Scholarly Communications Fellows Share Their Experiences

Byline: Irene Gashurov (staff writer, OLS)

Libraries are leading a movement to reform scholarly publishing. They’re challenging the commercial model for scholarly publishing to make research open, freely accessible without barrier or restriction. These changes impact scholarly communications, both in the way that knowledge is communicated and the services that libraries provide. Libraries are testing open access options, novel publishing approaches, and managing institutional repositories to safeguard the quality and discoverability of research. Understanding this new post-digital scholarly publishing landscape that libraries are leading is complex. The need to do so is great as the momentum for change in the field is growing.

Recognizing scholarly communications as a core competency for librarians, CUNY Office of Library Services (OLS) launched the Scholarly Communications Fellowship. The fellowship provides experience in the hands-on management of an institutional repository and opportunities to investigate the scholarly communications landscape.

Here to talk to us about their experience are inaugural fellows Ellis Ging and Eric Silberberg, recent graduates of CUNY Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, and Megan Wacha, University Scholarly Communications Librarian, at OLS.

Ellis Ging
Ellis Ging, Scholarly Communications Fellow at OLS.
Eric Silberberg
Eric Silberberg, Scholarly Communications Fellow at OLS.

Question: What appealed to you about the fellowship and what experience did you bring to it?

Eric Silberberg: I had some background in open access repositories for academic publishing as an instructor. The opportunity to work with Meg was appealing. First, I wanted to understand that ecosystem and the legal, instructional, publishing, and librarianship aspects that go into making open resources available. And second, I wanted to know how priorities about open access are made within higher education. What does that look like at CUNY? How are these resources developed and shared across teaching faculty and students?

Ellis Ging: My interest in the fellowship came from my experience as a researcher. Before graduate school I was doing independent research and getting stymied by paywalls, which made me aware of the need for open access resources. My background is in translation and literary and cultural criticism. The fellowship was a chance to learn about scholarly communications in a hands-on way.

Question: What did you learn during your fellowship?

Ellis: The work of the fellowship has given me an appreciation of communications and administrative structure at academic institutions and learning to pay greater attention to logistics. We worked on uploading articles into the repository. We looked at what open access publications CUNY faculty have published with. I was grateful to attend webinars on copyright and licensing.

Eric: It’s given me a better understanding of the world of academic publishing, which was to me always opaque and hard to understand, so actually that alone, to understand what the different models are in academic publishing has enabled me to think about what some solutions can be. We looked at what other research universities have been doing, at trends in faculty publishing, and what information you need as a librarian to speak intelligently about the benefits of open scholarship.

Question: Can you elaborate on what that conversation with faculty would be like?

Eric: So, by pursuing an open access publishing model, one thing that you can discuss with a faculty member is that their materials would be available not only to subscribers of perhaps an obscure journal, but right across their field and across disciplines. The best thing for writers is to be read. Second, I would discuss with them any fears that they have with respect to the copyright of those materials.

Megan Wacha: One of the key elements here is that people write to be read, and the concerns from each faculty member are going to be different. Eric’s starting with that understanding. You have a conversation with someone to understand what their concerns are before going and addressing them.

Ellis: I would agree with Eric that the fellowship has given us skills that are broadly applicable to academic librarianship. Meg expected us to do many things and wear a lot of hats. We’re aware of how things work both at the repository level and more broadly in academic publishing. We’re aware of resources so we can help faculty with their research and make it available in ways that benefits the output of the institution. Knowing how to get that research and being able to evaluate copyright law well are useful skills.

Question: How do you see the Scholarly Communications Fellowship evolving?

Meg: It’s one of those areas where the work is shaped in response to the needs of the university. And right now, so much is in flux. The OLS is in midst of a strategic planning process and looking to developing an open press. CUNY is also in the midst of a larger strategic planning process. We’re at a moment of constantly reshaping and reforming the role that libraries play within higher education. I anticipate that some of the work will remain the same, but the projects will depend on the needs of our community and the interest of future fellows.

Question: How do you feel about this first fellowship year now that it has concluded?

Meg: I hope that I’ve imparted something that is widely recognized among scholarly communications librarians as an area that is deeply tied to the future of librarianship. It offers employable skills that can be applied broadly, whether you are a librarian focused on scholarly communications or a reference librarian who supports your disciplinary faculty in their publication endeavors. In library schools writ large, open access, open research, open education, and scholarly communications are areas that are covered in about a week. But these are areas that require deep knowledge and broad expertise.

I’m so proud of our fellows! Both the OER and Scholarly Communications Fellows will be presenting at LACUNY (Library Association of CUNY), this May, and so it’s been great to see everyone’s growth over the fellowship.

OER Fellows Share Their Experiences of the OER Initiative  

In 2021, CUNY Office of Library Services launched a fellowship competition in two of its vital areas: Open Educational Resources and Scholarly Communications. The inaugural cohort, comprising four fellows from the CUNY Graduate School of Library and Information Studies (GSLIS), began their fellowship in September of last year. The focus of the OER Fellowship was to support open education at CUNY. The Scholarly Communications Fellowship was aimed at individuals looking for an opportunity to support open research at CUNY. As the nine-month fellowship nears its end, the participants discussed their work and how the experience kick started their careers. 

The two figures behind the OER fellowship programs are Ann Fiddler, University Open Education Librarian, and Andrew McKinney, OER Coordinator at the Office of Library Services. They work to propel CUNY-wide expansion of Open Education Resources (OER), free and low-cost openly licensed alternatives to costly textbooks. Since the initiative’s founding in 2017, OER have been implemented in 80,000 course sections across CUNY, resulting in $154 million in savings to students.  

OER Fellows 

Rachael Nevins.
Rachael Nevins, OER Fellow at the Office of Library Services.

Talking about the idea behind the fellowship, OER Fellow Rachael Nevins said the primary goal was to launch a new Web-based, open-source publishing platform at CUNY called Pressbooks, which makes digital textbooks and course content accessible. A publishing tool to create OER, Pressbooks can be used to create books from scratch or clone books found in the Pressbooks directory, where they can be edited, embedded with interactive content, and adapted to reflect the experience of students. “The great thing about Pressbooks is that faculty can build books that are grounded in their knowledge of their students,” said Nevins. 

The innovative aspect of Pressbooks isn’t necessarily the obvious one. Like other platforms, Pressbooks content can be integrated with a learning management system, like Blackboard. Like other platforms, Pressbooks provides online formatting and design tools for professional publishing. But unlike other open publishing platforms, Pressbooks has the unique capability of authoring and editing, which lets instructors create a portion of a course or an entire textbook online without using code.  Pressbooks works for different kinds of learners, and instructors can pull open multimedia materials from different sources, substitute or blend them with their own content, add supplements like audio and video, including automatically graded quizzes, simulations, and modules that let students proceed at their own pace.  

“What’s lovely about Pressbooks is that it’s a platform with a global reach,” said Nevins. “If you make something with your students, you can make it available via the Pressbook directory, and the students’ writing will be discoverable around the world.”  

Elizabeth Arestyl.
Elizabeth Arestyl, OER Fellow at the Office of Library Services.

OER Fellow Elizabeth Arestyl believes that Pressbooks are forcing us to rethink how we engage CUNY students as knowledge creators. “Giving students the agency and the information that they need is the most important thing you can do,” she said. “If we can build materials that reflect our students, we would create a better learning experience for them.”  

Reflecting on how representation affects the way students see themselves, Arestyl told the story of the Bangladeshi woman in a pre-college writing class she teaches at Queens College. When Arestyl asked the woman what she wanted to learn that summer, the woman said, “I’m ready to not read about white people.” One of the articles Arestyl assigned to the class was on the post-birth process in Bangladesh and how it compares with practices in the West. The woman wrote Arestyl a letter to thank her. She said she never read about someone who was just like her.  

Pressbooks has been called a “living document” because it allows for continuous revisions. In the guidebook to Pressbooks the fellows are writing, titled the CUNY Pressbooks Guide, they distill everything they have learned from immersing themselves in the world of open pedagogy, open source, open content, and the intersection of books and the web. “The guide reflects our own learning curve,” Nevins said, of the manual that is available on the Pressbooks directory or from a simple Google search. The first part covers the building blocks of open publishing. The second part explains the benefits of publishing your work with Pressbooks.  

In May the fellowship ends. Sharing her thoughts on what the fellowship has accomplished, Arestyl said, “The great thing about OER is making learning free again. The same way we’re trying to fund education with the New Deal for CUNY, OER is part of that, and we must walk in step to achieve these goals.” 

As for their own goals, the fellows said their experience confirmed the trajectory they were already on. “I laugh at myself because I turned to library school after being exhausted with educational publishing,” said Nevins, “and here I am working in publishing. But it’s totally different because it’s driven by what teachers and students need, not what some salesperson says that a superintendent needs. I would love to stay with it, working in OER at CUNY.” Adds Arestyl, “Where I see myself in the future has not changed at all. I see myself as an instructional design librarian. So, building with Pressbooks is essential to what I want to be. And this experience has been amazing!” 

A Philosopher in the Makerspace

Byline: Irene Gashurov/staff writer, OLS.

If you’ve visited Queens College’s Rosenthal Library lately, you may have noticed a room outfitted with equipment—arts and crafts supplies, sewing machines, 3-D printers, and laser cutters, to name a few. The room is not just an engineering outpost. It is a makerspace, a collaborative learning facility where students of different technological aptitudes can experiment, tinker with technology, and build what they learn in the classroom, free from the pressure of failure. Students of all majors can try out their abilities to become designers, builders, and technical operators. 

QC makerspace logo.

Making is about thinking with your hands and transforming what the mind imagines into products. At Queens College, the QC Makerspace works like a craft shop for students to experiment on equipment that the QC Makerspace offers training on and the resources to learn in the way they want. A computer science student learns to solder and builds a clock from second-hand “nixie tube” parts. An English student recreates a coin she read about in Ovid and gives it the right texture with a laser cutter/etcher. An anthropology student replicates a 3,000-year-old Egyptian boardgame, using non-electric hand tools to sculpt and carve it like those ancient Egyptians used. Students in this environment take an active role in their education. The role of the teacher takes a back seat, stewarding the facility, mentoring, and supporting students through a Socratic exchange of ideas and knowledge. 

Nick Normal, Head of QC Makerspace

At Queens College, this kind of teacher is Nick Normal, the inaugural director of the QC Makerspace. An artist, writer, and maker, Normal has been working on maker-aligned initiatives since the movement first burgeoned in San Mateo in 2006, and then spread to businesses, libraries, community centers, and colleges. Normal helped launch the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. As one of the core production crew, and its only New Yorker, Normal increased attendance at the Faire from 25,000 over a weekend in 2010 to 90,000 attendees paying to see 3D-printed cars and fighting drones over a weekend in 2017.   

The rise of the maker movement captured the zeitgeist of the country in transition.  From a culture of consumerism, the maker movement emerged as a white knight, promoting resource sharing, do-it-yourself agency, and civic innovation. Makerspaces promised grassroots economic growth from sharing expensive equipment and producing a culture of innovators and entrepreneurs. “When I look back on the maker movement, those were pivotal years,” Normal said. “There was so much overlap and spillage and interoperability between places that were previously siloed.”  

As the maker movement spilled over into the academe, pioneering libraries mapped out the future direction of non-profit makerspaces. The DeLaMare Library Makerspace at the University of Nevada, Reno, was first to offer a single 3-D printer, while the Fayetteville Free Library in Syracuse, the first to incorporate a makerspace in a public library. Inspired by these examples, Normal assumed the director position at Queens College in 2018. His audience were now students, of mixed technological aptitudes, but he adapted, and finds approaches unique to each student. “With students in STEM or STEAM-aligned trajectories, you can get them to understand what a robotic drawing arm is, but when you get to a student with little tech skills it can be a little more nebulous,” he said. “I try to find examples that align with their practice or try to get them to understand the openness of access in a makerspace. That’s the underpinning of the makerspace cultural ethos.” A steep learning curve can follow, an application of an empirical science and memorization of facts are involved, as well as experimenting with tools and techniques. But the payoff is worth it. After students have figured out how to apply that knowledge across platforms, “you’ve gotten a lot more room for interpreting the modern world we live in,” said Normal.  

To use the space, students sign up for an orientation of the facility. Currently there are 328 lifetime members since the makerspace opened in 2018. Normal and his assistants are on hand to provide mentoring, workshops in anything from computer-aided design to 3D printing and oversee safety. Normal would like to see the makerspace operable beyond regular lab hours and communities to form around sharing, but he lacks the staff.  

He remains optimistic. Knowing what can happen when we provide the environment for makerspaces to flourish, he sees great promise when students from different disciplines come together to work out common problems. “What I’m trying to do is get students who come into the makerspace to interoperate as humans,” he said. “I’m trying to get the computer scientists to talk to the anthropologists, and the biologists to talk to the engineers so that they can work on something together with their collective expertise to solve problems confronting students and community.”  

Welcome to Beyond The Stacks

May 12, 2022:

Byline: Kristin Hart, University Dean of Libraries and Information Resources.

It’s common to hear about extraordinary librarians as if they’re something distinct. But we all know colleagues who’re doing extraordinary things. Whether it’s supporting community, creating opportunities, or making an impact with their teaching and research, these individuals—librarians, archivists, library chiefs, and student workers—are innovators. We will feature stories about librarians, library workers and students who are doing innovative work in our libraries and with our CUNY communities. They’re leading and transforming the field. In the Beyond The Stacks blog, we’ll be going to the heart of what drives them and examine how their work is important to us, librarians, to the academic community, and to our city. 

Lastly, we report on the goings on in the Office of Library Services (OLS) world, with upcoming events. Take a few minutes and explore. We would love to hear from you. Please share any ideas that will help us promote engagement with our alumni community. If you have a story idea, comments, or suggestions, please connect with us. 

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