Openness, not only Open Access

An interesting thread appeared on Twitter, during this Open Access (OA) Week, October 2017:

I believe that Erin might have been reacting to claims like those on the SPARC site “Open in order to” which focuses on the benefits that researchers are working towards, and which open access could definitely contribute to.

There were many sensible responses to Erin’s sensible perspective, but in particular Jon Tennant’s perspective rang bells for me.

I’m teaching Masters students Information Ethics again this semester, at Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin and this reminded me of the way we make our students think about the changes that the digital world has brought about, and about OA and the principles it stands on.

I’ve always remembered meeting Brian Kelly  and his attitude towards and enthusiasm for openness in general made an impression on me. I understood that Brian saw social media was a great way in which to be open. By sharing research ideas openly on blogs and by being open to opportunities, he was able to progress his research and make connections with other researchers. Brian’s openness included (but was not limited to) making sure that his papers were all available on open access in his institutional repository, and you can read more in his scholarly work, via Brian’s profile at the University of Bath.

If you’re going to be open, you have to have something worth sharing, but researchers have lots of valuable ideas and findings worth sharing. If you want to share something then you have to choose the right channels to do so. I chose the plural “channels” quite deliberately here, because I don’t think it’s quite enough to only get your work into an academic journal (I know “only” sounds strange, given how difficult it can be!), not if your goal is to achieve real world impact. And for some researchers’ work, an academic journal is not the right channel anyway. The function of sharing and promoting research findings was once done by publishers and societies, with many disciplines relying on journals but in the world of the Internet, scholarly communication can and should be done by others too, and that’s part of why we need OA.

There is no need for researchers to limit their work to only one location and one communication channel. In the digital world there is even an argument that it should be in multiple locations, perhaps in different formats so that it suits different audiences. Change is happening in the digital world and scholarly communication needs to change too.

For me, scholarly communication is ultimately about reaching the right readers at the right time, with the right information.

As a librarian and information professional, I’ve always been glad to be a part of that process. The process is changing and new roles are being formed. (Aside: You can see how I keep coming back to Ranganathan’s laws of librarianship.) OA is not the only ingredient needed in order to achieve what I see as the ultimate goal, but it is a very helpful part of our toolkit. (And yes, I will be exploring with the students what else we need!)

If OA can be part of the foundations of the academic culture then so much the better, but I’d like to go one step further. I’d like the foundations to be openness in general. Openness to receiving criticism is necessary in academia, as well as openness to others’ entitlement to different views – although they must be prepared to defend them! Openness to improvements in methodologies, to collaborations, to sharing one’s data and findings: these are all ideals that I find among many academics, but I’m not sure that all scholars practice them at all times. It’s a tall order, but if we keep openness as the core principle then OA  and indeed Open Science practices would be as natural as a visit to the library would have been, for an academic of centuries gone by.

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Learning about Swiss libraries

pretty spire and buildings, with blue sky in Zurich

Last week I was privileged to be a speaker at the Library Connect event in Zurich. I was talking about research impact metrics and presented the handy cards/poster that I worked on, but my brief was to run a workshop so I didn’t talk too much! I said why I think that bibliometrics are part of the librarian’s domain and summarised the FWCI: then it was on to our workshop discussions. I was really glad to hear more from the attendees about their experiences, and I think it was a real strength of the event that librarians got to talk to each other.

participants around a coffee table, with lots of paperson it.
Workshopping!

I’ve been to the Nordic Library Connect event in the past, but what was really nice about the Swiss one, was that we had researchers as well as librarians there, and the setting was nice and informal so we had lots of conversations in the breaks, as well as in the workshop itself. Whereas most of the Scandinavian librarians were from large central university libraries, at Zurich there were more librarians from smaller departmental and embedded libraries. I get the impression that in the German speaking areas in general, the departmental libraries are more common than in the UK and Scandinavia.

Departmental librarians have slightly different concerns, reflecting the needs of the particular subject community they serve. I chatted (in my clunky German!) with two librarians from the University of Zurich Economics department library, who reminded me of the importance of working papers amongst their community. And it was interesting to hear perspectives from CERN, where they have excellent data about their publications and of course the arXiv resource. I’ve also learnt that ETH Zurich has a library service called “Lib4RI” that serves four scientific research institutes.

I was really pleased to see Dr Oliver Renn of again, who had been a speaker at the Stockholm event. His library (or “Infozentrum“) really seems to have good links with his department, and I can highly recommend a special edition of their newsletter, which presents various attitudes towards bibliometrics. The ETH Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences use the Altmetric donut so that their researchers can see who is giving their outputs attention, and they are working with Kudos for promotion of their science.

Charon stands before a projected slide, with notes in hand - smiling!
Charon in action!

A highlight of the day for me, was Charon Duermeijer talking about research ethics and prompting us all to think about our role in supporting researchers with such matters. I highly recommend her as a speaker because she interacts with the audience, asking us questions, and her slides have real substance. I’m sure that she’ll be sharing her slides, so you can get something of  a feel for her talk, but her passion and anecdotes will be missing so catch her if you can, at another event.

And if you get a chance to visit Zurich, then I highly recommend it!

blue lake with blue sky above and a jetty protruding into the lake. On the horizon are mountains, some capped with snow.

Slidedeck introducing information ethics

If you’ve ever wondered what a Masters level module on information ethics might cover, well here’s a taster of some adapted slides from our module, which is part of the Masters degree in Digital Curation from Kings College London and Humboldt University. I think it’s a great way to introduce some of the themes that information professionals come across in their working lives, and students can really explore important issues.

 

After the Frankfurt book fair: full of inspiration!

Photo of me ready to speak
Is the “Data-Librarian” the Future of Library Science?

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the enormous, international Frankfurt book fair, as I was a panellist for Elsevier’s Hot Spot discussion on the future of library science and the data-librarian.  I highly recommend the opportunity & experience, as the Elsevier staff really looked after their speakers and I got to meet not only my fellow panellists but also some of the audience who came and introduced themselves at the “hot spot cafe” immediately after our discussion.

 

 

Photo of panellists & our moderator
Left to right: Noelle Gracy, Jenny Delasalle, Dr Schnelling, Prof. Dr. Petra Düren, Pascalia Boutsiouci

The session itself was filmed, and there was a professional photographer there (I have permission to use these official pictures), so I’m sure you’ll find out more about it over on Elsevier’s website: watch the LibraryConnect section! Our basic panel structure was that we were asked questions by Elsevier’s Noelle Gracy, which came from the community in advance.

What did we cover?

Well, I didn’t get to take notes as well as to talk(!) so I can tell you what I had prepared to say, and what I remember, one week after the event! Here are some nutshell points:

  • The future of library science encompasses more than just data librarianship, of course!
  • Librarians may find that adding skills with data to their CV opens up more job opportunities in the future.
  • Librarians offer a lot to the data community, not least their professional ethics & knowledge of legal expectations, which of course is covered in the module I teach to KCL/Humboldt University’s MA Digital Curation students.
Photo of me with microphone, discussing with fellow panellists
Getting to hear each other’s opinions

Librarians also have:

  • ability to describe items/create valuable metadata records
  • connections with all disciplines across campus (& library building is often central too)
  • experience of assessing quality and significance for collection management
  • skills in training & informing others
  • It’s certainly not all about technical skills: Dr Schnelling was very clear about that point, as I believe it was his question, about what skills future librarians need. But of course there are some technical skills that will help if you are working with data. Especially when considering preservation needs.
  • One easy way to begin familiarising yourself with data management issues, is to look at data management plans, and what they involve.

If you were there, then maybe you can share some more highlights of the talk by leaving a comment, below. I will also blog here again about some of my other top sights from the fair: after the talk, I went around many of the stalls, looking for things specifically German. Of course, it was an international fair, so I found an awful lot more. I will end here with a final photograph of the audience for our panel session. If you were there, then thanks for coming!

photo of audience looking at the Hot Spot stage
Standing room only!

Teaching Information Ethics at Humboldt University’s IBI

Amongst my other work, I teach two modules at the Berlin School of Library and Information Science (known as IBI), at Humboldt University:

  1. English for Information Professionals
  2. Information Ethics and Legal Aspects

Perhaps I’ll write about teaching English another day, for this post is all about teaching information ethics to international students on a Masters in Digital Curation programme. This whole course looks great for students, since they get to spend a year in Berlin as well as studying at Kings College London.

I lecture on the ethics module, and my co-tutor Boris Jacob leads the seminars: we work very collaboratively in our delivery of our materials, and of course we co-ordinate the module through the virtual learning environment, Moodle. We’re planning for the next cohort of students at the moment and we’re both going to present soon at IBI’s BBK about how we teach this course, and why Berlin is a particularly suitable place to teach information ethics.

Boris and I both have experience of having worked in the field, and we bring our practical knowlege as well as theory to the course. Being from the UK, I’m very much more aware of British (CILIP) and American (ALA) theory and principles, whilst Boris is a German (BID) who has also worked in Belgium, and therefore brings a very European perspective, and the students themselves (I speak of last year’s cohort: I’ve not met this year’s yet) also come from different lands, bringing their own cultural backgrounds to the course. We introduce them to theory and then encourage them to explore ethical dilemmas, and our goal is that they are able to identify such dilemmas when they come across them, and to find and apply theories that can help. So, what kind of themes do we cover? Here is a list of some of things that we explore in our course:

  • Ethical principles and codes of professional organisations
  • Plagiarism : what it is, how we might avoid it and why it’s different to breach of copyright
  • Neutrality : the classic library debates about how to handle customers with equality, and how to build collections
  • Intellectual property & copyright : what are the principles: how does this work in the students’ own lands & in what way is German law different from the UK?
  • Citizen contributions: ways to handle them, including the right to remain anonymous and data protection issues
  • Digital divides : where we might find these and how can information professionals help to overcome them
  • Open Access and Digital Rights Management: what happens when we put locks on content?
  • Information literacy : what belongs on the curriculum and why?
  • The Media : how can we learn from journalists’ ethical codes?

Well, that’s just off the top of my head… there’s lots more, and of course we like to incorporate news stories as well as the opportunities that Berlin has to offer. Last year was the premier of Citizenfour (Laura Poitra’s documentary about Edward Snowden) and of course Berlin’s Transmediale festival. Not to mention all the museums and exhibitions tracking communications, computing and spying that Berlin has to offer! I’m quite envious of those students, because Berlin is a great place to study, as well as their course being truly fascinating. At least I get to teach it!