This year’s International Open Access Week theme “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion” is more urgent than ever. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others have reverberated around the world, and have rightfully brought the need to address racism and inequity to the forefront of the Open Access community’s conversations. While there are now many more discussions about structural racism and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion happening, these are only a beginning. We recognize there is harm done every day that systemic inequity goes unchallenged. This is why the International Open Access Week Advisory Committee chose to focus on equity issues for the third year in a row.
Bias is built into the foundations of research and scholarship, often so thoroughly that it is accepted as “normal” and becomes invisible to many. Many take for granted that editorial boards routinely have more representation from one or two countries than the rest of the world combined. The reality is that much of the global research community must publish in a non-native language and face rejection of their work because of judgements based on grammar, not on the strength of the ideas presented. Research infrastructure continues to be centralized in Europe and North America, drawing resources away from regional efforts that are much better placed to serve communities of scholars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Even the dominant conception of what is considered “scholarly” and what sources are authoritative further excludes marginalized communities, minimizing the representation of the marginalized in history, creating barriers to full participation in the present, and denying resources needed to address these injustices in the future.
Our blog post for last year’s Open Access Week noted, “Open can advance equity by creating the opportunity to reassess and change the underlying structures in the research and education systems.” The current moment of transition we are in provides us with a unique opportunity to reconstruct the foundation of research and scholarship and to build equity into its core. However, to do this, conversations will not be enough. Actions that simply support existing structures in the way we’ve done in the past will not be enough. We need action that is intentionally focused on centering equity in this foundation and a commitment to being held accountable for tangible progress.
The COVID crisis has created a sharp decision point about how the transition to open research will take place and whether it will address structural exclusion. Will a larger proportion of our shrinking library budgets simply go to the same players that sustain our current inequitable system of scholarship? Or will more institutions do the hard work of prioritizing partners who align with their values and walk away from those who do not? As the COVID pandemic further exposes and exacerbates inequities, will libraries and institutions prioritize addressing exclusion and systemic racism?
SPARC will continue working to fulfill our commitment to urgently address structural racism and exclusion by building equity into the foundation of our work. We are actively developing our understanding of what it means for SPARC to be an anti-racist organization, and working to take that understanding and put it into practice. As we support our members and the wider global community in navigating current challenges, we will keep these values central in our discussions and in our actions, and we will align our efforts with and support the leadership of marginalized communities in this work. We expect to be accountable to our community for these commitments.
“We’re in a moment beyond statements.” This remark from Jon Cawthorne, Dean of the Wayne State University Library System, at our recent ACRL/SPARC Forum captures the imperative to move from general commitments to concrete changes. It’s the actions we take now that will determine what kind of future we live in. Openness alone will not be enough; building a scholarly communication system that truly serves the needs of the global community requires doing the work of centering equity every day—always working towards open with purpose.