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.
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.