Technology Trends, Open Access, and Roxane Gay

Frank conversations on day two of ACRL

March 24, 2017

Author Roxane Gay
Author Roxane Gay

The second full day of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) conference in Baltimore featured more calls to action on library funding, discussions of technology trends, and a morning keynote address by author Roxane Gay.

The panel discussion “Ready or Not: Trends, Challenges, and Tech in Academic and Research Libraries” marked the release of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report, 2017 Library Edition. NMC has released 15 years of reports on technology that will affect higher learning, exploring academic and research libraries in a global context.

According to Samantha Becker, senior director of communications and publications at NMC, the report was compiled by a panel of 70 experts from 14 countries using a collaborative workspace: library.wiki.nmc.org.

The panel relayed a handful of the report’s findings, beginning with some of the trends. Franziska Regner, head of innovation and development at ETH Library in Zurich, Switzerland, cited research data management as a short-term trend that will be driving technology for the next one to two years. Libraries worldwide reported creating policies and doing staff development around this topic, which encompasses access (repositories), support (metadata standards), and data management (storage and curation).

The "Ready or Not" panel
The “Ready or Not” panel

Steven Bell, associate university librarian at Temple University Library in Philadelphia, discussed rethinking library spaces as a mid-term trend. The Horizon Report includes a learning spaces toolkit for ideas on redesigning spaces and improving building flow.

Bell also reported on valuing the user experience as a short-term trend. Using technology to learn more about users and their behaviors—in the physical space as well as online—will be big in the next couple of years.

The Horizon Report categorizes the challenges to adopting technology as solvable, difficult, or wicked. A solvable challenge Bell related was accessibility to library services and resources. The process is not easy and takes work and time, he said, but it can be done as libraries shift from thinking about creating accommodations in existing spaces to creating spaces and resources that everyone can use. The report features ideas and experiences from libraries that have made these transitions, including some that have been sued for not having accessible materials.

Adapting organizational designs to the future of work is a difficult challenge, said Regner. The report has examples of libraries that are changing services and fostering flexibility. An example of a wicked challenge—the hardest to tackle—is embracing the need for radical change, which requires financial resources, visionary leadership, and an ability to anticipate the future.

Postcards to lawmakers

Clay Williams, deputy chief librarian at Hunter College Libraries in City University of New York and a member of ACRL’s Government Relations Committee, and Emily Drabinski, coordinator of library instruction at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, led a postcard-writing and information session that was arranged following the release last week of President Trump’s proposed budget.

Lisa Lindle, grassroots communications specialist from ALA Washington Office, explained that it’s better to send physical mail to district offices instead of to Washington. Washington mail has to be irradiated, so it is delayed. However, if members are responding to something time-sensitive, phone calls still have the most impact, she said.

“We need to be vocal as a community,” said ACRL conference chair and ALA President-Elect Jim Neal. “We’re in this together. If we lose IMLS or LSTA funding, that’s a statement about the future of libraries.”

Drabinski warned against becoming complacent or relying on gestures, and instead encouraged everyone to get organized. “The postcard is not going to change things. We’re going to be saved by ourselves. This is your new job now.”

“Your legislators probably don’t know what’s going on in your library. It’s your job to tell those stories,” said Lindle. She encouraged everyone to sign up for the Washington Office’s Legislative Action Center and advised adding extra text to the template emails or changing subject lines so that the messages don’t get stopped by sorting software.

Other actions librarians can take include enlisting vendors in the fight—they will lose money if libraries lose funding.

“It’s hard to find someone on the Hill who’s not nostalgically excited about libraries,” Lindle said. The hard part is getting them to take the extra step to funding. Invite them to your library and offer a tour or space to hold a town hall meeting. Show them what you do so that it’s not just “nostalgia.” Call their local office and get it on their schedule. Or go to their local office and bring materials, including a 1–2 page fact sheet that you can leave behind. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t talk to your senator or representative face to face, she said. Talking to staffers is important; they are the ones who educate politicians on issues.

Roxane Gay does not want to talk about diversity anymore

Before the prolific and beloved author Gay took the stage—introduced by Carrie Dunham-LaGree, digital literacy librarian at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa—she teased on Twitter that she had composed a joke for the occasion.

“My most treasured possession growing up was my library card,” she beamed. And then: “I’m kidding. I know what kind of librarians you are.” She then thanked the research librarians who helped her write her current book. The crowd approved.

“This first story I wrote because I saw an Activia commercial,” she said as she introduced “Open Marriage,” from her new collection Difficult Women. The story was sexy and funny, but then Gay closed the book and got real.

She said that lately she’s been asked to talk about the current political moment but finds it difficult because—due to race, gender, class, and other issues— “we’re not all experiencing the same moment.” She then read from a new essay detailing what she called the “Age of American Disgrace” and dismantled much of the sloganeering meant to make people feel comfortable: “I am not a ‘nasty woman’ because there is no reclamation in how Trump sees women. Pantsuits won’t get us to the Promised Land.”

Gay continued that she no longer wants to talk about “diversity”—which often translates to being asked to teach white people about things that are pretty easy to figure out. The word “diversity” is meaningless, she said, because saying it does not contribute to change. Change requires work, imagination, and financial investment.

Although she said she often doesn’t know what to do next in this political climate, she has been able to take some stands in her personal life, such as pulling the manuscript from her book How to Be Heard from Simon & Schuster in January when the publisher gave a contract and large advance to former Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopuolos. “I did not lose one second of sleep over it,” she said.

When asked by Martin Garnar, president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, what advice she had for librarians who were conflicted about buying books by controversial authors like Yiannopuolos, Gay replied, “You buy the book and then you hide it. Make it a scavenger hunt. Make people read Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin before they can read Milo. Or I would say don’t buy the book. They can get it somewhere else. They really can.” The right to dignity and humanity is more important than making hateful books available, she said.

Another attendee asked if restricting the sort of hate speech Yiannopoulos is known for would be possible, and Gay expressed her loyalty to the First Amendment. “Creating a law against hate speech is a battle that can’t be won,” she said. “People love the Constitution, even if they haven’t read it.”

Open discussion on open access

The lively discussion was not done yet. The panel discussion “You Say You Want a Revolution? The Ethical Imperative of Open Access” (OA) was spirited to the point of being contentious at times.

The panel on open access. From left: Fenwick, Joseph, Beckman, Knox
The panel on open access. From left: Fenwick, Joseph, Buckland, and Knox

Panelists discussed the current state of OA publishing, its history, and what changes still need to be made to make it widely accepted.

Amy Buckland, head of research and scholarship at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and member of ACRL’s Research and Scholarly Environment Committee, stated that OA is here and not going away. She quoted something Gay said in her morning session—“When people are ignorant, it’s easier to rule them”—to argue that OA goes hand in hand with library values.

“We see from creator to consumer the whole cycle of scholarly publishing,” Buckland said, and librarians know more about scholarly publishing than most people, especially issues around access, preservation, and copyright. She acknowledged that pushing to the next level for OA would be hard. “But everything we do is hard.”

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), has been part of the OA movement since the beginning and gave some historical context for the movement, calling the Budapest Open Access Initiative’s mission as relevant today as in 2001.

In the next five years, Joseph said, she hopes to see the model changing from scholarly publishing—a single article in a single journal—toward true scholarly communication to a wide audience. The current system of communication has become the same as the system for evaluation, she said, and we need to separate them.

Panelist Brad Fenwick, senior vice president for global strategic relations at Elsevier, brought a publisher’s perspective to the discussion. Unlike the other panelists, he advocated an “evolution, not revolution” model for moving toward OA.

Joseph, however, argued that the time for incremental steps has passed. “Our goal is to change things radically, not talk for several more years.”

Moderator Emily Knox, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Information Sciences, then asked panelists how they would convince researchers that OA is the way forward.

Buckland recommended telling researchers how librarians can help with making data more available and getting more people to read their work. She gave the example of emergency room doctors using SciHub because it’s the only way they can get access to medical journal articles.

Joseph continued that OA is an enabling strategy. When making work open, who are you talking to? Other students, more faculty, or increasing the return on your research investment. “Self-interest is a nice additive,” she said. “If you can make the case that it improves society at the same time, it’s icing on the cake.”

Fenwick noted that in some fields, downloads are more important than citations or impact factor.

The discussion grew heated and tense around journal pricing models and the concept of “harm” in publishing, with Fenwick arguing that small universities could be hurt by OA. Joseph, a former journal editor, responded: “Business models artificially inflate the cost of publishing. It’s incumbent on librarians to understand the costs of publishing and make choices.”

When an attendee asked how librarians could help facilitate the acceptance of OA publishing, Buckland replied, “Don’t publish in closed journals. I know it’s complicated. But it’s your time and labor. Give it to things you believe in.”