Introducing Students to Information Privilege: A call for comments!

I’ve just finished a 45-minute lesson in which students learn to distinguish scholarly, trade, and popular resources.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature in the library? Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature in the library?  Students:  Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature in the library?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me (or another voice from the crowd):  So why the library?  Why are we here?

I love this line of questioning because it seems to change the way that students see me, a librarian.  I think that they come to the library with the idea that I’m pro-library NO MATTER WHAT.  I’m going to defend libraries existence instead of convince them that the library is a resource to use.  It also opens up a conversation about open access and information privilege.

Access to an academic library has clear benefits to the experienced researcher, but students often need to be convinced to take the extra step and try out a library database, to disrupt their Google habit.   Librarians choose the best resources, we filter out the garbage.  Library databases are structured in a way that we can retrieve valuable information more efficiently through strategic searching.  In all three of my most recent classes, students have suggested this information in response to my question.  Then I’ve been able to say that, in addition to carefully curated and organized information, the library has access to more information resources because we have paid for access.  Resources from the New York Times to the Journal of the American Medical Association require payment for access to full-text content.  The scholarly articles that are available online are able to be read through Open Access… the publishers have circumvented traditional publishing means in order to allow everyone to read the work.

I say, “Open Access is an ethical imperative because otherwise only those who can pay have access to the most recent information and so knowledge development is limited to the rich.  You are privileged by your access to information based on your affiliation to this institution.”

This is what I’m interested to hear from you, what is the language you use to introduce information privilege to your students?  How do you set it up?


Valuing Scholarship, Methodology, and Leaders in Changing Scholarly Landscapes

A discussion about how to place value on scholarship is also a conversation about the value of scholarship and how to produce good scholarship.  The best scholarship is that which communicates to educators, researchers, and students information that makes a contribution to the field.  This requires language that has meaning, and often language that is more effectual because it is established by the community.  This also requires peer review that questions methodology and is established in an extensive understanding of the subject matter, in order to evaluate quality of literature review.  It also requires researchers to completing their research in a way that allows for replicability.  All of this is independent of the funding model of the journal – though who has the knowledge requirements I mentioned above and also wants to dedicate time and energy to this work if peer review and journal editing are not part of tenure considerations?

I think an interesting element to this conversation is that academics might be padding their resumes by publication in predatory journals, as Ben mentions.  Academics are so invested in publication, in part because of tenure requirements, that they are making various research sacrifices in order to have an interesting article that is able to be published.  In 2012, confronted with a crisis in research replicability, psychologists suggested the following to increase the reliability of their research:

…using undergraduate projects as a route for replicating existing studies; encouraging adversarial collaborations where sceptics replicate studies alongside original investigators; providing accessible outlets for publishing replications; opening up data, methods and workflow; and pre-registering studies including all the intended methods and analyses. (Owens, 2012)

Note these suggestions do not include strengthening the peer review process to keep out shoddy articles or ruining the reputation of the journals that published these articles.  Instead, opening data and methodologies is suggested as a way to increase quality scholarship.

In May 2017 I heard a panel discussion on BBC’s Newshour Extra titled, “What’s Wrong with Science?” that included academics and journal editors calling for a change in the way that researchers submit to academic journals.  Instead of submitting their article after the research is complete, this panel suggested that methodology be submitted for acceptance before the research is done.  The research would be accepted based on its methodological merit, not on the results.

Karen notes that open access journals provide an opportunity to publish failed research.  In a way, the fact that for-profit journals are not publishing this kind of information is evidence of a flawed system; one that researchers are already invested in participation.  Reforming the real-world scientific process through Team Science, as discussed by Patrick, is a great idea.  Academics, or administrators in higher education, are setting the standards for what we value from each other and, also, how we value it.  It’s a cycle that could use some reformation, which is an interesting to think about on this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  While we remember Luther (in all of his mythical splendor), we might also remember Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan – leaders in the open scholarship movement.

This post was written for a faculty learning community on open scholarship.  It was originally posted on 10/31/17 on the #openberg website.