Question #5: What do you think is the biggest benefit of Open Education and what do you think is missing?
I think the most exciting thing and the biggest benefit is that the research that the public pays for is more accessible to them. The historic push for medical Open Access is absolutely understandable. It’s this idea that doctors should be able to know what other people have found out in order to better serve their patients. I don’t know why we don’t apply that same logic to so many other areas. It’s important for us to know what people have found out in history, sociology, and psychology. There are all these areas that can often have really awful embargoes and can have huge gatekeeping methods and massive amounts of money that you need to pay in order to get your paper published open access. The exciting thing about Open Access to me is that it’s really chipping away at those walls. It’s helping people articulate why academic publishers should not be doing this work. It’s making some of those systems a little bit more clear to the average undergraduate student or even that person in the average public.
My husband started off as a researcher in a lab and then he was a fitness trainer for many years. He talked a lot about how for so many people in his field the idea of looking at the scientific literature was not part of their everyday life. They hadn’t grown up with that expectation. But if we can embed that into areas that really do need to know what’s going on in their field, that’s super exciting to me. It helps people be more informed, helps them do a better job, it helps them to understand the exciting work that’s being done. That’s obviously like the biggest, most optimistic benefit of Open Access.
I really like that it destabilizes unethical publishers, too. I think, “You thought you could try another scheme to get us to pay more, but no, we’re going to do it in a different way.” We’re going to try something different where we skirt around this. All of these systems like peer review and editing still exist but it doesn’t have to be under the publisher’s umbrella. That’s really exciting to me. That idea of undercutting these horrific systems that make our lives as librarians so challenging.
Affordability is a big one, too. As a student you think about what can you afford, what textbooks can you afford, and what you can’t afford? The idea of shaping courses around affordability is so exciting to me. It has a real turn towards student needs that we don’t see when people are pushing for the classic. Why does it look like that? How can we reshape our syllabus to include open information in a way that it hasn’t before? Oftentimes, it doesn’t look largely different, it just means we have to be a bit more creative about where that information is coming from. Affordability is a big one.
For Indigenous people, Open Access, especially, related to our collections, can help us reunite with those relatives that are held in collections. I have an example. An older man who was from Siksika Nation was coming to the library. He was working as an elder on campus. He was asking me about a book that his uncle had written with someone. It was in a series of collected Blackfoot stories (The Sun Came Down by Percy Bullchild). I said, “Yeah, let me have a look.” He had the name slightly wrong and so I looked it up for him. I found the right book and I’ve never seen somebody so excited to be handed an old leather-bound book. Because he was like, “I remember this man telling these stories to me, in this book I could hear his voice again.” To me that’s really exciting.
So much of our collection is in closed stacks or there’s a level of mediation that’s needed in order for people to access those things. That extends even into museums and archives. All of these cultural memory institutions have so many stories that are not ours in lots of ways. We’re probably not the ones that should be hanging on to them. There’s tons of other people who have more of a connection to them and might be able to articulate a better way that can be shared. Open Access, I think for me, has as part of it a call to action for these kinds of institutions to think about being responsive to those communities whose stuff they have. That’s not really a part of Open Access that we often see but I think it’s one that I’m starting to see be pushed out a little bit more. For museums, do the communities know what you have, do people know what you have? It starts with that simple simple question. To me that has to be part of the Open Movement, that has to be one of the big benefits. That we start to see relatives coming home. That’s really important.
I think about how important it was for me as a kid for me to go to a museum and to see my own culture be represented in a way that was so necessary for me even to understand myself as someone who is belonging to something that’s much longer, much farther back, than who I am. It’s a messy complicated relationship but I think it’s a good call to action to say, “How can this look differently?” The Royal Alberta Museum which just opened up a few years ago has a meteor, the Manitou Stone, that is sacred. People will pray with it. The museum asked, “What do we do with this right? What do we do with this stone?” What they’ve done is they’ve now placed it in a prominent place in the museum in their new building. But they’ve also made it so that people can come and do ceremony with it. That sort of openness is not one that we often see being articulated when we talk about Open Educational Resources or Open Access as a broad idea. But I think that’s a great example of it. It’s like the recognition that our collections will mean different things to different people and that they might need to use it in a way that we’re not familiar with. That’s a massive benefit. It’s forcing people to be really reflective about what our collections mean to us and to others.
You’re asking what’s missing from the Open Movement and, honestly, that critique of publishers is missing. People are absolutely doing that but we need to come out so strongly against that. It’s highway robbery. It’s shocking what publishers ask libraries to pay. The issue also ties to bigger things such as LandBack. That talk I gave at Open Ed is exactly about that idea. We can get so focused with our head down thinking about, “How do we make this one textbook open?” without considering how that textbook ties to bigger ideas. How does the textbook tie to Black Lives Matter? How does this tie to LandBack? How is this tied to anti-Asian sentiment?
All of these big cultural movements that we’re existing in right now require us to apply that lens to our thinking about Openness. We need to think about how much has been taken from these communities and withheld from them. I’m only really speaking about this from an Indigenous perspective but I think we can see it in lots of examples. Even the challenges in talking about genealogy. That’s a really good example. For white people, they can follow it back all the way oftentimes because there’s excellent record-keeping for their communities. But with most non-white communities, genealogy only works up to a point where our ancestors interacted with that record. I have in my genealogy records a woman just called La Sauvagess. She clearly had a name in the language that she spoke but she’s just in the record in that way, as a savage. What a funny thing for us to often have to describe when we’re talking about the ways that records fail us, the way that collections fail us. But that’s a big part of what we have to think about when we’re talking about Open Access in this broadest sense, the harms and the gaps that exist in the record.