Reaction to Scrappy Strategies #OpenPros Webcast

A reaction to SPARC's #OpenPros webcast "Scrappy Strategies: Advancing Open on Campus with Limited Resources" by Camille Thomas, Scholarly Communications Librarian at Texas Tech University

About Me and My Role at Texas Tech University

I am currently the Scholarly Communication Librarian at a large research institution (30,000 to 40,000 student enrollment range). While we have a fair amount of resources (e.g. a repository, subject librarians), we do experience constraints with funding, demand and time that many other libraries face. Basically, while it is a large research institution, we are encouraged to DIY things or seek external resources whenever possible.

I also hope to give the perspective of the “solo” Scholarly Communication Librarian or Open Advocate who does not have formal team members. I coordinate with other library departments quite a bit when possible and chair an interdepartmental Scholarly Communication Team. The open advocacy in my work includes: copyright consultation, data management consultations with a team, supporting journals on Open Journal Systems, conducting workshops of scholarly communication topics (author’s rights, etc.) and building collections in the repository.

Overall, based on my experience, the strategies in the webinar are practical and helpful when examining how boots-on-the-ground advocates can engage others in openness.

On Advocates, Activists & @-holes

Micah is a former supervisor and mentor, but his brand of advocacy is a bit different from mine. I completely agree that there are differences between an advocate, activist and @-hole. Finding which camp you fit in can be a matter of personality, philosophy and institutional culture. As the first dedicated scholarly communication position at my institution, I wanted to offer myself as a resource, since many students and faculty were not aware of open practices. It is also important for me to encourage agency. A sense of independence and agency is deeply valued by my institution (it’s a big deal for Texans).

All the examples Micah gives are things people can do without funding and with limited time. For a solo advocate, strategically moving from an early “stage” of advocacy to an advanced “stage” of activism might be the most manageable way to increase action on campus. It can be good to push outside your comfort zone or what you’ve been told are “boundaries” or “inherent subversiveness” in library work.

You may have a hidden talent for rabble-rousing! You may find that different approaches resonate with different types of people on your campus. I’m not saying to be an @-hole or that rabble-rousing is a higher level of advocacy. It may not be appropriate for everyday work, but I agree with Micah that strategic rabble-rousing can go a long way at critical times. For example, Louisiana State University could have paid twice for a subscription or they could sued Elsevier for breach of contract. Diego Gomez could have stood by his decision to share information or renounced it when faced with jail time. In a less extreme example, we now see considerations for open access in publication contracts after years of individual negotiations. Advocacy offers support. Activism takes a stand. Rabble-rousing takes (usually unpopular) action. All are important, can happen in different times or spaces, and are not mutually exclusive. We tend to think of rabble-rousers as a specific type of person, but it is really just a trait or strategy. More often, it is ordinary people who do extraordinary things. I try to remember this when it feels like the target is always moving or progress is hard to see.

Things change. You may find those who were afraid to disrupt their publisher or bookstore, now feel empowered to say they want OERs after some education, consideration and training from you. I saw gaps in communication and decided to do direct outreach to graduate student organizations, giving them information on Right to Research Coalition (R2RC). I have hopes that after being informed, the students from those groups may join R2RC or work on OER campaigns with the libraries. Whatever course of action they choose, I would support them as much as possible.

On Scrappy Strategies for Engaging Your Community

In my experience, community building is wildly important. Making use of internal and external resources can make advocating for open more effective. I started out expecting a lot of resistance to the idea of open access from certain campus units. I found help in unexpected places, which made me challenge my assumptions. Often, making yourself available or facilitating discussion about openness (e.g. Open Meetups) gives a space that students and faculty may not have otherwise. At Tech, taking the time to get to know someone’s concerns, goals and experiences can grow a sense of community.

For example, the Office of the Vice President of Research (VPR) was very interested in helping engage campus on open access (OA) and data management. I was a bit nervous to meet with them, but it was something I wanted to build up to after a couple months of settling in at a new institution. The VPR at my previous institution (as a graduate assistant) were not necessarily early adopters of open access. They required years of grit, communication and seminal events (i.e. Federal funder mandates) to see the libraries’ open advocates as a resource.

I used the funder mandates and the open access fund (held by VPR, not the library) as discussion points with TTU VPR. For one thing, it is a hard conversation to have via email. I wanted to make sure they would know my face in the sea of faces on campus and to ask them about their take on open access. That unit manages the OA fund, among other internal funding, but I didn’t actually know the people in the unit or their attitudes toward open access. I came in with my own ideas, but the level of support from VPR could radically change my approach to advocacy and services. Turns out– they were supportive and were receptive to my partnership ideas. Several of them were also faculty who did their own research and felt OA lined up with their work and might line up with others at Tech.

Librarians at Texas Tech University have promotion and tenure. So, publishing and service to the profession are part of my responsibility as well. Working with consortiums or committees to get resources or actions going can bring a unified effort across peer or regional institutions. This can have larger impact and make the solo advocate or campus partners feel less isolated.

On 6 Steps: Getting Started with Open Education

First of all, the OER toolbox Anita Walz created at Virginia Tech is an incredible resource for those looking to get started with Open Education. Identifying opportunities and problems on campus you may be able to solve as an open professional is key. This can be easier said than done, especially if you are solo. Opportunities depend on effort to build community such as mentioned with Open Meetups. However, building on outreach or resources like copyright education can be a good starting point.

Anita wisely suggests following the money—grants and other initiatives on your campus. However, if funding is a limitation at your institution, consider following the legislation. In Texas, Bill SB 810 just passed, establishing protocols for OER course designations in course catalogs and ordering a statewide feasibility study. Advocating for policy is something you can do on a shoestring and with limited time and resources. Often, your political representatives, general counsel, faculty senate or university administration are just a phone call, email or letter away.

Finding collaborators in pipeline projects (e.g. Upward bound) or student support units is also a great idea because they share similar goals for accessible education and academic freedom. Additionally, asking for help is important for an undertaking like OER and touches on many other library departments. You may be able to gain wider interest in openness from colleagues and administration. After meeting with VPR about data management, we are now working on a project with them and campus IT. They have also asked the library to help identify high quality open access journals for those applying for the open access fund.

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