Tag Archives: open access

Open Access: What Is It and Why All the Fuss?

(Déjà vu? This is a very slight reworking of a post from the Graduate Center Library blog.)

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

You might have noticed that CUNY librarians talk a lot about open access — sometimes in conversations about dissertation embargoes, sometimes on the topic of authors’ rights, sometimes in the context of Academic Works, CUNY’s soon-to-arrive institutional repository (already up and running at the Graduate Center). But maybe you’ve never really gotten a full explanation of what open access is. Or maybe you know what it is but aren’t convinced it’s a pressing issue. Or maybe you understand how it affects you as a reader but aren’t sure how you should factor it into your actions as an author.

I recently wrote a piece about open access for the “Jargon” column of the sociology magazine Contexts, and it might address some of your questions.

What is open access?

“Even if the term ‘open access’ is not in your working vocabulary, you almost certainly understand the phenomenon of open access, or free online availability, as well as its opposite, placement behind a paywall. Of course, an enormous number of news articles, blog posts, and cat videos are freely available online, but ‘open access’ is not usually used to describe those kinds of online offerings. Rather, the conversation about open access centers on research and academic works—journal articles, scholarly books, textbooks, and dissertations—which are usually available only for a fee.”

But what should I care, and what’s wrong with journal subscriptions, anyway?

“Most social action for open access has focused on scholarly journals, largely because many journal subscriptions are wildly expensive, out of proportion with the costs of publishing. In 2012 the Economist reported, ‘Publishing obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a [license] to print money.’ Indeed, seemingly arbitrarily high subscription prices that increase year after year have left readers, libraries, and universities feeling gouged. Furthermore, many authors wish to dissociate themselves from commercial publishers that make huge profits from nonprofit institutions, preferring to participate in a publishing system that better connects readers with research and is more consistent with their values. For these reasons and more, journals are a natural starting point for an upheaval in the academic publishing industry.”

So what’s in it for me?

“[J]ournal publishers do not pay their authors, so authors do not lose any income by making their works freely available. In fact, they stand to benefit from open access: When articles are easy to find and free to read, they attract more readers, generate more discussion, and get cited more in later articles.

Of course, authors aren’t the only beneficiaries of open access. When journal articles are freely available, students can better master their fields; scholars can better perform their research; and teachers, doctors, policy-makers, and journalists can better perform their jobs. As a result, everyone benefits, even those who do not themselves read the articles.”

How do I achieve open access?

“There are two ways for an author to make a scholarly article open access. The first, widely known as ‘gold’ open access, is to publish it in a journal that is itself open access—that is, the publisher immediately and permanently makes the journal’s articles freely available online. There are many open access journals—the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists almost 10,000—published by many kinds of entities, including universities, commercial publishers, scholarly societies, and professional organizations.

. . .

Another path to open access is called ‘green’ open access, achieved when an author uploads a work to an open access repository hosted by the author’s institution or a disciplinary repository such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Although many authors do not realize it, most journals allow authors to self-archive some version of their article, either the original submission, the edited text, or the journal’s final formatted version. Furthermore, many agencies and institutions have policies that require the researchers they fund or employ to make their articles open access within some fixed amount of time; these policies help make many thousands of articles open access every year. Some publishers reject such policies and lobby against legislation to ensure that taxpayers have access to the research they fund, but their arguments are transparently self-serving and unlikely to prevail in the end.

Right now, green open access is spotty—common and even de rigueur in some fields, but far from universal and not yet leading to reductions in subscription burdens. However, as more researchers and institutions actively support open access, self-archiving will spread. One hope is that green open access will become so prevalent that subscription-based journals will be pressured to lower their subscription prices or change their business model.”

Want to know more?

Read the full column in Contexts or glance at this overview of the very basics of open access. Or contact me or your librarian to learn more!

Open Access Basics Explained

Sometimes when I speak to my academic colleagues about “open access” publishing, they often think I’m suggesting we eliminate peer-review. That’s a common misconception, but it’s not true. And, it speaks to the many myths and misconceptions about open access.

If you’re still confused about open access, this short (8:21) animated video is a good explanation of the basics of open access for faculty-types.

Open Access and Ethnography

Wendy Hsu

Wendy Hsu, Scholar of Sound

I started a blog when I began my dissertation research in 2007. YellowBuzz was meant to share my field notes from observing and participating in the indie rock music scenes first with my research associates and by extension the broader public online. These public field notes were written in the style of performance and album reviews accessible for a general audience outside of academic ethnomusicology. I took the voice of a field correspondent and committed to a fast no-more-than-a-couple-of-week turnaround. Through highlighting these unusual performances and connecting them to theories of identity formation and community building, my blog lived in a liminal space in which it served both as a part of the process and a product of my research. My participation as a blogger in these music scenes gave Internet-visibility to the Asian American musicians that I came to know in my fieldwork. At a high point, my blog became a hub for readers interested in all things related to Asian and Asian American indie music scenes, and was subsequently cited in two Wikipedia articles. My blog and related presence on Twitter (@wendyfhsu) generated a social and discursive space that takes seriously these minority musicians’ below-the-radar cultural production within the public domain. The observations I made as a blogger led me to explore a series of inquiries related to musicians’ digital sociality and theorize the formation of digital media diasporas in the context of post-9/11 racial and geopolitics.

Blogging and academic writing are two modes of knowledge production. They are framed differently – short vs. long, informal vs. formal, impermanent vs. permanent – and for these reasons, they yield different rhetorical consequences. Their audiences might overlap, but for the most part don’t. In my own work, I find and leverage the productive tension between these two modes of communication, where one ends drives the beginning of the other. The continuum between blogging and research writing generates a set of reflexive dynamics that can deconstruct the notion of the “field” (Kisliuk 1997). Sharing bits of field findings live as the research is undergoing can question the subject-object binary in ethnographic research. Tricia Wang suggests that live fieldnoting makes visible meaning-making, a process that’s critical to ethnographic work, but is often not made transparent until the publication of a monograph or a peer-reviewed journal article (2012). The multi-year arc of a print-based scholarly publication project for academic ethnographies present a dissonance with the principle of participatory engagement. Conducive to fast and creative reuse of content, digital and online media can contribute to changing modes of scholarly communication. Elements such as media synchronicity; networked, iterative structure; and efficiency make digital media a great vehicle to open access to scholarly materials. These digital affordances can drive the transformation toward an ethos of openness. For those of us engaged in ethnographic work, this means a wider and more open ethnographic feedback circle – from fieldwork to publication and impact in and around the field.

In the space below, I offer two stories about how I conceptualize openness in my own scholarly communication practices, with a bit of commentary on the politics and economics around scholarly transparency from the perspective of a young non-tenure-track scholar. I also hope that these stories serve to illustrate the possibility of a generative relationship between blogging and journal article publication.

Seven years later after I started Yellowbuzz, I’m still blogging about my research. I have experienced a few arcs from the time of field research to peer-reviewed journal article publications through my research project lifecycles. A blog post I wrote in 2007 marks the beginning of my field engagement with the band Hsu-nami. I presented a paper about the religious imagery in the band’s music at SEM in 2008 and developed this paper into a full chapter in my dissertation which was completed in 2011. An article-length version of this chapter became published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2013, seven years after my initial research interaction with the band. My second peer-reviewed journal article publication followed a similar arc.

Both of these publication arcs concluded with a less than ideal closeness. My research associates, among them professional journalists, tried and failed to access the article about their music. What does this say about the informational and epistemological politics? Both journals that I published in are non-open-access with fairly strict copyright terms. As a young scholar, I don’t have the luxury of time to negotiate to retain my rights as an author. In the case of Asian Journal of Communication, a journal under the Taylor and Francis Group, I was given the “option” of paying $2950 to make my article open access. This option appeared to be a non-option for me, a postdoc fellow in a double-contingency trap: her contingent job situation as a non-renewable researcher in a higher education institution; the contingency of her job prospect on her publishing successes. To me, an “open access” option that requires an exorbitant amount of money in order to administer what is proclaimed to be an open, unrestrictive process itself is a contradiction. Like other neoliberal models, this framework equates the labor and production of academic knowledge with its consumption, and outsources the financial responsibility to deliver products to the content producer. Taylor and Francis’s ostensibly open access option capitalizes on openness, a value that is increasingly important to the scholarly community. In more than one way, it defies the tenants of the actual open access movement. So I tweeted my stance resoundingly:


A more open and efficient research publication arc I experienced was with my project on digital ethnography. Throughout this project lifecycle, I experimented on various digital platforms to play with the content and form of my research expressions. In these experimentations, I iterated my research in an open form as a post on a blog associated with my graduate fellowship program at University of Virginia; then as I developed my work within a postdoctoral context, I began publishing it on my personal site. Two years ago, an editor-at-large of DH Nowand by extension Journal of Digital Humanities spotted my work on blog and contacted me to explore an interest in developing the blog post (on my personal site) into a full-length journal article. Around the same time, the editor of theEthnography Matters blog invited me to serialize my research on digital ethnography. I thought I would take this set of opportunities to develop my blog post series, staging it as an open forum to invite feedback on my work. This helped me polish the writing for the eventual manuscript submission for theJournal of Digital Humanities. More than just an open access journal, DH transforms the peer-review process by leveraging the open web protocols to source and distribute scholarly content. The editorial and review process begins with an identification of a likely submission based on blog feedback, comments and social media metrics. Then the journal provides “three additional layers of evaluation, review, and editing to the pieces.”

Writing within a network of peers and colleagues makes the process of ideation deeper, more productive than writing in isolation. The evaluation and review process with JDH, for the reasons above, felt so human to me. Each touchpoint was encouraging and yielded constructive insights to further the development and refinement of the paper. When the paper was published in this past spring, I felt confident about the timeliness and relevance of my work. Through its lifecycle, this research project published content in various lengths, types, and formats. This multiplicity of form and content reached a wide network of readers, ranging from academic to applied ethnographers, digital humanities scholars, and geographers.

The technological affordances of these publication platforms allowed me to engage with complex layers of content and voices across disciplinary and social perspectives. Kim Fortun and Mike Fortun compares the scholarly community to a village, a “community of practice [that] cannot prosper if all it encounters is judged with established concepts of what is proper and valuable; the village should not be taken out of history. Instead, we must deliberate and figure out how to respond to changes in the landscape, new problems, new technologies, and new connectivities” (2012).

Publishing, to me, in its simplistic sense, is to make something public. If our public precludes those who have been our research associates, or individuals without institutional affiliations or access to scholarly journals, then we should rethink how we communicate our scholarship. Lastly, I return to the question of research impact, an inquiry central to the ethnographic perspective and a critical step of the ethnographic feedback loop. The issue of transparency can set the course of impact of our research. Having an open and transparent channel of communication is the beginning of a meaningful dialogue we ethnomusicologists can foster with the public. Informational openness, however, is a complex discourse that requires further contextualization and its discussion would not complete without a full consideration of access, ethics, and responsibility (Christen 2012). We’re living in a moment where the value of scarcity associated with industrial mode of production (Suoranta and Vadén 2008:131) is being challenged by the dispersed openness afforded by digital media. The scholarly publishing industry itself is a cultural field with policies and infrastructures driven by commercial values (Miller 2012) that mostly defy public interests. We should maintain our critical viewpoints as we engage with our own scholarly communication practices.

* * *

Works Cited

Christen, Kim. 2012. “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness.” International Journal of Commuincation 6:2870-2893.

Fortun, Kim and Mike Fortun. 2012. “Separate But Entangled: Peer Reviewed But Not Conservative,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 385-411.

Kisliuk, Michelle. 1997. “Un(doing) Fieldwork: Sharing Songs, Sharing Lives.”Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, edited by Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Colley. New York: Oxford University Press.

Miller, Daniel. 2012. “Open Access, Scholarship, and Digital Anthropology.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2(1):385-411.

Suoranta, Juha and Tere Vadén. 2008. Wikiworld: Political Economy of Digital Literacy, and the Promise of Participatory Media. Paulo Freire Research Center, Finland (http://paulofreirefinland.org) and Open Source Research Group, (http://www.uta.fi/hyper/projektit/opensource/), Hypermedialab, University of Tampere, Finland.

Wang, Tricia. 2012. “Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography,” Ethnography Matters, [retrieved from http://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2012/08/02/writing-live-fieldnotes-towards-a-more-open-ethnography/] (accessed on September 27, 2014).

~ This post was written by guest blogger Wendy Hsu and was originally published at The Ethnomusicology Review (October 21, 2014).

Wendy Hsu is an ethnographer, musician, and community arts organizer who engages with multimodal research and performance practices informed by music from continental to diasporic Asia. She has published on Taqwacore, Asian American indie rock, Yoko Ono, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bollywood, and digital ethnography. Her postdoctoral work engages with Nakashi (那卡西) street music-culture in postcolonial Taiwan and practices of music and mobility of Taipei’s urban underclass. Hsu received her PhD in the Critical and Comparative Studies in Music program at the University of Virginia. As an ACLS Public Fellow, Hsu currently works with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. She recently completed Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College where she researched and taught ethnographic methodology, digital pedagogy, digital sound studies, and community-based participatory research. An active performer, Hsu is a founding member of ethnographic ghost pop band Bitter Party, vintage Asian rock band Dzian!, improvised music trio Pinko Communoids, and Yoko-Ono-inspired noise duo Grapefruit Experiment. She also co-founded engaged innovations collective Movable Parts and experimental music group HzCollective.

The Internet’s Own Boy: Why Academics Need to See This

As part of open access week, many organizations and institutions are sponsoring screenings of Brian Knappenberger’s documentary film “The Internet’s Own Boy.”   But, if you ask most academics not studying the Internet (in other words, the majority) what they know about Aaron Swartz, and they probably don’t know much. They probably know that he was under indictment by the federal government, that he took his own life, and they probably think he was a “hacker,” but are vague on details beyond that.

What most academics don’t know is why what Swartz’s life – and death – are incredibly relevant for the everyday work of scholars.

Swartz was by many accounts a prodigy, possibly even a genius, and he had something of a prophetic vision for the importance of open access for the public good and how academic publishing stands in the way of this.

From my perspective, Knappenberger’s documentary offers one of the clearest explanations, through Aaron Swartz’s story, about why academics should care about open access.

If you do one thing for open access week, catch a screening (or watch it online). Here are couple of NYC-area screenings:

And, appropriately enough, the documentary is available on the open web (you can buy it through iTunes if you want to support the filmmaker).

Share It Now or Save It For Later: Making Choices about Dissertations and Publishing

Join JustPublics@365 for the Information Interventions @ CUNY series:

Share It Now or Save It For Later:
Making Choices about Dissertations and Publishing
Thursday, May 1, 2014
2-4 p.m.
Graduate Center Room C198

Join us for a lively panel debate on the sharing versus embargoing of dissertations and theses. We’ll explore the pros and cons of this nuanced issue with a panel including representatives from Columbia University Press, Penn Press, and the Modern Language Association, as well as recent GC alums who made different choices about their dissertations. (We’ll also tell you how to change your embargo settings if you’ve already deposited!)

Should you put your work in a secret bunker?

Should you put your work in a secret bunker?
Photo is © marcmo, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.


Our panelists:

  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication, Modern Language Association
  • Philip Leventhal, Editor for Literary Studies, Journalism, and U.S. History, Columbia University Press
  • Jerome Singerman, Senior Humanities Editor, University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Gregory Donovan, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Urban Studies, Saint Peter’s University and Graduate Center Alumnus
  • Colleen Eren, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice, LaGuardia Community College and Graduate Center Alumna
  • Polly Thistlethwaite, Chief Librarian, Graduate Center (Moderator)


Last summer, the American Historical Association made headlines when it issued a statement encouraging universities to allow their history Ph.D. graduates to embargo, or keep private, their dissertations for up to six years, claiming that “an increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.” Meanwhile, a survey of scholarly publishers revealed that a majority of university press editors are happy to consider proposals for books based on open access dissertations. And the executive director of the Association of American University Presses reported, after talking to the heads of 15 university presses, “I haven’t found one person who has said if it is available open access, we won’t publish it.”

These statements generated a raging debate that has left many graduate students unsure of their options and unsure how to proceed:

  • Are open access dissertations really less likely to be published as a book? Or are they more likely to be found, read, and responded to, thus demonstrating to book publishers their appeal and marketability?
  • Just how similar is a dissertation to a book, anyway? How much does it change between graduation and publication?
  • Is the real problem tenure and promotion committees that expect applicants to have authored scholarly books, which, as the landscape of scholarly publishing evolves, seem to be increasingly difficult to publish? Do they need to adjust their expectations in response to current publishing realities?
  • Do universities have a responsibility to share with the world the research produced in their graduate programs? Are long embargoes antithetical to scholarly values? Do they hinder disciplinary advancement? How long is enough?
  • And where does this leave graduate students — in all disciplines, not just history or the humanities? Should they make their dissertations and theses open access, or should they embargo them — and if so, for how long?

Details and how to register:

Light refreshments will be served.
Space is limited! Please RSVP by April 23.

This event is co-sponsored by the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development, the LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable, the Graduate Center Library, and Just Publics @ 365.

Reposted from the Graduate Center Library Blog https://gclibrary.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2014/04/04/share-or-save/

Open Scholarship for Open Education

The promise of massive, open online courses is that they would be available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that could be revolutionary.

Unfortunately, these attempts at open education are mostly not that open.  This is especially true when it comes to reading materials which are severely limited because of copyright restrictions. In spring, 2013 when we piloted our massively participatory open, online course (#InQ13), we worked with librarians to find and use legitimately open access reading materials. As it turned out, this involved a lot of work on the part of some heroic librarians.

This presentation from the CUNY IT Conference, 2013 explains some of the nuances of that process:

If you’d like to read about the nuts and bolts of this in more detail, here is a self-archived, pre-print version of our paper “Open Scholarship for Open Education,” co-authored by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite and me.

Tarnished Gold: The Tale of Bohannon, DOAJ, and the Predators

Many of us may remember the Sokal hoax of 1996. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, successfully published a hoax article in Social Text in order to ridicule humanities scholarship.  More recently, last fall, John Bohannon, a journalist for Science, sent out a significantly scientifically flawed “spoof” article about a wonder drug. He sent the article to 304 open access journals. The majority of these journals published the “spoof” article. Why did he do this? He wanted to prove that open access journals offer very little or no peer-review. Many of the journals were listed in the main portal for open access journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals aka DOAJ.

The first question to ask is why so many open access journals accepted the sham article. The answer, although not obvious, is that there is a dark side to open access: predatory publishers.



Predatory publishers have always existed in various guises. Most academics are familiar with the vanity-press style monograph publishers that exist to help authors get their work into print. Even in commercial journal publishing unethical practices are not atypical (try googling “fake Elsevier journals“).  Junket-y conferences are another face of predatory publishing.

Nefarious publishers have always existed but the new twist comes with technology. Anyone can install a free publishing platform and call themselves a journal publisher. This is great but also problematic. New “gold” open access journals can be launched easily. Some open access journals charge authors article processing charges to help cover costs. This is most common in the STEM fields where authors build these fees into their grants and/or can get funding from their universities.

As in the past, there is good money to be made on the backs of desperate and/or naïve scholars rushing towards tenure and promotion. Now the process is as simple as submitting a paper online.


And no revisions to worry about! Visa, MasterCard, or PayPal, please.

Predatory publishers have mushroomed, spinning off vaguely named and copycat titled journals. Spam emails lure in new fish.



Many of us first learned about predatory publishers from a New York Times piece about Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian, and his crusade to save us from the predators by listing them on his blog. Beall’s “list” was the A to Z of what we knew about predatory publishing. And then came Bohannon.

Bohannon’s sting caused a firestorm, but his method was flawed. Why not also probe how many toll-access publishers would accept the article? Bohannon’s conclusions were dubious–the majority of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals actually rejected the article and a majority on Beall’s list accepted the article. Yet in the aftermath, there has been considerable hand-wringing. The question was now:

Who is policing open access?
Those creepy predatory journals are giving open access a bad name!

In response, I recommend that everyone read “On the mark? Responses to a sting” as well as librarian Barbara Fister’s thoughtful comments on the issue.  There are also helpful organizations including OASPA, COPE, and SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals in addition to the broader SPARC organization.

But what happens when a discovery tool takes on a bigger role?

DOAJ tightened inclusion standards after the sting and now offers a seal of approval. The new standards are not without flaws:  (paid) registration with CrossRef is difficult for small and/or one-off open access publishers. However, DOAJ should be lauded for their efforts to keep the predatory publishers at bay. At least 114 journals were removed from DOAJ after the Bohannon scandal.

But Dorothea Salo in the aforementioned group commentary “On the mark?” notes:

This is progress, but a cursory examination of the new DOAJ criteria shows that they are crediting good practices such as peer review, rather than punishing bad practices such as email spam, falsely-listed editors, and junkety conferences. … Its program simply does not suffice to eliminate all the scammers and scammy practices.

It’s still too early to tell if DOAJ’s efforts will make a difference. We need much more public education about gold open access and how it differs entirely from predatory publishing. The recent scandal involving Springer and IEEE publishing 120 “gibberish” papers is further evidence that scholarly communications based on peer-review needs reform. Is open peer-review the answer? Are predatory publishers just an expression of a transitional period and will they wither as open access grows to the stage where it is widely understood and embraced?

Getting Academic Research into the Public Sphere: The Rundown on Repositories

A big focus of JustPublics@365 is getting scholarship into the public sphere. But, how do scholars do that? What, precisely, is the mechanism that academics are supposed to use to share their work with a wider audience?

Open access journals — that is, journals that make their articles freely available online, immediately and permanently — are certainly one way to do this. You may have heard the buzz about the Nobel prize winner who publicly rejected “the tyranny of the luxury journals” and committed himself to supporting, as an author and an editor, open access journals.

Open Access is Not Only about Journals

Discussion about open access often focuses exclusively on open access journals, and often on the extreme ends of the quality spectrum: the really excellent journals and the really awful ones. There’s a lot of fascinating and nuanced and ever-evolving stuff to say about open access journals, but there’s a whole lot more to open access. And today I’m going to talk about open access repositories, freely accessible online databases of articles and other works.

What Are Open Access Repositories?

Thanks to Google (and the irrepressible urge to research health symptoms), you’ve almost certainly found and read materials in open access repositories, but you might not have realized that there was anything special about the sites hosting those document.

One reason open access repositories are special is that they’re created and maintained with long-term preservation in mind. They will persist, and offer persistent URLs to documents, much longer than most other sites. In particular, they will outlast authors’ personal web pages, which often disappear shortly after retirement, resignation, death, or failure to pay for domain name renewal. So, unlike most free web content, works in open access repositories aren’t just open access now and a year from now; they’re open access for a very long time to come — ideally, forever.

Types of Repositories

There is no single, universal open access repository, but that’s okay because Google and other tools search across many repositories and generally do a good job of finding what you’re looking for, wherever it may reside. Here are some of the different flavors of open access repositories:

  • Disciplinary repositories are repositories that welcome submissions in a certain field, regardless of the institutional home of the author(s). Some of the biggest and best-known disciplinary repositories are arXiv.org (for physics, math, computer science, and several other sciences), PubMed Central (for the biomedical sciences), and the Social Science Research Network, or SSRN (for the social sciences). One big benefit of disciplinary repositories is that they collect a large amount of related research in one place, so it’s often well worth a researcher’s time to go directly to the appropriate repository and browse or search for papers of interest. Of course, some disciplinary repositories are more robust than others, and, while there are many, there is not a repository for every field.
  • Institutional repositories are repositories hosted by an institution (usually a college or university) to make available the works of its researchers. Successful examples include the repositories at MIT and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. One big benefit of institutional repositories is that they accept all kinds of documents — slideshows, posters, speaker’s notes, images, etc. — whereas many disciplinary repositories limit themselves to articles/papers.
  • Commercial networking/profile sites, such as Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Mendeley, allow researchers to create profile pages and upload their works. These sites have helped many researchers (including those who don’t have an appropriate disciplinary repository or an institutional repository at their disposal) make their works open access, and have connected many others with those works. But the commercial nature of these sites make some worry about what’s being done with data about users and contributions, as well as about the longevity of the sites and the fate of the documents if the sites shut.

To explore the universe of repositories, visit OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories) and ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories).

And here’s some really big news: The CUNY Graduate Center is in the process of rolling out its own repository — there’s almost nothing there yet, but soon it’ll have lots of papers, dissertations, master’s theses, and other works.  And here’s even bigger news: CUNY will soon be following suit with a university-wide repository!

GC Works

Sneak peek of the Graduate Center’s brand new institutional repository: Graduate Center Academic Works

Is All This Allowed? Isn’t It Pirating?

Sure, researchers can put all sorts of research output online. But what about their journal articles — aren’t a lot of journals commercial, and don’t journals require authors to transfer their copyright to the journal?

Yes, a lot of journals are for-profit enterprises, and yes, those journals almost always require authors to sign over their copyright. Nevertheless, a majority of journals allow authors to self-archive their articles (usually not the final PDF, but some version) in open access repositories. (Find out which journals allow what at SHERPA/RoMEO.)

So, yep, all this is allowed, and, nope, using repositories is not pirating!

Open Education Resources Work for Faculty and Students

Eben Upton is best known as the man behind the Raspberry Pi, a tiny, $25 computer designed to help turn kids into programmers. Upton priced it at $25 because he thought that’s around what an average textbook cost: “I now understand that’s an incorrect estimate. If we had a better idea of what school textbooks cost we would have had an easier job with the engineering over the years,” he joked to Wired years later.

It’s a funny story but also a sad story. Textbooks are expensive. More expensive than most non-students even realize.

OER From a Student Perspective


The above chart is national data. But textbook pricing is high, even when examined at the local level. I work at a public community college. We recently priced out our reserve collection, which is made up of textbooks for classes. We looked at data for 18 months of checkouts and found the average textbook in our study cost $109.36 and had a median price of $107.25. More than half of the programs represented in our reserve collection had a median textbook price of at least $100. Seven of the 11 academic departments have textbooks with a median cost of at least $100. We know 61% of LaGuardia students living with their parents have family income of less than $25,000, while 79% of students living away from their parents have family income of less than $25,000. How are these students supposed to afford prices like these? And how many would love to have the $25 textbook Upton thought students were stuck with?



If you’re wondering what your program costs, do a quick survey of your colleagues about their required textbooks. The results are probably comparable to what we see above.

OER: The Faculty View

Open education resources (OER) are an attempt to solve the textbook pricing problem by giving students and faculty great content at more reasonable prices — even free, which many consider to be the most reasonable price point of all. You’ll often hear OER also referred to as open textbooks, but it’s really so much more than freely accessible textbooks — it’s freely available class content. That means textbooks, but it also means course shells, syllabi, class assignments, and slide decks. So while OER discussions often focus on cost from a student perspective, it also has the potential to help faculty develop and refine their own course materials. Student cost savings is but one component of OER.

One of the best ways to describe OER comes from Hilton, Wiley, Stein and Johnson. They define openness in terms of ‘four Rs’: reuse; redistribution; revision; and remix:

  • Reuse: This one could probably be called use, but it would ruin the alliteration of their thesis. Reuse is simply using content, which implies access, but also implies certain rights, like the ability to download content for later use. Thinking about this in CUNY terms, Blackboard, which so many of us use for managing our courses, makes it tough to share in a broad way. We can provide access to anyone who asks, but what if someone is from outside of CUNY? What if the person doesn’t know to ask for access? How can content be reused if it’s hidden behind a login and password?
  • Redistribute: This also has access implications. It’s the right to freely share work, either with students or colleagues. OER content needs to be shareable. Also, while it’s generally accepted that OER material is always cost-free in digital form, David Wiley hypothesizes there’s money to be made in college bookstores printing OER material on-demand.
  • Revise: OER is more about using static materials. An important part is the right to change material — to change it so it works for your students. We’ve all worked with a textbook and wished we could change certain parts of it. OER allows you to change those parts that don’t work for you. OER allows you to bend course materials to your pedagogy, rather than the other way around.
  • Remix: This is the right to combine content from disparate sources. Maybe your ideal textbook is built from more than one textbook. Maybe your syllabus is based upon the best aspects of three or four syllabi. OER lets you build something new on the shoulders of your colleagues around the world. But it also allows faculty to build on your work, also.

OER isn’t easy, but it lends itself to scaffolding. It’s tough to instantly flip an existing course to entirely OER material, but it can be done incrementally. There’s no shortage of OER content; the challenge is not finding material, but rather filtering it. Having said that, a few places to begin discovering resources include:

Faculty can also make their work available, either in pieces, via projects like the ones above, or by making an entire class publicly viewable using an open course tool, like Canvas. There are a lot of little things faculty can do to contribute to OER and to integrate it into their teaching.

The CUNY Open Education Resources Group has created a short, 20-minute introductory class designed to provide an actionable overview of OER. The class can found here. You can keep up with OER news on the CUNY OER blog.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Guest author Steve Ovadia is Web Services Librarian at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY.

FutureEd Needs Open Access Publishing

Open access publishing is crucial for higher education to reach larger publics. MOOCs without strong content can’t draw decent audiences. And as much as we can love a charismatic sage-on-the-stage, decent higher education requires, well, doing the homework.



(Image source)

Our #FutureEd lunchtime discussion last Friday focused for a while on MOOC politics. Cathy Davidson’s Coursera experiment allows registered students access to the texts supporting the course, but students can’t link to them from elsewhere else (say, from a blog), and there’s no access to the readings after the MOOC is over. MOOCS vary in their degree of openness.

Coursera is a licensed xMOOC platform designed to extend higher ed by lowering costs of delivery and eventually developing a profitable business model. xMOOCs, mostly funded through venture captial now, anticipate income from student consumers, someday, somehow. xMOOCs license text books and library databases to registered Coursera students. Registered students provide a limited audience of readers with limited access to course readings – the articles, books, book chapters, film, and videos assigned. How far can higher ed extend if essential reading continues to be tightly regulated, locked behind paywalls? Not far.

cMOOCs (the 1st “c” is for “connectivist”) , on the other hand, involve open source, home-designed platforms that require no course registration. cMOOCs intend to extend peer-to-peer contact and learning without barriers. They are usually wholly accessible in every way without tiers or time-limits to content. cMOOCs have the greatest potential to extend higher education to new audiences. Open access scholarship is at the heart of this effort.

Last spring’s JustPublics@365 Participatory Open Online Course was an academic project close in shape and spirit to a cMOOC. Organizers wanted everybody engaged with the course Reassessing Inequality and Reimagining the 21st Century: East Harlem Focus  — those with a CUNY affiliation or not, those who registered for course credit or not — to have free, complete access to the entire body of presentations, discussions, articles, books, and film. We also wanted the readings and videos to stay available for those coming along after the course finished, here. GC librarian colleague Shawn(ta) Smith performed the journal literature review; I covered the books and book chapters. Out of 117 assigned readings (film, articles, book chapters, books), 65% were either found or forged open online, at least for the duration of the course. 48% of those 117 are now in permanent, permissible open access contexts —  in open access journals, posted on author websites, self-archived in institutional or subject repositories. Another small percentage of the 117 are posted on the open web in violation of publisher’s licensing agreements. These “rogue postings” are freely discoverable until a publisher decides to issue a take-down notice, as Elsevier did recently in response to articles authors self-archive on Academia.edu. 65% is pretty good, I guess, but open access work has got to become the norm, not the exception, for higher ed to reach new citizen audiences. For MOOCs to work, open access scholarship must work.

(Open Scholarship for Open Education: Building the JustPublics@365 POOC
a presentation by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite, and Jessie Daniels)

Authors and librarians can work together to make scholarly work free and available to larger publics, without violating publishers’ contracts. Help yourself to our presentation on the topic, and watch this space for more.


Open Access Publishing: Promise and Uncertainties


Librarians have been too successful. We have made it seamless for faculty and students to get to licensed electronic books and articles that are, in fact, locked behind paywalls. We render paywalls completely invisible to searchers in library IP-space. And off-site users are guided through proxy servers to their information destination with minimal interruption, sometimes only once the first time we login.

We’ve made it easy, then, for those within academic institutions to not realize that anyone outside, without a research library to go to, without university credentials to unlock access, is blocked from the databases, books, and articles we in higher education enjoy for free.

GC Library proxy login

Well, it’s not really free. University readers pay for access with taxes and tuition, not with a credit card like unaffiliated readers must.

PurchaseAccess Paywall

Universal, open access publishing is essential to extending the works and benefits of higher education. Publishing “open access” allows authors to connect with the widest possible audiences, locally and globally.

We in higher ed must rethink how we produce, distribute, and value scholarship. Why do scholars write? Why is scholarly publishing out of reach to so many readers? What evidence signals that scholarship is meaningful?

Some of the pressing questions about open access publishing and scholarly communication include:

  1. Can MOOCs succeed without open online scholarship?
  2. Does open access publishing threaten university presses, learned societies, the peer review system, and academic life as we know it?
  3. How do I guard against predatory publishers trying to make a buck off of OA publication fees?
  4. How does an author find an open access journal or publisher?
  5. How does an over-extended public university academic actually self-archive work that is already published? Is academia.edu any good?
  6. How does an over-extended public university academic editing a peer-reviewed journal make that journal open access without sacrificing all free time to the effort?
  7. What started this open access craze, and why are librarians smack in the middle of it? Is it just a fad?
  8. How can a CUNY scholar negotiate with a prestigious publisher to retain copyright to a work, and live to tell about it?
  9.  What are Creative Commons licenses, and what does copyright have to do with open access publishing?
  10. What the heck is metadata, and what does it have to do with open access publishing?
  11.  Do social scientists and humanists really have to worry about open access scholarship? Our journals are not so expensive.
  12. If a publisher’s prestige isn’t as important as the impact of scholarship, how do we evaluate faculty for tenure and promotion?

In this topic series on scholarly communication, I and my CUNY librarian colleagues, will explore open access publishing – its promise and its uncertainties.



Don’t Be Frightened by Predatory Journals

Have you received invitations to submit your work to “open access journals” that just don’t seem legitimate?  There are, in fact, predatory journals trying to exploit the idea of open access and the naïveté of scholars unfamiliar with the nuances of open access publishing just to make a quick buck.  You may have run across lists of predatory journals, but how do you tell? And, how do you tell if a conference is predatory?


It's a Trap!(Image source)


You don’t need to be frightened by predatory journals and conferences anymore.  There are CUNY librarians to help navigate these scary hazards of scholarly communication.

To Catch a Predator: How to Recognize Predatory Journals and Conferences

  • Friday, November 15, 2013, 10am – 12pm
  • The Graduate Center, Rooms C203/C204 (Concourse Level)
  • Refreshments will be served

Predatory publishers have always existed but, due in part to the growth of online publishing, they are becoming more visible, more aggressive, and more important to understand. Evaluating journal quality is increasingly difficult with many new journals and publishers. Some are predatory, claiming peer review where there is none and being far more interested in profit than the dissemination of high-quality scholarly information. Many others are simply low quality — not predatory but not a desirable publishing venue for most scholars.

Come learn about their spammy, scammy practices, as well as how to distinguish simply less-good publishers from truly predatory ones, why the existence of predatory publishers should not scare us away from open access publishing more generally, and how to respond when others conflate predatory and open access publishing.

Please RSVP by Thursday, November 7 to Jill Cirasella or Maura Smale.

This event is sponsored by the LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable, the CUNY Office of Library Services, and Just Publics @ 365.

Invitation: Open Access to Scholarly Literature Discussion

The goal of JustPublics@365 is to connect the work done in the academy to publics beyond the walls of the ivory tower.   Sharing scholarly communication with a broad audience relies on models of publishing that are “open,” that is, that make scholarly literature available to anyone, not just those with an institutional affiliation and access to a research library.  Discussions about issues related to how widely available scholarly literature should be are often referred to under the umbrella term “open access,” or (OA).

As it happens, today marks the beginning of International Open Access Week.  In conjunction with this,  C120x240UNY librarians are launching an Information Interventions @ CUNY series and you’re invited to attend the first event in the series.

Open Access to Scholarly Literature: Which Side Are You On?
Friday, October 25, 2013
10am – noon
The Graduate Center
Rooms C201/C202 (Concourse Level)
Refreshments will be served


Open access (OA) to scholarly literature recently hit a major milestone: Half of all research articles published become open access, either immediately or after an embargo period. Are the articles you read among them? What about the articles you write? Are the journals to which you submit open-access friendly? What about the journals for which you peer review? Are there any reasons why the public should not have access to the results of taxpayer-funded research?

Jill Cirasella (Associate Librarian for Public Services and Scholarly Communication, Graduate Center) will explain the motivation for OA, describe the details of OA, and differentiate between publishing in open access journals (“gold” OA) and self-archiving works in OA repositories (“green” OA). She will also dispel persistent myths about OA and examine some of the challenges to OA.

Please RSVP to Jill Cirasella or Maura Smale.

This event is sponsored by the LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable and JustPublics@365.

There are more Information Interventions @ CUNY coming up! Save the Date for our upcoming event on predatory journals and conferences:

Friday, November 15, 2013
The Graduate Center
C203/C204 (Concourse Level)


In Spring 2014, there are other events about open educational resources and the controversy surrounding dissertations and open access.  Hope to see you there!

Publishing and the POOC, or, why we need open access

Isn’t everything up on the internet for free? Yes, most new books and articles appear in digital format, but NO-O-O they’re not (yet) mostly free. Libraries pay big bucks to license them, and the licenses require libraries to restrict access to narrow audiences (students, faculty, or people physically inside the library).

  • Publishers sell journal articles for $15, $20, $35 or more, but people affiliated with a licensing library get them for free. U.S. copyright law enables restricted access and constructs a formidable barrier to information for anyone without a university affiliation. Some publishers profit mightily from this arrangement. Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley all routinely clear around 30% profit by selling journal articles back to universities through library expenditures.
Elsevier clears more profit than Walmart, Apple, and Disney. Data from Mike Taylor, The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers, 2012Chart by Stuart Shieber, 2013.
  • U.S. copyright law as applied in traditional scholarly publishing protects publishers interests at the expense of readers and authors.
  • Online digital display of most post-1923 American book titles is limited to a few pages, unless you buy a licensed copy yourself or access it through your library license.
  • Challenging U.S. copyright law and scholarly publication practices, activist Aaron Swartz drew a civil lawsuit for downloading a ton of JSTOR articles using a computer surreptitiously stashed inside a MIT’s library IP-space.

The required readings for the Graduate Center’s Spring 2013 JustPublics365 POOC are selected not only because they’re interesting and relevant, but also because they’re available in a free and open digital format. Lots of what we want to read is still locked up behind digital pay walls; we were only able to liberate some of it. For this course, many of the suggested readings are marked with an asterisk. This means that to reach them online, you have to be a Graduate Center affiliate (with an active GC network userid/pwd) or an affiliate with another subscribing institution.  For example: restricted licensed article from the POOC suggested reading list:

example: restricted licensed article


The Open Access (OA) movement seeks to change this. OA advocates ask writers, particularly academics who give their work to publishers for free, to publish open access with a Creative Commons license so readers everywhere can at least read/view it for free, then re-use and re-mix according to the author’s rules. Scholars want the widest possible impact by reaching the widest possible audience. Librarians want to stop spending insane amounts of money to publishers for academic work the university has already subsidized with faculty salaries. Readers want to read for free.

Academic authors and activists have to make it happen. Publish in a journal that is all (or “gold”) open access with DOAJ.org. Or use a SPARC sample contract to negotiate with your publisher to retain author copyright. Or, use the Sherpa/Romeo tool to find a journal’s standing permission for open access author archiving (“green” open access). About 95% of academic journals have standing permission for authors to post already-published articles on the web after a 6 – 24 month embargo. If every academic would post their articles for following publisher guidelines already in place, there would be lots more reading available for our Spring 2013 POOC.

A few academic book publishers experiment with open access, but there are relatively few new open access books. Books published in the USA prior to 1923 may be in public domain (unless publishers extend copyright protection), but post-1923 US books can’t be distributed on the web without tempting copyright litigation. Nearly all the books available free online are so old that the copyright protections have expired, or, they’re government works-for- hire, or, the authors subscribe to the principle that academic work should be free to the public. Posting anything online from a copyright-protected book, even a single PDF book chapter password-protected for “reserve” reading by traditional university course, can tempt litigation.

A team of CUNY faculty, students, and librarians select and review every reading for this course. We’ve done our best to point you to the finest open access reading available, but we wish we had more to choose from. It’s up to all of us to transform the academy, to support open access scholarly publishing, and to make the work of public higher education a greater force for the common good.


What does it mean to be a “Digital Scholar”?

This post was originally published on the GC Digital Fellows blog

After reading Erin and Alice Lynn’s latest posts, I began to wonder what a “successful” digital scholar looks like.  Should success be measured by the scope of one’s digital presence?  Should it be measured by how much one’s research is cited on the web?  Or does it instead have something to do with how many digital tools one has created for / incorporated into their research?

This is a tricky question to answer; just trying to find a simple definition of ‘digital scholarship’ is a task unto itself.  Some argue that we should refrain from attempting to define digital scholarship in the first place, while others argue that digital scholarship should be defined loosely so as to incorporate diverse approaches.  If we can’t even decide how to define digital scholarship, how can we determine if one is a successful digital scholar?

I can’t say that I have an answer that could unify or encompass everything that may fall under ‘digital scholarship’, and I won’t try to offer suggestions here either.  Instead, I’d like to suggest that readers of this post reflect on problems they’ve encountered in academia (trouble finding others who share your research interests, institutional limitations on your research, difficulty gathering and assessing data, limited publication options for your topic, etc), and think of ways that these obstacles could be overcome using less traditional means.  What do I have in mind by ‘less traditional means’?

Although it is difficult – and perhaps unnecessary – to strictly define digital scholarship, it is not difficult to become a digital scholar; approaching traditional scholarship from a new angle is all that’s required.