RIOT: Cathedrals and Bazaars: discussing scholarly publishing and open access with undergrads

Kim Duckett and Scott Warren. “Chapter 2 Exploring the Intersections of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication [Two Frames of Reference for Undergraduate Instruction]” Common Ground at the Nexus of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication. Ed. Stephanie Davis-Kahl and Merinda Kaye Hensley. Chicago, IL: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2013. 25-44.

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I was drawn to this article partially because it’s Open Access Week and we have a lot of events planned here at the Library to bring attention to this emerging issue. I’ve also been thinking about open access in terms of a Library Class I co-created and co-taught on scholarly publishing. The audience for this discussion seems to be primarily graduate students, researchers and faculty, but lately we’ve been talking here in LIS about the ins and outs of explaining the intricacies of scholarly communication to undergrads. What information is useful to them? How much is too much?

This book chapter by Kim Duckett and Scott Warren makes a good case for discussing the scholarly communication process with undergrads, including issues surrounding open access, the journal pricing crisis and more. A lot of faculty for whom I do one shot instruction sessions will remark at some point during the session how “lucky” the students are to have access to the subscriptions the library offers, that they should take advantage of this access worth “millions of dollars” because they will be cut off upon graduation. It’s meant to get students interested, but I think the concept is abstract to them. Information is, largely, free in these students’ minds, especially since they may be in the nascent stages of learning how to evaluate sources. I struggle in my class planning with how to communicate the world of scholarly communication to undergrads and how to avoid the inevitable glazed over looks and drooping eyelids when the topic comes up.

As Duckett and Warren point out, “[the tools and practices researchers use] are the same processes that students are asked to participate in when they must find scholarly literature and use it in their assignments in ways perceived as valuable and appropriate to the academic community.” (26) We are asking them to contribute to and interact with scholarly dialog, but we don’t give them the full picture, so they adopt a dilettantish persona when doing so, never fully invested in the culture. When you really think about peer review, journal publication practices, how information is created and disseminated, consumed and built upon in academia, it’s antithetical to typical experiences of outsiders. Entering into this level of research, however, cannot be done in a vacuum, and we are doing our students a disservice by leaving this part of the conversation hidden.

The authors suggest two frameworks for discussing scholarly communication with undergrads. One, the Sociocultural Frame, discusses the peer review process, the roles played in it, why its important and why professors require information of this kind in research. We as librarians often assume this information has been communicated by instructors, but we have all had the experience of encountering an upper level undergrad at the desk who has a murky understanding of peer review. Very often, an instructor or a librarian will assume that the student learned these concepts in a previous course, so we gloss over the details.

The Economic Frame that the authors suggest is an expanded version of us preaching “accessing these journals costs you millions.” At NCSU, the librarians developed a seventy five minute workshop detailing the business side of information. How much subscriptions cost and how those steep prices exclude populations. The librarians also highlight issues such as the Cost of Knowledge, taxpayer-funded research, and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Librarians who teach this course find that students become engaged in this discussion. The sticker shock of some journals, the issues of inequality in information access and the various movements which have risen in opposition get students interested because they touch upon concepts to which we all relate: “sharing, ownership, use (and reuse), credit for creation, payment, career advancement, sustainability, etc.” (41).

The authors touch upon issues surrounding open access, but don’t discuss it in great depth, and I wonder about the best way to approach this controversial topic. We have the experience to look at it from both sides, but those new to academia have more experience in a culture where knowledge is free or stolen, traded and willingly shared. I wonder if open access is a no-brainer to them and if that means that the world of scholarly publishing is on the precipice of extinction.

Even within the short one-shot instruction session, how do you talk about scholarly publishing practices, open access, etc.? What concepts get students’ attention?

Can you gauge your students’ perception of academic journal publishing, peer review, and the rest? In other words, are they impressed that these journals cost so much money, or are they disillusioned with institutionalized knowledge, questioning how something so expensive and available to so few could be relevant in our culture?

What are your students’ perceptions of open-access? Even without knowledge of bibliometrics and h-index, do you get the sense that students today would embrace the movement, or are they wary?

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