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Open Book: A commitment to furthering knowledge

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Micah Vandegrift

Micah Vandegrift discusses a broad variety of methods to share research and scholarship, especially infused with open values 

When I started working as a librarian years ago, the concepts of ‘open knowledge’ and ‘open research’ weren’t on my radar, let alone in my job title. Although I believed in the concept of openness in academia, the most the system had to offer at the time was open access in journal articles. That is where I began. With my role focusing on supporting academics in publishing their research, I made sure they knew about the open access opportunities and resources that were available. 

In addition to providing educational support in this way, I also worked closely with an academic department at my university in pursuing funding resources to support open data publishing. The project moved forward, and was awarded a large grant. 

The library’s shifting role

As time passed, my perspective about the library’s role broadened, and I began to see the library as a key player in fostering and supporting the availability of knowledge. The 2016 report The Future of Libraries from MIT was formative in framing my concept. That report, and changing leadership in many U.S. academic libraries, further solidified the idea that the library is a platform for many kinds of initiatives, including the sharing and advancement of new knowledge.

That report helped spark a realisation for me, as well as causing a shift in how I worked. It was no longer about Green versus Gold Open Access, but rather, it was about the library’s commitment and responsibility to the access of knowledge. Instead of focusing only on open access journal publishing, I began to consider the question: how do we create a library that is a catalyst for equitable change on campus and in society?

Scholarly sharing and how libraries are supporting it

One opportunity that I identified recently is supporting the scholarly sharing of open research resources. Scholarly sharing is the sharing of credible, academic information through channels that are not traditional publishing channels, such as through publishers or journals. 

In recent years, more channels for scholarly sharing have surfaced, and it seems that there might only continue to be more. Examples include data repositories, preprint archives, digital humanities project websites, protocols and lab procedures, conference posters, white papers that are based on a thesis, but aren’t journal articles, and more. All of the things that aren’t technically publishing, but are still valuable in the spectrum of research output, are what I consider scholarly sharing. 

Acting as a sort of research analyst, I have found specific ways to foster scholarly sharing among researchers at my institution. The first and most valuable step in supporting scholarly sharing has been to learn that this is happening. In addition to reading reports, position papers, blogs, pre-prints, and building relationships with other organisations in academia, I have also participated in panels, speaking engagements, and a Fulbright-Schuman research fellowship, all of which have supported my journey to learn more about engaging in scholarly sharing and open knowledge.

In addition to finding educational resources to stay current with the shifts and trends, I have been having informative discussions to share this knowledge with researchers, colleagues, and stakeholders at my institution. I have been striving to make sure that researchers, new and tenured, are aware of the opportunities to contribute and glean information for research through the various scholarly sharing channels. I work in small groups and in one-on-one settings, and I have been working to build connections throughout my university to help spread information about the evolving open research ecosystem. I work across the organisation with other colleagues when it makes sense – and, even though these initiatives might be early, they will help drive momentum to propel forward the initiative of open knowledge. 

The conversation among librarians about open infrastructure

As discussions moved from open access and institutional repositories, to open science and digital scholarship, I have followed the growing sense that there is a deeper responsibility beyond content, to include infrastructure – the services, protocols, standards and software on which scholarly knowledge lives and moves. 

The conversation about open research and open knowledge is summarised neatly in the following statement, from the Invest in Open initiative: We have worked for a long time on open content, but we have seen that open content can be purchased by people that may not share our values and principles. So, what can we do to remove ourselves from the system that exists and create our own new system with new workflows, technical processes and procedures, funding, resources, etc.? Over a long year arc from a formal statement about open access like the Berlin Open Access Declaration (2003) to these grand systemic questions in 2019, the work of open research and scholarship in libraries has expanded and blossomed. 

I am confident that discussions about infrastructure will continue to deepen the impact and value of openness in higher education. Paired with movements in diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as a growing sense that the evaluation and validation of research outputs desperately needs to evolve, open is embracing a new horizon. 

For further reading, consider taking a look at these resources: 

• Micah Vandegrift is an open knowledge librarian at North Carolina State University. With thanks to Theresa Somerville at AJE (www.aje.com) for helping to arrange this interview

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