Fellows Journal

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November 19, 2020

OER, Accessibility, and STEM: An Interview with Anita Walz

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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


Introduction

Photo of Anita Walz
Anita Walz, Assistant Director of Open Education and Scholarly Communication Librarian, Virginia Tech

Talea: Anita, you and I started having regular conversations as part of the mentorship that LPC organized for fellows. You’ve been

working for some time now on publishing open textbooks at Virginia Tech but we talked early on about the evolution you all have had when it comes to the accessibility of your OER. I thought it would be interesting to talk through some of the changes you have made, especially when it comes to making STEM textbooks accessible to students.

I’ll preface this by saying that accessibility has proven to be an especially sticky issue for STEM and OER. Complex STEM notation doesn’t translate well to screen readers unless it’s appropriately coded. When publishing workflows involve conversions between file types, all of this becomes still more complex—and PDFs, which are common in the OER publishing ecosystem, are notorious for dealing poorly with STEM notation. The Australian Disability Clearinghouse and Rebus Community discuss some of these issues for anyone who would like to read more.

 

Workflow

Talea: I’m curious if you could talk about how your workflow has evolved when it comes to accessibility. We’ve talked in particular about your work with Pressbooks although I know you’ve used other platforms/formats for your OER. When you first delved into OER publishing, what did you end up identifying as problem areas when it came to accessibility?

Anita: Institutional access to Pressbooks is new to us. We are experimenting with a variety of methods largely based on author preference for writing environments. We want to support a lot of different workflows and faculty tools. At Virginia Tech, 60% of our students are in STEM disciplines, so quite a few of our faculty and students use LaTeX as an authoring language. If a faculty member is writing in LaTeX or otherwise, then we want to support that and remove any barriers for them to publish OER.

We are figuring it out as we go. We’ve supported people using all sorts of writing styles and tools—not only LaTeX but also Word and Pressbooks. More than one person has sent obsolete files or a print copy of a manuscript. Sometimes we end up with a lot of structured and unstructured text to work with. It can be a real challenge. With regard to accessibility, we are trying to view accessibility as something that is baked into the process, not as an add-on at the end. We don’t want accessibility to be the thing that’s cut if time and money run out at the end of a project

If an author feels strongly about writing in LaTeX, we let them but we can then struggle with creating accessible PDFs for digital viewing. There are some things we have learned the hard way: After exploring the accessibility and math options in PDF, we undertook the labor-intensive process of tagging various elements – headers, figures, equations, etc. After I learned that the “sufficient” practice we had done to enable accessibility of equations in PDF is the equivalent of tagging each mathematical equation to indicate “this is an equation” without ensuring that the screen reader be able to read the equation, I was rather frustrated. It wasn’t enough to indicate the presence of an equation in the PDF without providing access to the actual content. We also released the LaTeX (which is accessible on its own with the right screen reader), but I was very dissatisfied to learn that this level of PDF accessibility is considered “acceptable.”

After we obtained institutional access to Pressbooks in spring 2020, we began to examine accessibility again. When we started out, we did not know that a screen reader could ingest LaTeX and use MathJax to convert the LaTeX to audio. Since then we’ve learned that, we realized there are three basic options for publishing accessible STEM notation in Pressbooks:

  1. Import LaTeX into Pressbooks, which can use MathJax to convert formulas for display and printing
  2. Use ASCII math notation
  3. Use MathML in Pressbooks

For now we’re working with these options in Pressbooks but we realize that others are using ePub files as their accessible versions. I think at this point we’re moving more toward ePub, too, but it’s not the easiest thing to take on without a background in it.

 

STEM notation and accessibility

Talea: As you were figuring out your workflows, were there other specific accessibility issues you had to address when it came to STEM notation? How did you resolve these?

Anita: We have had challenges regarding math. Specifically, I have limited proficiency in coding math and writing LaTeX. When legacy documents are submitted to us with equations presented as non-machine-readable images, I rely on various tools to make the math machine-readable. Sometimes this involves getting help or finding tools to generate accurate LaTeX or MathML. I am experimenting with tools like  Mathpix, which takes a picture of a formula and converts it to MathML or other machine-readable code A colleague of mine is experimenting with equatIO and GrackleDocs as a potential low-barrier authoring method for creating accessible Google Docs.

We have also had challenges navigating a LaTeX-to-PDF workflow. We did not know early on that LaTeX is accessible. PDF is a pretty routine method for creating printed documents. It is nice to read for sighted people. Most students love it. However, it is far less than ideal for people with low vision. Our early attempts to make PDFs accessible in a LaTeX-to-PDF workflow involved labor-intensive processes designed to accommodate screen readers that look for alt-text in different places. As mentioned earlier, this work involved tagging equations so that the reader would know “an equation is here.”

This workflow included embedding figure alt-text in the LaTeX code, then manually tagging figures again with alt-text on the exported PDF. I would also add that for OER, it is unreasonable to expect someone adapting an OER book to re-tag all figures after the export to PDF. For obvious reasons, namely unsustainability, we are veering away from trying to design PDF documents for all screen readers to access. We will continue wherever possible to make LaTeX versions available.

Our plan going forward is to provide “an accessible version” in LaTeX, ePub, and/or HTML. On the topic of figures, especially chemical notations, I am learning some interesting things about enabling semantic reading using SVG (scalable vector graphics) instead of defaulting to JPG or PNG, which are devoid of data and require alt-text. Providing SVG for an audience with access to semantic reading technologies is a viable alternative to relying on alt-text or long text when a description is too long for alt-text – very common for complex figures. The question with chemical notation is: How do we make these notations machine-readable? A few weeks ago I attended the 2020 Inclusive Publishing Conference. It was wonderful to learn about tools that could facilitate keyboard-only navigation through OER. These are emerging tools from the document analysis community—particularly from Volker Sorge—which leverage the semantic relationship between elements within a figure. With regard to figures, we need to use semantic descriptions because figures are relational, not syntactic. These tools allow people to navigate through equations and chemical structures much more clearly than before. Recordings from the conference, I am told, are in process but will be posted soon.

One place where we’d like to integrate these ideas is in some medical textbooks we are working on in  LibreTexts. While we’re working with these projects, we need to ask: Do we merely describe chemical structures? Do we allow people to navigate through those structures? These are questions we’ll continue asking going forward.

 

Staffing for accessibility work

Talea: I know accessibility work can be time-consuming. How has your team handled the workload? How have you addressed challenges with limited time?

Anita: We have been able to fund and train student workers to create alt-text. We have had training, guidance, and even review at times, from our Accessible Technologies Office. We’ve also joined various pilot programs through our Accessible Technologies Office, like one that uses AI to generate alt-text. There is another pilot we are considering joining which uses semantic strategies to create accessible and keyboard-navigable chemical equations. We view all of this as a learning process. Our commitments now are to make things “born accessible” as much as possible but we are still learning.

 

Faculty and student authors

Talea: How have you incorporated faculty authors into your accessibility work? Do you have conversations with them before beginning projects to outline accessibility expectations?

Anita: Honestly, that has been somewhat painful. I have had some faculty say to me that they don’t think accessible versions of texts will be used or that these texts are not necessary. That is rather heart-breaking to hear. I always start with, “if it is useful for one person, that is enough” rather than, “this is required by federal law.” Still, in my view, even if it were not required, accessibility is absolutely part of our obligation as a public institution—to provide equivalent access. To do otherwise limits the potential achievements of otherwise capable people.

I’m not sure if some faculty have a dismissive attitude about accessibility because people with disabilities self-select and drop out at the lower levels of a discipline where there is no clear path for them to progress; I suspect that this happens but it is hard to say how much. I think that the move to online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic has made many faculty much more aware of accessibility needs and solutions, but I harbor no illusions that we are where we need to be.

In any case, we require that works be accessible. Our work is complicated by the fact that we are still working out a lot of details (which formats we need, how to work with formulas, which people can help us, etc.). Minus use of headings, my publishing colleagues and I end up coordinating the bulk of accessibility work, though funding for it usually comes out of the faculty member’s OER grant. This is one place where student workers in that discipline are critical partners.

 

Other explorations

Talea: Besides developing texts for screen readers, are there other accessibility measures you’ve explored? (for instance, adjusting content for different learning styles, tactile figures and diagrams, etc.)

Anita: We explored tactile figures at one point but decided to focus on basics first. It bodes well for us using SVG files and semantic coding for now, so we will likely make SVG-first graphics a priority and try to master basic practices. We realize we have a ways to go for embedded media. We’re also weighing questions like—should we write transcripts for the YouTube videos we point to in our OER?

We regularly discuss content sequencing, cognitive load, how visual elements repeat and reinforce comprehension and are not just aesthetic. We also talk a lot about building engagement, which can include quick feedback functions such as technology-enabled test-yourself activities in the OER and engaging students in “making” as a pedagogical strategy. At least three of my current authors are having students write formative assessment questions as a course activity. We do obtain feedback from students during the publishing process and in a beta stage afterwards but before public release as part of our process. There are a wide variety of readers to keep in mind while developing instructional materials so more people using and giving feedback on the resources before their public release is always better. This reminds me to check in with our Accessible Technology and Services for Students with Disabilities Offices to further explore what needs we might not be aware of.

 

Feedback/Assessment

Talea: Have you received feedback about accessibility from the people who use your texts?

Anita: No, but we would love feedback! We use automatic accessibility checkers to go through our materials but I would love to learn more from the experiences of people who use screen readers so we can better understand what helps and what doesn’t. We also do in-class assessment of OER so it is possible that we may encounter students who will look at these works using screen readers.

This is not related to assessment, but to communication about level of accessibility: We’ve also started to include the Rebus checklist for HTML accessibility into our Pressbooks. We wanted to build this checklist out for PDFs and other formats but for now the checklist only appears in our HTML books.

I want to say that reaching out to others doing this work has been really helpful for me and my colleagues Robert Browder, and Corinne Guimont. Ed Beck at SUNY helped us a lot. Christa Miller and Mark Nichols in the Accessible Technology office at Virginia Tech, and members of the Rebus Foundation network have also been helpful, among others. We still have a lot to learn but it’s great to have a community around us.

 

The future of accessibility and OER

Talea: Where do you hope this work will go in the future?

Anita: I love this work because there’s always something new to learn. Of course, it’s challenging, too, because eventually you have to commit to the accessibility path that reflects the best of your knowledge at the time. And later, you learn something that turns your approach on its head! Hopefully what we do is always a little better than what we did before. We can indicate what sorts of accessibility features we’ve included in each publication, and we can iteratively refine our approach with future editions. I certainly don’t know everything I need to know but I am glad that my colleagues and I continue to prioritize accessibility as we explore various publishing tools and workflows.


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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


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December 10, 2019

Introducing Talea Anderson, 2019-21 LPC Fellow: A Reflection on Accessibility

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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

(Photo credit: See note below)

Where I’ve Come From

For the last couple of years, I’ve been plugging away on a project that began with my participation in KairosCamp, a digital publishing institute run by Cheryl Ball and staff for the journal Kairos. For the camp, I’d proposed the idea of creating a digital text that would challenge readers by forcing them to read, navigate, and perceive the writing in an unfamiliar way. The idea was to replicate a feeling that one may experience when being excluded from accessing a particular space—a level of discomfort that readers wouldn’t expect to have when browsing online. 

As I designed my project, I found myself slipping into talk of simulations. As in, “this project will simulate the experience of [x] disability for [x] assistive device.” When I talked to web accessibility folks on my campus, they were excited about the possibilities of showing faculty how the structure of a webtext can limit or exclude people from reading and engaging with it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there exists a whole literature about the problems with disability simulations, which can promote stereotypes about people with disabilities, inaccurately represent the full breadth of disabled experience, promote negative feelings about disability, and situate the “problem” of disability in particular people rather than in social and cultural barriers to inclusion (see French, 1992; Lalvani & Broderick, 2013; Nario-Redmond, Gospodinov, & Cobb, 2017; Olson, 2014). Not the territory I wanted to tread with my original project concept. 

Personal Perspective 

I was troubled when I began reading this literature about simulations, largely because I hadn’t been aware of it in the past. Partly, I thought that I should have been inherently cognizant of these issues because I also have a disability. I was born blind and, while I had surgeries that restored part of my vision, some was permanently lost. Recognizing faces is hard for me, as is navigation and a slew of tasks that I’m still identifying now as an adult. That said, I don’t use screen readers and my vision currently doesn’t substantially hamper my reading, unless distance is involved. Some of the key concerns in web accessibility aren’t automatically apparent to me because I fall somewhere between sighted and unsighted. Somehow I needed this reminder as my project evolved. 

In a way, I’ve always felt that I should “inherently” understand both disabled and able-bodied experiences—as if I could understand and empathize with both by sheer force of will. And of course, the truth is, none of us will automatically understand the challenges others face despite having all the best intentions in the world. 

Research Interests and a Call to the Community 

It’s a simple anecdote but I’ve thought about this a lot lately as I start this fellowship with the Library Publishing Coalition. As I continue working with library publishing at my own institution, I am hoping to deepen my engagement with accessibility as well as intersecting experiences that I and others have too frequently overlooked. I’m a Scholarly Communication Librarian and yet haven’t put as much time as I’d like into considering how access extends to people who have perceptual differences in how they read and engage with information. These are issues that deserve renewed consideration even if we are in a profession that’s devoted to fantastic ideals like universal access. There are always assumptions, misunderstandings, and oversights still to explore. 

Over the next two years, I hope to make these concerns a greater part of my focus professionally and share some of the things I find along the way. I’m looking forward to learning from others in the LPC community who have already thought deeply about these issues. In fact, if you have questions or research topics you’d like to see addressed related to accessibility and library publishing, please get in touch—talea.anderson@wsu.edu. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.  

Thank you to the LPC community and leadership for welcoming me in and providing the opportunity to do this work—it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I am grateful. 

Photo Credit: Gray framed eyeglasses, CC0


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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.

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Thank you for reading.

Image Credit: Suzy Hazelwood, 2018.


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July 31, 2019

Teaching from the Library Publishing Curriculum

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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.

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Quite early in my career, as an editorial assistant in my first real publishing job, I was sent to a semester-long copyediting course, where I learned about the different levels of copyediting, the importance of style guides, and how to mark up manuscript in hard copy.

Copy editing marks from Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook

The rest of publishing, I was expected to learn on the job. I learned this at a professional development event, where editorial assistants complained that, with the changes brought about by technology, we were being delegated to administrative assistant roles without growth potential because we were no longer performing tasks that gave us insight into the process (like taking down dictation for their editors, typing up letters, or transferring editorial marks from one hard copy to another). We want to be copied on emails! was the rallying cry.    

That publishing is still very much an apprenticeship field has not changed, as Cheryl Ball so eloquently argued in her email to the LPC list-serv on the value of experience, and how volunteering can be a stepping stone to one’s career. [1] However, this isn’t necessarily clear to people managing volunteers or early career professionals, who might not be aware of their roles as mentors and mentees. There are also those in the library publishing community who are brand new to publishing or aspects of publishing. I include myself in this group – while I worked on monographs, casebooks, workbooks, and textbook programs in my previous career, I had never been responsible for a journal until I entered librarianship. As a scholarly communication resident at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I suddenly found myself responsible for a journals list. (Thank you Marilyn for trusting me!)

This is why I was glad to be given the opportunity to engage with the new Library Publishing Curriculum, as an instructor for the Content Module along with Joshua Neds-Fox. We’ve now taught from the curriculum in two formats: as an all-day in-person workshop and as a synchronous online workshop in 1.5 hour weekly increments over 4 weeks.

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July 24, 2019

Social justice driving library publishing

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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.

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“It is my assertion that library publishing programmes should be guided by the possibility of realizing the field’s immense potential for growth and development of the African continent. The need for a social justice driven library publishing agenda must be at the epicentre of this development process.”

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It is not the norm to begin with a disclaimer, however, in this instance it is necessary given that the larger readership of this blog is from the global north. This blog is written through a global south lens; a lens that has a deep affiliation to the fundamental principles of open access and that the sharing of research results is essential for the furtherance of research and the growth and development of society.

I was fortunate enough, as a fellow of the LPC, to attend the 2018 forum meeting. What I was longing to hear at the meeting, and maybe naively so, was discussion on the exploitation of this relatively new library service to radically improve the distribution of research results for the growth and development of society. It was clearly evident that we have two different parallels, though not mutually exclusive. One which is driven by the desire to improve visibility of authors and their work and the other which is driven by the desire to improve accessibility through openly sharing for the growth and development of society. In the former, the measurement of success is citation count while the latter is socio-economic impact. Citation count for research has a relatively high degree of maturity while the latter is barely at a fledgling stage.

The lens from which I view the roles and responsibilities of libraries in the delivery of a publishing service is driven by the single ambition: to share desperately needed scholarly literature freely with all, especially with those from the global south who are deprived of critical information, be it for research or growth and development purposes, due to exorbitant subscription costs. This financial barrier together with the high cost of internet access (one of the highest in the world) are major challenges for Africans. Other challenges such as frequent power outages and poor IT infrastructure are part of a myriad of challenges that make access near impossible – these challenges perpetuate poverty and doom and gloom for a continent that is so rich in natural resources–including an abundance of human resources. It is my assertion that library publishing programmes should be guided by the possibility of realizing the field’s immense potential for growth and development of the African continent. The need for a social justice driven library publishing agenda must be at the epicentre of this development process. Hence, my focus in this blog post is on diamond open access library publishing, that is, where there is no cost to the reader nor the author. The publishing service is part of the suite of services provided by the library.

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July 27, 2018

Three publishing conferences with a common theme of diversity and whiteness

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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 .

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“The lesson that we are all learning, myself included, is that to simply do our jobs as we’ve been doing them is not enough. We must not only examine our publishing lists, but our editorial boards, reviewers, and ourselves, to learn and improve to move toward a more equitable profession. LPC, SSP, and AUP are three organizations that are very much a part of the same scholarly ecosystem, and we can all work together toward the goal of intersectional diversity and accessibility.”

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Previous to my career librarianship, I worked in academic publishing, and therefore had experience in the world of academic conferences as a vendor and editor. In all my time in academic publishing, however, I never attended a conference that was for my own professional development. In contrast, as a librarian, this year I attended the Library Publishing Forum, the Association of University Presses Annual Meeting, and the Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting.

Library Publishing Forum

I’ll be frank that I’m very biased toward the Library Publishing Forum, and not just because I’m one of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) Fellows. A first-time attendee at the conference asked me, “Are people always so friendly?” I was able to answer Yes: I’ve attended four out of the five forums, and it’s always been a warm community. My personal theory is this is because so many of us library publishers are departments of one or very few within our institutions, so coming to the Library Publishing Forum is an opportunity to be amongst colleagues with similar roles. But it’s also a very collaborative community, and this conference was just another example of how we are cooperatively engaged with each other to improve software platforms and create new processes for publishing more effectively. The sessions are frequently practical and full of helpful examples, while still honest about difficulties and limitations in execution. I feel that every year, we as a community move forward together, regardless of the resources at each institution, simply because we share knowledge with each other so well.

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February 7, 2018

Predatory publishing from a global south perspective

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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 

The unilateral determination of a definition of predatory publishing, by Jeffrey Beall, has sent the research publishing world into a tizz. Even though Beall has withdrawn his list, unfortunately in the current technological age this list is not cleared from the web archive nor is there a prevention of the rehashing of the list by someone else. Nor, has there been subsequently an adequate reconceptualization of predatory publishing to ensure that it is not discriminatory to open access or the global south.

Writing as a Fellow of the LPC from the global south, I feel a sense of obligation to follow the call that African academics and intellectuals (not that I am either), on the continent and in the diaspora, play a role in countering the prejudice and misinformation about Africa. Be that as it may, I think there are significant lessons for both the global south and north by interrogating the concept of predatory publishing. The recently published article by Olivarez and others (2018) highlight the need for interventions to remedy the insensitive generalization of predatory publishing. (more…)


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December 14, 2017

Thinking about accessibility and sustainability in scholarly communication

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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.

In addition to my duties as a scholarly communication librarian, one of my roles at the University of San Francisco is liaison to the Migration Studies program. It’s a relatively new program in a relatively new field, so search terms are still evolving. For example, one of the common roadblocks that students encounter is that research data is available under “refugees” rather than “migrants.” This search term confusion is easily remedied, but there are also problematic descriptors such as “illegal” and “undocumented”. One of the questions that came up this past year was, What do you call someone who has valid legal immigration status but who is deported or detained? (People in the class agreed “illegal” is unacceptable, and “undocumented” is inaccurate.) Since many of the students in the program have a personal stake in these issues, these conversations around naming are not taken lightly.

In addition to these discussions in the classroom, naming and authority are, of course, important to librarianship as well. More recently, I have been thinking about “accessibility” and “sustainability” as terms that are heavily used both in my work as a scholarly communications librarian and more broadly outside of my professional niche. 

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October 6, 2017

Meet Reggie Raju, 2017-18 LPC Fellow

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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.

I am Reggie Raju, currently the Deputy Director: Research and Learning Services at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa. I am originally from an east coast city in South Africa called Durban. I am the son of indentured labourers who were brought from India to work the sugar cane farms on the east coast of South Africa. Coming from a struggle background in which some members of my family were either exiled or imprisoned, the struggles against the apartheid system had taught me important lessons in life one of which was the drive for social justice. (more…)


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September 25, 2017

Meet Charlotte Roh, 2017-18 LPC Fellow

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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. Charlotte Roh is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of San Francisco and recipient of the 2017 LPC Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Library Publishing. Charlotte is one of two inaugural fellows in the Library Publishing Coalition Fellowship Program, and her goals for the fellowship include advancing social justice and diversity in library publishing.

At the start of this fall semester, one of the professors on my campus asked me to come talk to his copyediting class about academic publishing as a career. My usual audience is librarians and faculty, so I always welcome a chance to talk with undergraduates. It’s an entirely different conversation, and an opportunity to essentially indulge in nostalgia and my own hard-won knowledge about the New York publishing industry. (more…)