with….Net Neutrality

The Importance of Net Neutrality to Research Libraries in the Digital Age

Net Neutrality Rollback Concerns Colleges

Why #netneutrality Matters to Higher Ed

Here’s Why the Broadband Debate Matters for You