OpenCon Toronto 2016: A Librarian's To-Do List

 

 

The OpenCon satellite conference in Toronto took place on Saturday, November 26th in an small software-development office (TGW) in the downtown core. Even though it was early morning (did I mention, Saturday), the room was quickly packed with people.

Lorraine Chuen hosted and opened the event, which included students, academics, librarians, and professionals enthusiastic about open culture. It was refreshing to speak with people from various backgrounds and professions/interests who all have a very real stake in OA.

Below are some of my thoughts on the day's presentations, as well as some final thoughts.

 

Aligning Open Access with the Social Justice Mission of Public University

Renamed: Open Access in the Era of Post-Truth

The first talk was given by Dr. Leslie Chan, associate professor in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media and the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Dr. Chan discussed the notion of narratives in the social justice missions of academic institutions. The prevalence of 'cognitive injustice' in the Global South was a powerful message. Although access to content is increasing, citizens in the Global south are still barred from participation and their knowledge is rendered invisible. Dr. Chan also discussed the inequity of journal publishing, from the exploitative publishers to journals which are slaves to metrics to the knowledge-production constraints of article formats. The most powerful ideas to come out of the talk for me were:

  • we put too much emphasis on access and not enough on participation

  • "Alternative metrics are not what we need we need alternatives to how we think about metrics"

Go watch the recording of this talk! No more summary; there's too much to take away.

 

Beyond Free: Harnessing the Resonant Value in Open Educational Practices for Public Good

Next, David Porter talked about Open Educational Resources (OER) and initiatives in British Columbia and now in Ontario. Although it's clear that there are tremendous financial benefits to students with Open Textbooks, Porter presented the other important benefits:

  1. Teachers have full legal control to customize and contextualize learning resources for their students.

  2. Access to customized resources improves learning.

  3. Opportunities for authentic learning activities.

  4. Collegial collaboration - writing commons, library sprints, textbook sprints, test bank sprints, etc.

  5. Demonstration of the service mission of the institution (Porter).

Porter also warned about Openwashing, or, using the appearance of open access for marketing and profit.

 

Lightning Talks

The lightning talks presented a range of ideas and initiatives.

Dr. Rachel Harding presented on her open lab notebook initiative in her research on Huntington's Disease (Lab Scribbles). This form of "real-time open science" has allowed her to collaborate internationally in ways that would have been otherwise impossible. Most importantly, I think, is the fact that it creates a space for negative results, which would not be published in traditional journals but have a lot of scientific value. 

Wes Kerfoot discussed his project, Textbook Commons, which is a tool for finding public domain materials for courses. Motivated by his philosophy degree, where much of the material is public domain but students still pay for new editions, he created a way of matching course texts with public domain editions online. He hopes to have collaborates to spread this past McMaster University: Wes' GitHub

Karen Young spoke about her work with Dr. Chan, which looked at how open access to education and research can benefit post-secondary mental health. An important takeaway: "OA encourages cross-disciplinary student research to work...to piece together complex understanding of health."

Finally, Dr. Alessandra Delfanti spoke about social media and academic labour on platforms like academic.edu and researchgate. Dr. Delfanti makes the point that these platforms have co-opted ideas from the Open Access movement but don't function on those principles. He raises the point that "academic social media further blurs the lines between work and non-work activities."

 

Open Access in the Creative Disciplines

The final talk of the day was Chris Landry's discussion about open access in the creative disciplines. Landry is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at OCAD University. In particular, Landry discussed the difficulties of encouraging Open Access in the arts due to the very different nature of publishing and doing research. This talk left me wondering whether areas of study and research such as Digital Humanities, which rely much more on collaboration and cross-discipline work, could be a space to turn to for advice and example.

Finally, Final Thoughts

I have been lucky to attend a number of conferences in the past two years, big and small. Although OpenCon Toronto was the smallest conference I've attended, it had some of the biggest and most inspiring ideas. This made me worry, however, that the ideas shared would fall into the 'aspirations' folder of my daily life instead of turning into actions. So I decided to create the:

Post-OpenCon Librarian's To-Do List

  1. Discuss, critically, how we do collection development. How do we ensure that we're not silencing the Global South through our subscription bundles?

  2. Talk to University community about OER. Create advocacy strategies to get people aware of the issues and possible solutions.

  3. Create spaces for participation and creation, not just access.

  4. Find different ways of talking about OA and OER with different communities. Learn other jargon and learn about their concerns.

  5. Take action. Operationalize. Mobilize. Librarians have to resist the Post-Truth Era.

 

If you would like to follow the Twitter conversation that happened at the conference as you want the videos (I'm serious, watch the videos), you can take a look at this Storify.

I will just leave this post with one of my own Tweets: