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On Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IRs)

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently went to a town meeting on Open Access (OA) and our Institutional Repository (IR).  (Universities and colleges have our own town meetings, because we’re basically our own mini-towns).  This meeting spurred me on to do a bit of a blog post on OA and IRs.  I’ll first give a brief explanation of OA and IRs, including links to some resources for more information, and wrap up with my own thoughts.

OA is the concept and movement within academia that access to academic literature should be free online and free of most copyright restrictions.  The idea is that for knowledge to flourish the exchange of ideas should be as free and fluid as possible.  Because this is a concept and movement this means that not everyone agrees with this idea.  Agreement and support of OA also varies drastically by area of specialty.  The sciences are the most supportive of OA, particularly Physics.  This is evident by the existence of the website arXiv.org, which provides “open access to 792,606 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics.” The humanities are less so.  This has to do with the culture of the different disciplines. The sciences are more focused on teamwork and sharing new knowledge as quickly as possible, whereas the humanities tend to be more concerned with ruminating on ideas.  The pace is simply faster in the sciences than in the humanities, and OA is more useful in that environment.

Utilizing and supporting OA comes across in a few different ways.  There are OA journals, which are free to use, but not necessarily free to submit an article to.  To those concerned, the submission fee does not guarantee acceptance of an article.  It is simply there to help the OA journals function.  Studies on the percentage of OA journals charging a fee vary rather widely on their final numbers.  These fees are of concern to faculty members, though, because they can quickly go through grant money that could have been used in other ways just paying submission fees.  Although there originally was concern as to the quality of OA journals, OA does not negate peer-review.  There are many peer-reviewed and respected journals; the PLOS ones in particular spring to mind, but you can see a listing of all OA journals at the Directory of Open Access Journals.  Academics can support OA both by submitting to and reading OA journals, and institutions can support OA by giving articles published in OA journals equal consideration when doing tenure reviews.

OA can be pursued in traditional publishing as well, however.  Frequently faculty members do not fully understand what is happening with their copyright when they sign contracts with a publisher.  The creator owns the copyright of an item at the moment of creation. He or she does not need to register it.  This is not always clear to people because from 1923 to 1963 (in the US) you did have to register your copyright and re-register it every 28 years.  Anything published before 1923 in the US is officially in the public domain aka free of copyright.  This is why mashups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can happen.  What all this means is that the author of the paper owns copyright until they sign it over to the publisher, and they do not have to kowtow to all of the demands of the publisher.  OA advocates encourage authors to return the contract to the publisher unsigned with a SPARC Addendum attached.  This addendum gives the publisher some rights over the paper/article/book while retaining some for the author.  What this essentially means is that the author retains certain rights over his or her article that most faculty members think they have anyway.  Only now it’s legal.  For instance, this addendum gives the author permission to deposit their paper in an Institutional Repository or include it in a group of pdfs of publications on their personal website, as long as it is properly cited to the journal of first publication.

A popular way for publishers to support OA while still staying in business, beyond agreeing to SPARC Addendums, is the concept of an embargo.  An embargo means that articles are available exclusively through subscription and fees for a set period of time (usually from 6 months to 2 years), and after that point they are available through OA.  The qualm some advocates of OA have with this model is that for certain fields of study, particularly in the sciences, the embargo period is long enough that the article will be practically irrelevant by the time it is available openly, thereby defeating the whole purpose of encouraging collaboration and free flow of ideas behind OA to begin with.

If you are interested in learning more about OA, check out Peter Suber’s book Open Access.  You can also check out this this handout that explains the OA spectrum in an infographic style.

So what do Institutional Repositories (IRs) have to do with OA?  An IR is a curated collection of all academic publishing, as well as collections such as photographs taken by anthropologists, created by scholars associated with the institution.  The IR is the institution’s research portfolio.  It’s important for the institution to be able to demonstrate to interested parties the valuable work their scholars are doing.  The connection to OA is that the current restrictive copyright contracts publishers send to authors frequently make it impossible to include their works in the IR.  The SPARC Addendum addresses this, but an institution can also address this concern by making it a mandate that all scholarly work done while at their institution be deposited in the repository.  This gives the author a prior commitment that is usually already covered in the contract.  A pioneer in the world of IRs is MIT’s IR: DSpace.  Check them out to get a feel for what an IR is like.

So what do I think about all of this?  I can understand and sympathize with all three sides (universities, scholars, and publishers).  The publishers are concerned that they will go out of business if everything is available immediately in OA.  As an indie author, I can easily see how valid that concern is.  Frankly if OA does take off the way, say, literary zines have, most journals will go out of business.  Yes a few big name zines are still surviving, and most zines also sell a print version and do alright with that, but publishing as we know it must change for OA to take hold.  Of course one doesn’t want that in one’s own industry.

I can also understand the dual view scholars hold.  Academic journals are peer-reviewed, and while OA journals can be, they aren’t necessarily.  OA can seem like a scary free-for-all with no verification of facts or quality.  Things don’t always become popular because they’re good.  But on the other hand if your audience is other scholars, aka the peer part of peer-review, then it should work itself out anyway.  Not to mention the fact that OA journals can mandate peer-review if they want to.  Similarly, I get it that scholars usually want to share their work with anyone interested and to that end want to post the pdfs on their website.  The problem is, though, if a person can get your article just by googling it and going to you instead of the publisher then we’re right back to putting the publisher who published you in the first place out of business.  But if publishing changes the way we think it will, then that would be a moot point anyway.

As far as IRs go, I truly see their value for gray literature.  Things like posters from poster sessions, dissertations and theses that are frequently not available or searchable otherwise, etc… but I also think an institution obsessively collecting a copy of everything every scholar has done is a bit redundant.  Not that the institution shouldn’t ever broaden to that level of collection and archiving, but since IRs are so new, it might be better to focus in on the gray literature for now.

Overall though the change won’t really happen until institutions start accepting OA publications in the tenure process. Until that point all scholars must publish in traditional journals in order to secure tenure.  It seems to me that the power is really in the hands of the universities.  The universities must decide: what do we want true scholarship and academic achievement look like in the 21st century?

Environmentalism’s Impact on Books

Environmentalists have their good points and bad points, just like any activist group.  I agree with some of their points and disagree with others.  However, there seems to be the stirrings of a new target for environmentalists–new books.  A blog example is this post detailing how you should only buy used books whenever possible as studies show they are better for the environment.  Then there’s the new Netflix-style business called BookSwim, which claims that it’s more environmentally friendly to have their stock of “rentable” books shipped to you in recycled packing materials than it is to buy new books.

What these people seem to be missing is that if people stop buying new books, at some point there won’t be any more new books being published.  It is important that avid readers support the publishing of new books by currently writing authors, as well as the classics.  If the publishing industry encounters a distinct lack in demand for their product, they aren’t going to make it anymore!  Environmentalists need to grasp the fact that we’re talking about books here.  Literacy.  Education.  Possessing an educated public.  That’s a bit more important than a few trees in the rainforest.  They really need to set their sights on something else.  I’m all behind finding alternative energy sources, but we need books to keep being published.

Another point that ye olde BookSwim seems to miss is the low environmental impact of borrowing books from your local public library.  I know in rural areas people have to drive there, but it is often possible to bike or walk.  No books are being shipped, plus you get the chance to meet and encounter people from your neighborhood at the library.  Not to mention the fact that the library is free.  What BookSwim cites as its most popular plan costs $29.97 a month.  They heavily push the idea of no late fees and no due date, but let’s consider this for a moment.  The most popular plan is 7 books at a time, send back 3 and hold 4.  A book is not a movie.  A movie may generally be watched in 1 1/2 to 2 hours, which leads to a rapid turnover.  This is part of what makes Netflix worth the money.  Even the most avid reader generally takes more than 2 hours to finish reading a book.  My friends who read the most avidly finish around 10 books a month.  That means they would have paid $3 a book.  Most libraries charge 10 cents a day for a late book, and allow you to have it for anywhere from a month to two months.  You would have to keep the book an extra 30 days in order for the late fees to equate the cost of the book from BookSwim.  Anybody with half a brain can see that BookSwim isn’t worth the money.  One of the major selling points of BookSwim is the ability to take as long as you want to read a book, but if you do that then you won’t be getting your money’s worth.

Come on, people.  Use your heads.  Utilize your local public library for older books or books you know you will only want to read once, and buy new books from your local independent bookstore to support the future of the book industry.  It is really not that complicated.  Environmentalists should stick to their solar panels.

Overprotected

There is a distinct socioeconomic difference between two parts of the MBTA system:  the commuter rail and the bus.  The commuter rail consists mostly of middle to upper class, white collar, white Americans.  The bus is, well, everyone else.  Suffice it to say, when I ride the bus, which is often, I’m generally in the statistical minority.  In fact, the other night I was the only white person on an almost full bus, as well as the only woman besides the bus driver.  I’m perfectly comfortable riding both, although I must admit, I generally get better stories from riding the bus.  The other night I overheard a hooker planning out her evening on her cell phone.  I digress, back to my point.  I can’t help but notice some distinct differences between the two groups of riders.

When I commute from my abode in the morning, I take the commuter rail.  When I commute from my man’s abode, I take the bus system.  Every morning that I take the commuter rail, there is a white teenage boy on my train car.  He’s probably about 15, clearly on his way to some sort of prep school.  His mother makes him wait in her car with her until the train is pulling up, then she waits to pull away until he is on the train.  He’s often pushy to the other passengers, never respectful to older men and women.

Every morning that I ride the bus, I wind up waiting for a bus connection.  A black boy, who’s probably about 8 years old, almost always is waiting with me.  He’s got his backpack on and breakfast in one hand.  I’m not entirely certain why he’s taking public transit instead of the school bus to school, but there you have it.  He waits for the bus alone.  He rides the bus alone.  He hits the stop request tape himself to make sure the bus driver stops at his stop.  He often reads a magazine on the bus and is always quiet and respectful.

Clearly, whoever the 8 year old’s mother is, she trusts him to get his own butt to school in the morning and to do it safely.  She (or somebody) taught him how to be respectful in public.  Conversely, the 15 year old’s mother doesn’t trust him to get to the train himself, or even to get on it in the morning.  She’s probably tried to teach him to be respectful in public, but the lesson clearly hasn’t sunk in.

An 8 year old is behaving more maturely than a 15 year old.  I can’t help but think that people rise to the expectations you put out.  Now, maybe the 15 year old’s mother tried to give him more responsibility, and he failed so she feels she can’t trust him anymore.  I seriously doubt it though.  What I’ve seen among the middle to upper-class in Boston is a distinct overprotection that leads to a lack of maturity among their children.  Mommy and daddy might think they’re protecting their kids by always having an adult there every second of the day watching, but what that really communicates to the kid is “Mom and Dad don’t trust me,” and “If they don’t think I can handle this on my own, I must not be able to.”

I know some people are probably upset reading about an 8 year old taking the transit system alone.  However, it’s the morning commute.  It’s not like it’s 10pm at night or something.  Nobody can protect someone else perfectly.  Random bad shit happens to kids; it’s a fact of life.  Isn’t it better to teach kids to be self-reliant?  The 8 year old’s mother has clearly taught him valuable life skills.  He can handle getting himself places without her help.  Imagine how much more confident he’ll be when it comes to things like choosing a college in the future.  Since his mother trusts him, he trusts himself.  I doubt the 15 year old will take any agency in such important life decisions.  If he can’t be trusted to do something as simple as his morning commute on his own, how could he possibly make more important decisions on his own?

I know there’s some risk involved in the 8 year old commuting on his own, but I firmly believe that the overall life lesson he’s getting far outweighs any risk.  People don’t grow, mature, or self-actualize if they’re never challenged.  If life is rosy and easy, there’s no reason to.  When these middle to upper-class parents think they’re protecting their kids, they’re really sabotaging their future.  It’s too bad they can’t see it.

Encountering Columbine

April 8, 2009 3 comments

A new book is coming out this week in the true crime genre: Columbine by Dave Cullen.  This, of course, is leading people to talk about the first big American school shooting, with even an article in Newsweek about it.

I’m part of the generation that was heavily impacted by Columbine.  I was a freshman in highschool when it happened.  I’ve read some articles written by members of my generation about it.  They all say similar things.

We were shocked into realizing we weren’t safe.
We instantly became more likely to talk to the loners.
Suddenly schools were having practice lock-downs, just in case.

Of course I experienced all of these things, but Columbine was twisted and used by my religious fundamentalist community to such an extent that even with all of the news coverage, I had some of the details of the shooting completely wrong for years.

You see, my fundamentalist protestant school (that I thankfully got out of my sophomore year) told us that the shooters were targeting the Christian students.

That’s right.  It wasn’t random.  It wasn’t the jocks or the popular kids.  It was the Christian kids.

I remember having an assembly at my school where the principal told us that the shooters asked the kids if they believed in God/Jesus.  If they said no, then the shooters would let them live.  If they said yes, then the shooters killed them.  There was even a book called She Said Yes, which was essentially required reading in my community for all highschoolers.  There is a huge amount of controversy surrounding this book now, with the people who were actually present at Columbine stating that no such exchange ever occurred.

Well, I know this now, but I didn’t know it then.  At the assembly regarding Columbine, my principal hailed the teenager who died saying yes as a martyr.  He grilled us asking us if push came to shove if we would denounce Jesus.  He showed us Bible verses showing that denouncing our Savior would permanently ban us from Heaven.  So fourteen year old me was given the choice of denouncing my Savior and living longer but going to Hell or affirming my belief and dying immediately but going to Heaven.  This, then, became my primary focus that bothered me for years until I left the faith.

While my public schoolmates simply wondered how they would survive a school shooting, I agonized wondering if when push came to shove I would denounce Jesus.  What a choice for a fourteen year old to be weighed down with.  I wasn’t told the logical thing my secular schoolmates were told repeatedly by their parents and teachers:  if a shooting is occurring, do what you need to do to stay alive.  No, no, I was told that my everlasting soul was the far more important thing.  If I was a “TRUE CHRISTIAN,” I would be willing to die.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying, if I truly believed that I knew where I was going when I died.  This choice haunted me for years.

I quickly became accustomed to the idea that someone could come to school with a gun or a bomb and try to kill us all.  I think pretty much everyone in my generation has simply acclamated to that.  In fact, my highschool had an actual lock-down when one of our students’ parents woke up to find his son and his gun missing.  Luckily for us, he went to his ex-girlfriend’s highschool instead of mine, but we were still on lock-down for hours while the cops tried to figure out where he was.  Frankly I’m not at all surprised I have a story like that, and most people my age who I know have a similar, or worse, one.

What did haunt me for years though was this idea that everyone outside of our community hated us and wanted us dead.  The idea that we were persecuted, even to the point of being a martyr for our faith.  Was I strong enough for such a thing?  The vary thought ate at my soul.

Maybe if the story they told us about Columbine was true, I’d be less upset about it in retrospect.  I’m sure that gay teens are haunted by Matthew Shephard’s murder, and understandably so.  The thing is though, Columbine wasn’t about persecuting Christian teens at all.  It was about a couple of very angry, mentally disturbed teens taking it out on those closest to them.  The story my Christian school told me never actually happened, and that is what makes me angry.  It’s blatant mind-control techniques.  They made me terrified of going to public school, of encountering the secular world.  Frankly, the amount of balls it took me to beg to go to public school and to walk into that building when I had been told repeatedly that it was exactly like walking into a war zone was enormous.  I’m not at all surprised, given scare tactics like this, at the number of fundy-raised kids who remain fundy.

Fundy kids are being raised in fear, and fear breeds hate.  If you think that how fundies raise their kids is their business and doesn’t affect you, you are dead wrong.  For fundy groups, it’s all about an us versus them mentality, and really, that mentality is what the Columbine shooters had too.

Your Job as a Librarian

April 1, 2009 5 comments

I’m a librarian, currently working on my master’s degree. Some people are concerned about technology being the downfall of libraries. Observing my fellow classmates makes me far more concerned that they will be the downfall of librarianship.

There’s the students who just cannot seem to properly research anything.
Idiot student: “What?! I couldn’t find the answer to that anywhere!”
Me: “Really? Cause it took me all of 2 minutes…..”

There’s the students who can’t write properly to save their lives, which is particularly a problem for academic librarians who must be published in order to stick around.

I could go on and on with my list, but I’ll get to my point. What I consider to be absolutely the worst idiocy is the students who just don’t get the ethics behind or the point in being a librarian.

Last night we were discussing working the reference desk and having a patron come up and ask for assistance in researching a medical issue such as diabetes or weight loss. (A pet peeve I have with this class is the idiot professor’s assumption that we are all going to be working in public libraries. *sigh*) A student piped up that she would first advise the patron to go to a doctor. I assumed the professor would inform her that it’s none of her damn business to go around telling people to go to a doctor. Imagine my surprise when she didn’t. I put in my two cent’s worth, which led to an epic debate.

Why do I have a problem with this?

Libraries are an essential element in democracies. If we as a populace are expected to actively participate in our governance and to keep an eye on our government, we must be informed. A library is a place where people can self-educate. They can fact-check. It’s largely about not believing everything you are told and investigating it yourself.

So a patron shows up to do just that and your immediate response is to tell them to go to some “authority” the culture has deemed appropriate and to just automatically trust them? See the problem here?

People are not complete idiots. They are aware doctors/lawyers/other authorities exist. If they are coming to the library to conduct their own research, there has got to be a reason.

Your job as a librarian is not to assume your patrons are idiots.
Your job as a librarian is not to reinforce the system.
Your job as a librarian is not to believe you can read people’s minds.

Your job as a librarian is to assist people in educating themselves.
Your job as a librarian is to help maintain (or, hell, produce) a questioning, educated public.

Librarianship is about being radical; it is not about reinforcing the norm.

The fact that my classmates simply do not get this core essence of librarianship makes me envision a Fahrenheit 451 type future where instead of firemen burning houses down, librarians only provide government-approved information and report questioners to The Man.

The Cycles of Life

March 18, 2009 4 comments

My friend sighed and rubbed her forehead with her hand, “Man, I just don’t get it.  Yesterday was so awesome, and today sucked soooo much.”
I made a noncommittal noise and replied, “That’s the cycle of life.  Nothing is ever permanent.  Your life can’t be happy all the time.”

That’s when I realized that I have come to accept the concept of life cycles as truth.

It’s an idea that (from what I’ve read) is largely pagan and to a certain extent Buddhist.  If you observe the natural world, everything goes through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.  This goes to show that the ultimate state of life is not some perfect stasis like heaven, but in fact is impermanence.

I find this whole idea incredibly comforting on two levels.

First, when life is sucking you know it’s not going to suck forever.  Think of it as the inverse of the theory of gravity:  what goes down has got to go back up at some point.  Everybody has experienced happiness at some point in their life.  It will come back around again.

Second, I have the tendency to want to clasp onto whatever I desire when I have finally acquired it so firmly that I manage to choke the life out of it and myself.  For instance, when I’m in a relationship, I’m so panicked about keeping it that I miss enjoying it and wind up losing it.  (For the record, I think I’m improving on this one).  Similarly, when I’m living someplace I enjoy, I never want to move or for it to end.  But everything must come to an end at some point.  We just don’t know when that will happen.  Even relationships that “last forever” end when one of the partners dies.

Accepting the impermanence of everything in life therefore brings about peace of mind.  We aren’t blind-sided when things change.  We were expecting it to happen since that is the true nature of life.  What is really relevant in life is not maintaining some sort of stasis that we think will make us happy.  Instead it is seeking in every situation to learn what the Universe is trying to teach us.

After all, in actuality, life is simply an ever-changing classroom.