from the Library of Maura

Thoughts on Open Access

November 22nd, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · No Comments

Last month for Open Access Week our library hosted a program on OA scholarly journal publishing for faculty, complete with spiffy orange buttons (suitable for Halloween wearing, too!). It was a great discussion, but since I’ve written about it elsewhere I won’t repeat it here.

I’ve found myself mulling over open access off and on ever since. Most of the time when I think about OA publishing it’s about academic journals, but of course publishing’s not a monolith. There are lots of materials relevant to academic work that are published in traditional ways, and there will likely be different models needed to successfully convert them to OA.

Scholarly Journals:
Discussion about journals seems to make up most of the conversation about open access scholarly publishing, and in some ways it’s the easiest transformation to imagine. Partly that’s because there are already longstanding examples of well-respected, peer-reviewed OA scholarly journals (yes, First Monday, I’m looking at you). But I also think that the economics of scholarly journal publishing favor open access in the long run. It’s an old saw that bears repeating: as scholars, we are compensated by our institutions for responsibilities that include performing original research (often funded by grants which we must work to acquire), writing up and disseminating the results of that research, and serving as peer-reviewers and editors of scholarly journals. In the traditional publishing model we then give our copyright away to the publishers, who sell those journals back to our libraries. Our institutions pay twice for the results of our research.

There are a number of different funding models for open access scholarly journals. University and college presses or libraries can host journals using the free and open source Open Journal Systems. Journals might also charge author fees; researchers can apply for grant funding to defray the fees or institutions can subsidize these costs for their faculty. Many open access journals are currently published using one of these models, and I’m sure the number will only increase.

Open access textbooks are a little trickier, though I’m a big proponent of them for a variety of reasons. Textbooks are incredibly expensive, both for students and for libraries. We buy a fair number of textbooks in my library and it’s so frustrating to have to get new editions every few years which may not even be all that different from the old editions (but of course we have to buy the edition that faculty are using).

Open access textbook/course material repositories are springing up all over the internet recently, definitely a positive development. I know that many faculty write textbooks and derive some income from them. But I think there’s more to be gained by sharing our curricular materials, especially at public universities. Freely-available textbook modules could be peer reviewed, and the community of researchers could discuss and refine them. I think the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources says it best: “When educators pool their expertise to create a culture of shared knowledge, everyone benefits.”

Scholarly Monographs:
Many of the same publication issues for textbooks also apply to scholarly books, especially in that researchers do profit from their sale. But many monographs don’t have a huge print run, and university and other scholarly presses have felt the squeeze of tightened budgets recently, too.

A hybrid print/digital model might be a good strategy for scholarly monographs. Earlier this year the University of Michigan and the Open Humanities Press announced a partnership to publish a series of scholarly monographs. Digital versions of the books will be freely available online, but paperback versions will also be available for sale. Recent advances in print-on-demand technology makes this distribution model much more feasible than previously.

Ultimately I’m in favor of open access for most academic materials. As a researcher, I’m eager for lots of other scholars to read my work. As a public employee, I’m sensitive to the fact that taxpayer money helps pay my salary. And as a teacher, I’d like my students to have access to a wide range of quality information from many sources. Open access publishing encourages the dissemination of scholarship to the widest possible audience, to the great benefit of researchers, students, and the public.

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Searching and Finding

October 3rd, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 2 Comments

Perhaps you saw the article in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Ed about the difficulties of searching library catalogs. No? Librarians have been chatting about it all week. I’ve been chewing over it too, and finally have time to get down some comments.

It’s true that many library catalogs and article databases have poorly-designed user interfaces, I absolutely won’t argue with that. And it’s very frustrating, both as a librarian and a user. However, the article seems to muddle a few different issues.

The article begins with the story of a graduate student who’s had trouble finding books on Thomas Jefferson. I have to admit that I’m a bit mystified by a few things:

1. Online library catalogs provide keyword searching, but they also allow searching by title, author, or subject. My guess is that if the student had searched for Jefferson by subject, her search would have been successful. Of course, with the ubiquity of the internet everyone has become more accustomed to keyword searching (including librarians). But, frankly, a keyword search of Thomas Jefferson on the internet also wouldn’t produce the results that this grad student needs (umm, Wikipedia?). As librarians, we need to remind our users that for simple questions, simple internet searches will usually suffice, but more complex information needs will require more complex search strategies.

2. Books in libraries are organized by subject, just as are books in bookstores. Of course librarians assign call numbers to books to catalog and organize them, but the call numbers are arranged by subject; thus library stacks can be browsed in the same way as at bookstores. Maybe we also need to remember to emphasize that to our users. At my library we have neat bookmarks with the Library of Congress call number ranges printed on them that we can pass these out to students at the reference desk — I need to remind myself to do that more often.

3. Article databases can be particularly difficult to use, especially for novice searchers. Database interfaces are complex, and it’s confusing to students that there are so many different interfaces to learn to use. This is a direct result of the economic and production history of scholarly journal publishing, but knowing this doesn’t make the reality of searching article databases any easier. Yes, new products can search across multiple databases and the library catalog at the same time (called federated searching), but they can be clunky to use. And they’re usually expensive, too.

I’m excited about new solutions coming down the pike, but (like some of the commenters on the Chron’s piece) I’m hesitant to believe that one, magical, Google-style search box should be the utopian goal for academic libraries. Scholarly information is complex. It’s text, images, data, audio, video, some “traditionally” published and some not so much, and it’s in all sorts of places on the internet: free, paid, and in-between. It would certainly save us a lot of time if we had a search engine sophisticated enough to find the scholarly info we need amongst all of the billions of pages non-scholarly content on the internet. But isn’t searching an important part of the scholarly process? Doesn’t it help us refine our questions and discover new areas of interest?

Or maybe it’s just that I like searching. Which, I suppose, is why I’m a librarian.

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Me & My Smartphone, One Year Out

August 13th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · No Comments

My iPhone recently celebrated its first birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on how it’s changed my information and communication habits. Last summer I upgraded from a regular old dumbphone, so I didn’t have any prior experience with Blackberries et al. I should also mention that I am not a heavy phone user–talking on the phone is probably my least favorite way to communicate. I was an AT&T subscriber before getting an iPhone so specifics of the phone service don’t have much of an impact on me, either, though I was pleased to discover that phone calls on the 3G network sound better than on my old phone.

I love my iPhone and will never go back to just any old phone. Here are my top iPhone uses (in reverse order, because it’s more suspenseful):

4. Google Maps
Combined with the phone’s built-in GPS, Google Maps is a powerful tool that I rely on constantly to get around the city and on trips out of town. The first time the iPhone helped us route around the perpetually-heinous traffic on the Staten Island Expressway I nearly wept tears of joy.

3. Music
This one will be more obvious and less interesting when I reveal that I only had a tiny iPod Shuffle before getting my iPhone, so it’s still somewhat novel for me to carry around a device with ca. 6gb of music/podcasts. Using Pandora to create custom streaming radio stations is fun, too.

2. Internet
The entire internet in one small device, what could be better? From checking the weather forecast to finding information to answer questions both frivolous and serious, I use the internet on my phone throughout the day. My 7-yr-old now refuses to wait until we’re home to find the answers he seeks, instead demanding: “look it up on your phone, Mom.”

1. Reading
In retrospect, my biggest surprise is how much time I spend reading on my iPhone. It’s true that much of my reading is internet-related; my daily rounds include Twitter, Google Reader for my RSS feeds, and the New York Times. But what shocks me is how much other reading I do on the iPhone, even reading (gasp!) books. I’d never been able to get into reading an ebook on the computer, but now I realize that’s more about location than technology. I can read on the iPhone anyplace I’d take a physical book. And since I’m one of those people who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of being stuck somewhere without anything to read, having 37 books in my pocket is an enormous relief. As I’m typing this it occurs to me that having an iPhone has probably increased the amount of reading I do on a daily basis, too.

Just to balance things out, here are the top uses I expected for my iPhone that haven’t been as important as I’d anticipated:

3. Games
I do play games on the phone–obsessions have included Subway and Flight Control–but not as much as I thought I would. I’m an avid gamer and had hoped that the iPhone would let me play more often, since I never can seem to find the time for them lately. I guess the big stumbling block has been my hesitation to buy new games (which probably means that what I really want is more time to play the games that I already have in other formats).

2. Task Management
I was a huge Palm/Visor geek back in the day, and utterly devoted to the multiple to-do lists I maintained on the PDA. There’s no native listmaking software on the iPhone and while I know there are many apps out there I haven’t gotten around to finding one that I like. I’ve actually gone back to using a paper to-do list–hopelessly retro, I know, but it works for me right now.

1. Email
While I do use the phone for email, I’ve settled into a pattern of checking email on the phone but waiting until I have access to a real computer to reply. I blame my butterfingers with the soft keyboard which slows down my input speed. I’m sure I’d get better with practice but right now I’m in a chicken-and-egg frustration loop. Now that the current OS supports the landscape-style keyboard in the email app I plan to make more of an effort to get my iPhone thumbs up to speed.

I’ve also started thinking more about smartphone use in libraries and education (which seems messy enough to me now that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it), but that’s a post for another day.

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Interesting Info from the Interwebs

June 19th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 1 Comment

I swear that this isn’t going to turn into Maura’s Copyright Blog, but a couple of copyright-ish things have crossed my desk(top) recently and it seemed selfish not to share:

1. A coalition of student groups across the U.S. recently released the Student Statement on The Right to Research. The statement asserts that “scholarly knowledge is part of the common wealth of humanity,” and argues for open access to scholarly research (as opposed to a subscription-based model for journal publishing). It’s great to see students involved in the open access movement. The footnotes on the statement feature lots of great reads, too.

2. I’m sure many have seen this already, but just in case not, here’s marketing guru Seth Godin’s rant against the high prices of college textbooks. A quick, punchy read (just like you’d expect from a marketer), and it’s hard to disagree with him, too. I’d add an admittedly obvious note to the list of impracticalities: when libraries buy textbooks (as we may do since it can be difficult for our students to afford them), we’re left with “expired” content when the next edition is published as well as the need to buy the new edition.

3. This week’s Information Week has an article about a recent paper out of the Harvard Business School that attempts to unpack the complexities of copyright protection and the entertainment industry. The authors suggest that, while sales have fallen over the past decade, the number of new works (music, film, books) being produced has actually risen, as have revenues from ancillary streams like concerts. Thus, they conclude that file-sharing “has not discouraged creative artists from producing new works.”

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What Teens Think

May 20th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 3 Comments

I try to keep up with research and news on how teenagers use technology (or not), because of course today’s teens are tomorrow’s undergraduates, and it’s useful for me to have some knowledge of where they come from before they walk through the library doors.

I’m a big fan of danah boyd’s work on teens and social networking — her (Creative Commons-licensed!) dissertation (pdf link) is on my Summer Reading list this year. A couple of weeks ago she tweeted that she was about to head to Atlanta to do some fieldwork, and did anyone have any questions for the kids? I couldn’t resist and fired off an information literacy/media literacy question.

Last weekend boyd posted a few quick reflections on her blog about the questions she asked and how the teens had responded, and I was pleased to find that the question I’d asked made the cut! Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but the Q&A and comments are really quite interesting (even without my question).

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And in Other News…

May 11th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 2 Comments

Last week was a big one for higher ed tech and publishing news. As I’m sure everyone’s heard by now, Blackboard enveloped yet another of its competitors and Amazon released the new Kindle. I’m kind of happy about the first item — I tend to agree with the Twitter comments spotlighted on Inside Higher Ed that this move will only feed the anti-Blackboard fires. And while the new Kindle looks promising for textbooks, I admit to being a bit concerned about its high price, esp. for our students @ CUNY.

But the news that really grabbed my attention was the revelation that Elsevier published a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, financed by pharma giant Merck and devoted to shilling for Merck products. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This news is depressing for many reasons, but the pedagogical implications are uppermost in my mind right now. One of my responsibilities as a library professor is to try and strengthen our students’ information literacy: finding sources for their coursework, evaluating and selecting the most appropriate sources, and using those sources ethically (think plagiarism + copyright). For many of their papers and projects students are required to use scholarly journal articles, and I try to spend as much time as I can in a library session unpacking the differences between scholarly journals and newspapers/magazines and explaining peer review. And in many ways fake journals, like high-profile plagiarism cases, just make it harder to convince students to value the scholarly literature for their coursework.

On the other hand, at least one librarian has pointed out that perhaps we can use this depressing revelation as a teachable moment. So I guess I’ll add it to the list of strange/scary-but-true cases that we can use to emphasize the importance of digging a little deeper, paying attention and critical thinking.

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Open: 1; Closed: 0

May 3rd, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 2 Comments

Many librarians are big fans of open access publishing. There are lots of reasons for this, but that’s a post for another day.

This morning I added yet another mark to my academic journals scorecard on the open access side (vs. a closed, subscription-based model). You might have heard a story in the news a couple of weeks ago that suggested that the use of Facebook by college students is correlated with lower grades. A PhD student at Ohio State University presented the results of this study at the American Educational Research Association meeting in San Diego, the media picked up on the story, and suddenly it was national news.

This week’s issue of First Monday, a longstanding open access, peer reviewed journal, includes a paper that purports to refute the abovementioned study, a response from the OSU researcher, and a response from the paper’s authors. I highly recommend these articles — they’re a great read.

I know that this is nothing new in science-related fields, in which open access journals facilitate rapid dissemination of research all the time. But this is the first time that I’ve seen it happen in the non-science disciplines with which I’m much more familiar. And while I admit that I find the refuting research to be more plausible, I’m most excited to see the current discussion and debate over these studies, discussion made possible by the open, accessible nature of the publication format.

Score 1 for open!

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On the Commons

March 11th, 2009 by Maura A. Smale · 4 Comments

Happy to be here at the CUNY Academic Commons! Tonight I plan to spend some time trying to break things, um, I mean, bug testing. Kudos to Matt Gold for a great start on this important space.

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