Posts by A.J. Boston

Fellows Journal. Logo for the Library Publishing Coalition. Background image features bokeh lights in blues and greens.
November 12, 2020

Thinking Politically About Scholarly Infrastructure

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The Fellows Journal is a forum for the current Library Publishing Coalition fellows to share their experiences and raise topics for discussion within the community. Learn more about the Fellowship Program


Maybe it’s not all that surprising that I’ve come to think about ScholComm in terms similar to US politics. Right now, as I draft this blog post, we are just a handful of days away from the 2020 election and in January 2020, as the next (and hopefully different) president will be inaugurated, I will be compiling my tenure application. It’s been like this from the start. I was hired in February 2016, when the Republican Party presidential primaries were beginning, which was the same month I joined Twitter to better follow both politics and librarianship. Sometimes we get what we ask for.

Twitter has been invaluable for keeping up with the latest ScholComm developments through conference live-tweets, article and policy announcements, and candid conversation between relevant figures in the field. I remember reading the first Plan S announcement tweet from cOAlition-S in 2018, and in fact the Library Publishing Coalition blipped onto my radar from #LPForum19 tweets. Using Twitter has also made me excruciatingly aware of the shape of our political fights, pushed me further leftward, and as I mentioned, caused me to think about ScholComm and politics through a similar framing. Here’s an example of how that can play out.

Tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US Representative, NY-14. "Fracking is bad, actually."
https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1314018453192409102

 

During the Vice Presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris said very clearly that Biden would not ban fracking if elected. It was not an inspiring moment, coming from someone who previously called for a fracking ban, but it was an understandable strategy. If you lose some swing-voters in Pennsylvania who possibly care about this issue, you risk losing the entire race to an administration whose policies on climate change are much worse than just allowing continued fracking.

But, if you do believe climate change to be an existential threat, why adopt a weakened stance on preventing it? I’ve thought this about private and public research funding agencies who champion open access. If you feel deeply about a cause, and it is within your power to make sweeping change, why keep on with the incremental?

Tweet from AJ_Boston. "Could Bill Gates not just buy out RELX, parcel all the non-publishing stuff back onto the market, and put all the publishing part into a single non-profit org? Seems a lot simpler than constantly shoveling quarters into dozens of commercial publisher gumball (APC) machines.
https://twitter.com/AJ_Boston/status/1192581150067191808

 

Tweet from @aj_boston: "If I was cOAlition-S, I woudl simply pool resources to buy disportionate shares in the major publishing houses."
https://twitter.com/AJ_Boston/status/1321205275433512967

 

I’m sure I’m being unfair in my stance. To capture a diverse constituency, a big-tent approach can be effective. Compromise can cause cynicism about our politics, but sometimes a little progress can be better than a lot of regression. That’s the story I’ve told myself, at least, while making my daily compromise as a ScholComm librarian who manages our Elsevier-owned institutional repository service, Digital Commons. My school contracted with bepress (then an independent company) shortly before hiring me to manage it, and my values felt fully aligned as I made the pitch across campus to deposit green OA manuscripts there. But that feeling changed with the announcement of Elsevier acquiring bepress in August 2017 (MacKenzie, 2017).

Since 2017, the Digital Commons service hasn’t worsened, but the premise that many customers initially bought into, of supporting an independent platform in the scholarly communication ecosystem, has eroded. And what do people do when they face a deterioration of goods and services? For A.O. Hirschman (1970), there are three choices (which later scholars have revised upon): exit, voice, and loyalty. In my case, exit seems out of the question: a diverse constituency of groups on my campus have now integrated the software, and a swap would be overly-costly and damage relationships in the process. I don’t know whether I’d categorize what I am doing now as voice or loyalty, but what I do know is that there is a strong glimmer of recognition when Sen. Harris walks her fracking-issue tightrope, or when grant-funding institutions rock the boat just lightly enough that it doesn’t risk a capsize.

Quote tweet from @AJ_Boston, gif from "There Will be Blood": "I Drink Your Milkshake! I drink it up!," in response to anonymous tweet: "Listening to a pre-recorded @samoore_ about those little tiny clauses in transformative agreements that are increasing datafication - turning us into data, and getting value from that data."

 

Digital Commons still allows me to make works open access that were not previously, but I can still feel the ground shift under my feet. Remember the scene from There Will Be Blood when Daniel Day-Lewis humiliatingly shouts “I drink your milkshake!” to Paul Dano, revealing that he had drained Dano’s land dry of oil using wells located off-property. Well, it would seem that our milkshake (standing in for data [Oil!] about researcher activity) brings all the oligopolists to the yard, whether it’s buried in a transformative agreement or dredged from an IR or other education platform, refined, and sold back to the university (Aspesi & SPARC, 2018).

Vertical Integration

To be clear here, it’s not that I don’t understand that it costs money to run things or disagree that there is positive potential in using publishing data to gain insights. It’s that “scholarly communication is up for grabs,” and as Jefferson Pooley (2017) writes, it is unclear which camp will become the primary custodian of it: “the one profit-seeking” or “the other mission-committed” one. Pooley addressed the fates of the expanding scholarly architecture, with commercial acquisitions (Altmetric, figshare, Authorea, etc.) on one hand, and Mellon Foundation funded projects (Manifold, Open Library of Humanities, Hypothesis, etc.) on the other. And as Posada and Chen (2018) have documented, the five big commercial publishers have systematically been acquiring infrastructure that captures every stage of the academic knowledge production lifecycle.

Diagram of Elsevier's presence throughout the Publishing Lifecycle
(Posada & Chen, G, 2018)

At this point, it’s a fair question to ask: so what? One way to answer this question is to consider other industries where commercial enclosures are threatening independence. My home community has a lot of visible farm work that takes place, and with it, the “iconic image of the American farmer … who works the land, milks cows and is self-reliant enough to fix the tractor” as Laura Sydell (2015) of NPR described. When tractors break down, farmers have traditionally popped the hood and fixed problems as they arose in the field. But as tractors become increasingly outfitted with proprietary software, the only viable repair solution left becomes hauling into an authorized agent, suffering all the attendant costs and loss of time. The same for the crop being farmed, whose proprietary seeds (which cannot be saved year to year) are often used out of necessity for their resiliency to the proprietary insecticides used in the area.

Vertical integration throughout this supply chain marginalizes the ability of family farms to remain as independent operators, and thus, as diversifiers of market options. Scholar-led publications and infrastructure serve a similar function in our industry. It’s here that I’m reminded of the role of regulatory policy. In a 2019 Team Warren Medium post, Senator Elizabeth Warren condemned past policy decisions which favored increased corporate consolidation in the agriculture sector and cited her strong support for “a national right-to-repair law that empowers farmers to repair their equipment without going to an authorized agent.” As much as I admire Warren’s policy-making, I don’t hold my breath for a day any time soon when a top-down ruling will allow scholars to “get under the hood” and tinker with Digital Commons software to turn off the Elsevier data pipeline.

When Marcin Jakubowski confronted the tractor-repair issue on his own small farm, he said he realized that “the truly appropriate, low-cost tools” necessary for “a sustainable farm and settlement just didn’t exist yet.” In his 2011 Ted Talk, Jakubowski[1] said if he wanted “tools that were robust, modular, highly efficient and optimized, low-cost, made from local and recycled materials that would last a lifetime” rather than those “designed for obsolescence,” he would have to build them himself. Jakubowski works on a project called the Global Village Construction Set, which is a repository of open source plans for fifty machines his group has identified as the most important to modern life, including tractors.

Luckily, the scholarly community has like-minded groups of people as this. Nate Angell summarized the 2018 Joint Roadmap for Open Science Tools workshop, where Bianca Kramer and Jeroen Bosman mapped out “an alternative open science workflow using open tools” through a thick continent of proprietary services.

Chart of proprietary services used during publishing workflow
(https://jrost.org/2018/09/13/workshop.html)

 

For those of us considering ways to Exit, when Voice and Loyalty are no longer sensible options, how do we continue to foster and incentivize more work in open scholarly infrastructure? For those coders whose economic needs are being met by a higher education institution, we might expand the academy’s native system of recognition (citations!) to the work of maintainers, as others have proposed before. But what about entrepreneurs outside of employment in higher ed, with tools or ideas that may prove very useful to the academic community, for whom monetary remuneration will be the prime incentive? I want to conclude this post with an idea toward solving this final question.

A Proposal

Based on work by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Senator Bernard Sanders proposed the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act S1137 and S1138[1] in 2011 and 2017. One of the major outcomes from these bills, had they passed, would have been the creation of a prize fund, amounting to 0.55% of GDP ($80 billion in 2010). This pool of money would have funded cash prizes and an Open Source Dividend, paid out to developers of select healthcare treatments that chose to openly share access to the related knowledge, data, and technology, while denying themselves “the exclusive right to manufacture, distribute, sell, or use a drug, a biological product, or a medication manufacturing process.”[2]

Tweet from @BernieSanders: Innovation and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support."
(https://twitter.com/BernieSanders/status/721155408958586881)

 

What I am suggesting is that we find ways to do a version of this for scholarly infrastructure, to induce income-seeking developers of our favorite new research tools to release their code as open source, and to offer similar prizes on an annual basis to individuals (including the original developers) who release substantially updated versions, maintenance, and user support. Whether such a plan could have offered an incentive more lucrative than Elsevier’s offer to bepress is doubtful, but who knows?

David Lewis, et. al. (2018) proposed models in which every “academic library should commit to contribute 2.5% of its total budget to support the common infrastructure needed to create the open scholarly commons.” Since then, Invest In Open Infrastructure (investinopen.org) has taken the lead in organizing such an effort. Neylon offered the critique that 2.5% is both too ambitious of a target and not ambitious enough. For me, in 2020, considering the extreme financial difficulties that academic librarians have been driven to, exacerbated by this pandemic, I want to put a pin in the idea of asking more from them at all.

Instead, I wish to close out here with a different sort of proposal. A challenge, really. A challenge to the major commercial academic publishers—that we (the academy) fund—that claim to express a desire for a diverse marketplace and a thriving knowledge ecosystem. A challenge to the corporations that wish to rekindle good will. Lacking the power to tax you, I instead challenge you to devote 2.5% of your annual profit margin to fund open source, scholar-led infrastructures. In return for the free donation of your resources, you will receive the prestige and well-regard accorded to the association with the open-source projects such a fund could support.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Kevin Hawkins for excellent feedback and recommendations. Any portions of this essay you disliked should be attributed to Kevin.


[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/marcin_jakubowski/transcript?language=en#t-5104

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prizes_as_an_alternative_to_patents#The_Medical_Innovation_Prize_Fund_Act_S1137_and_S1138

[3] https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/495/


Bibliography

Angell, N. (2018, September 13). 58 organizations gather to workshop a joint roadmap for open science tools. Joint Roadmap for Open Science Tools. https://jrost.org/2018/09/13/workshop.html

Aspesi, C., & SPARC. (2018). The academic publishing industry in 2018. SPARC: Community Owned Infrastructure. https://infrastructure.sparcopen.org/landscape-analysis/the-academic-publishing-industry-in-2018

Hirschman, A. O. (1970). Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Harvard University Press.

Jakubowski, M. (2011, March). Transcript of “Open-sourced blueprints for civilization.” TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/marcin_jakubowski_open_sourced_blueprints_for_civilization/transcript

Lewis, D. W., Goetsch, L., Graves, D., & Roy, M. (2018). Funding community controlled open infrastructure for scholarly communication: The 2.5% commitment initiative. College & Research Libraries News, 79(3), 133. https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.79.3.133

McKenzie, L. (2017, August 3). Elsevier makes move into institutional repositories with acquisition of Bepress. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/08/03/elsevier-makes-move-institutional-repositories-acquisition-bepress

Neylon, C. (2018, January 5). Against the 2.5% Commitment. Science In The Open. https://cameronneylon.net/blog/against-the-2-5-commitment/

Pooley, J. (2017, August 15). Scholarly communications shouldn’t just be open, but non-profit too. LSE Impact Blog. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/08/15/scholarly-communications-shouldnt-just-be-open-but-non-profit-too/

Posada, A., & Chen, G. (2018). Inequality in knowledge production: The integration of academic infrastructure by big publishers. In L. Chan & P. Mounier (Eds.), ELPUB 2018. https://doi.org/10.4000/proceedings.elpub.2018.30

Sydell, L. (2015, August 17). Diy tractor repair runs afoul of copyright law. All Tech Considered. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/08/17/432601480/diy-tractor-repair-runs-afoul-of-copyright-law

Team Warren. (2019, March 27). Leveling the playing field for america’s family farmers. Medium. https://medium.com/@teamwarren/leveling-the-playing-field-for-americas-family-farmers-823d1994f067


Banner image for 2020 Virtual Library Publishing Forum
May 1, 2020

LPForum20: Fellows Forum

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Editor’s note: When we changed the 2020 Library Publishing Forum to a virtual conference format, we gave presenters the option of converting their presentations into blog posts. This is a guest post in that series. In this case, the post is also an entry in the ongoing Fellows Journal series


By Talea Anderson (Washington State University) and AJ Boston (Murray State University), 2019-21 Library Publishing Coalition Fellows

AJ Boston, Apr. 24: Hi Talea. Thanks for agreeing to transition our Fellows Forum panel for the 2020 Forum into this collaborative blog post. The way I imagine this going is that we write back and forth in a shared Google Doc, prompt each other about the topics we broadly recognize the other had an interest in speaking about at the Forum, and then spiral out organically from there. A caveat to that “organically” being that we can edit and condense as we go along. (I’ll refrain from editing this initial block of text, for the sake of the reader.) Before I hop into some of the questions I have about your experience as an LPC Fellow, is there anything you want to add?

Talea Anderson, Apr. 27: Thanks, AJ—this sounds great. You know, the first thing that comes to mind is how you talked early on in the fellowship about your experience with libraries and library publishing as a parent. I think, in light of COVID-19, that type of reflection might be of particular interest to others in this community. It’s so challenging right now juggling work, kids…mental health….

AJ, Apr. 27-28: Yes! I saw someone on Twitter say they wanted to give 100% to parenting or working, rather than half-assing both. I feel like that. Our five-person household has been homebound almost every day for the past six weeks. Within that span of time, I was originally scheduled to attend the Library Tech Conference, present at the in-person Library Publishing Forum, and coordinate my campus student scholars week. 

The last thing I did in-person was coordinate a statewide student poster event at our capitol in March. Virus warning signs were beginning to really register, but public response hadn’t caught up yet. The SXSW cancellation announcement came just the day after we held our event, and that was the first Big Announcement that I can recall. LPC announced the cancellation of the in-person Forum on the following Monday. I felt guilty not canceling our poster event, but I was still bouncing back from a tremendous family loss a couple weeks earlier. In hindsight, I see why my judgment was cloudy.

The campus scholars week event I coordinate was scheduled for April, and by that time students were attending class remotely. I was working from home by then too. In light of the burden that students and teachers were facing with the transition to remote learning, we held a virtual version for those students who genuinely needed the opportunity and we postponed work on our companion student journal. A fraction of the students who would normally have participated did so; I respect each student who opted out. I wasn’t teaching this semester, so I can only imagine what this abrupt shift has been like for them. My closest glimpse to the post-apocalyptic Zoomiverse is my service on the LPC Program Committee. 

(more…)


Fellows Journal. Logo for the Library Publishing Coalition. Background image features bokeh lights in blues and greens.
December 4, 2019

Introducing A.J. Boston, 2019-21 LPC Fellow: Contingent upon serendipity

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The Fellows Journal is a forum for the current Library Publishing Coalition fellows to share their experiences and raise topics for discussion within the community. Learn more about the Fellowship Program

(Image credit: See note below)

 

It is an honor to have been named in the second cohort of Library Publishing Coalition Fellows. I thank the community and its leadership for welcoming me, and providing structure and support. In this blogpost, I will introduce myself, my history, and my professional interests.

***

Best Predictor of Future Behavior

Our campus held a celebration of first-generation students a few weeks ago. A colleague on his way there stopped by and asked if I was first gen. I replied that I wasn’t. There is a bit of further nuance to that, which feels appropriate for me to reflect upon here. No, both of my parents attended college, and in fact both held master’s degrees. It was an incredible privilege to grow up in a home where the idea of higher education was not shrouded in mystique, and I don’t know that I ever independently questioned how tuition would be paid for. I suppose it came up, but never in a way that actually made me feel any real concern. Again, just an incredible privilege.

My upbringing could easily have been much different. I was born in South Korea to extremely young parents, who I recently discovered did not complete high school. When I was put up for adoption, I’ve always assumed the decision must have been largely related to financial concerns. The records show I have an older brother, who was not put up for adoption. Had I been firstborn, I would likely be living in Korea now, presumably engaged in some sort of occupation that would seem foreign to the person I became. Instead, I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, in a solidly middle-class home, raised by white parents that were firmly married, employed, and socially connected. As I told my work colleague, no, I am not a first-generation college student, at least not technically.

With that part of my story established, let me expose another bit of nuance. Both of my American parents have been wheelchair-bound since childhood. My father, a son of Louisville, caught the poliovirus as a child. His mother had been a nurse who administered doses of the polio vaccine to students in his elementary school. To her regret, she did not vaccinate her son, because of the age cutoff. My mother, a daughter of Cincinnati, had a tumor growth on her spine; the surgeon assigned to her was drunk during the removal operation. My parents met each other at the University of Illinois, which was one of the more handicap-friendly institutions in the region at that time. Perhaps it’s the same for everybody, but it has always felt true for me that who I am today has largely been contingent upon serendipity.

How Quickly We Forget

These are things that rarely cross my mind anymore. I’ve lived in a college town in peaceful, rural Western Kentucky for almost 18 years now. Since 2016, I’ve been employed as a tenure-track scholarly communication librarian and assistant professor. My ethnicity, adoption, and parents’ wheelchairs no longer count among the top ten salient factors of my waking consciousness. Though it takes a painful long time for my family to load in and out of our van, it’s because I have three children who need help buckling in, not two parents who need extra time to strap in. When my wife is asked when she “got” her children, the factual answer is “upon birth” and not some date related to paperwork.

I am spilling guts here because I have realized how I have forgotten these things in recent years. It has been incredibly easy to forget both the privileges I grew up with and those I recently gained. In their use of this LPC platform, past Fellows Charlotte Roh and Reggie Raju have reminded me of my privileges. From what I understand, the work Talea Anderson has planned will do so as well.

My Fellow Fellows

From an external view, my road to scholarly communication was perfectly serene. As Reggie discussed in his introductory blog, he was born the son of indentured labourers, transplanted from India to apartheid-era South Africa. While I put in work to get where I am personally and professionally, the situational challenges I faced were a couple orders of magnitude simpler than had I not been the second born to my family in Korea.

At the 2019 Fellows Forum, Charlotte Roh live-streamed her presentation from home. Roh aptly concluded her talk on personal and professional intersections by revealing her (beautiful) newborn baby under her care. At times, I have wondered how much more productive my research output could be without the sleep deficits that accompany co-raising my three young children. That’s a pretty crude thought for me to have, considering the overall health of our family and the herculean efforts my wife puts in as a mother. In truth, I wouldn’t have a career at all without my immediate and extended familial support networks.

As I’ve become acquainted with Talea, I’ve come to know of her interests in web accessibility. In his twenties, my father served on the public transit board in Louisville, where he had a major impact on accessibility for wheelchaired people in the city. For a decade, I’ve luxuriated in my ability to move freely about in both physical and digital spaces. The intent of Talea’s projects seem to be akin to those of my father’s: advocating independence for those not secured it.

The concerns of Reggie, Charlotte, and Talea are not quite at the forefront of my research agenda. But thanks to them, and the experience afforded to me through this Fellowship, the blips these topics make on my radar are increasingly audible.

(My eldest. Credit: A.J. Boston, 2017.)

 

For Future Research

Let me now return to the ‘introductory’ purpose of this post, and discuss what I hope to bring to the table. The research areas I hope I can help initiate conversation on in the LPC community are open peer-review, open citation data, research assessment reform, and AI/machine learning in research. Open infrastructure and the Latin American publishing model are heavily on my mind as well. I’ve previously written about (and not abandoned) novel methods of introducing students to scholcomm concepts. (I may have a future blogpost in me, critical of my own work, tbh.) Earlier this year, I was wowed by Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book Generous Thinking, on reconnecting the work of the academy with the community, which has helped inspire my planned future research writing project, centering around methods to make published research not just more accessible, but more comprehensible to public audiences.

It Could All Be Symposium

As part of my Fellowship, I will serve on the Forum Program Committee. At Murray State University, I coordinate two campus-wide student conferences and one statewide conference annually. (I also oversee a student-led journal, and assist with three faculty-led journals.) I’ve come to view conference planning as not dissimilar to managing a journal. As a community, we’re quite familiar with wrongdoing in scholarly publishing. We’ve also grown in our shared public awareness of wrongdoing in scholarly conferences.

Discourse on conferences has become a trending topic, at least in my feeds. Whether it’s been the harm directed toward our Hathcocks, the harm emanating from our Tennants, or the harms we disagree on as harms, it is no longer an option for us to ignore these. How we handle these as conference participants and organizers must be tackled. I am eager to be further conscious of and conversant in these topics, plus many others. To wit: enforcing mic usage at Q&As; making it more of a question than a comment (I’m guilty); slide accessibility; getting the bathroom sitch in order; considerations of alcohol and animal protein in catering; land acknowledgements; and carbon and currency costs of conference travel. I don’t purport to have the answers, but I am coming to learn that asking the questions is a healthy and vital practice.

***

Thank you for reading.

Image Credit: Suzy Hazelwood, 2018.