Scholarly Communications, Equity and Inclusion: Part 2

This blog post is part of a two-part series addressing the 2018 theme of Open Access Week: “Designing equitable foundations for open knowledge.”

In my last post I framed the issue of diversity in scholarly communications within the context of the profession of librarianship.  I asked

If, as I argue, diversity has intrinsic value, why then should the qualification for professional librarianship not reflect diverse approaches?

Restructuring entry to the profession with diversity in mind can take many different pathways.  A diverse approach could consider whether an undergraduate degree in librarianship can be a path to professional librarianship.   It could consider means of evaluating on-the-job training, as well as other means of providing certifications, perhaps by structured professional development courses, immersive summer schools, or other avenues for cumulative certifications that can eventually provide a professional qualification. It could consider whether access to those certifications can be provided to wide constituencies such as persons holding undergraduate degrees, persons with professional experience, persons with associate degrees, and persons who can competently pass an entrance examination. It could also consider developing and promulgating standards for library technicians and other classes of library professionals.

In terms of access to opportunities within academic programs, individuals with power within academic institutions must make conscious decisions to critically analyze conceptions of ‘best fit’ candidates and ask themselves whether this is simply privileging a particular cultural experience.  Such individuals must recognize the value that persons from different backgrounds can contribute to their institutions and make decisions to create space for such persons.  At the institutional level academic programs must be reformed to ensure that work experience is built into the programs for every entrant and that there is flexibility for entrants to change positions as their interests develop.

Most, if not all of these steps carry risks.  There is the risk in creating ‘diversity hire’ positions, that the scholarly community will suspect that the selected candidate was not necessarily the most qualified person for the job.  My own position, the Open Scholarship Resident Librarian, is a diversity residency created by the IU Libraries, and I have wondered whether others may think I was offered this position based on my race rather than my qualifications.

There is the risk in moving the discourse beyond representation and inclusion to think about the intrinsic value of diversity. The risk is that shifting the focus from representation can be used to perpetuate exclusion of underrepresented populations, on the basis that any individual necessarily brings a diversity of experience to the community.  There is also a risk that diversifying paths of entry to the LIS field would lead to devaluation of the worth and work of professional librarians as well as salary degradation.

We have to investigate these risks. These risks can be departure points for further scholarly inquiry.  We must ask what kinds of data must be collected, what practices must be put in place, and what decision making behaviors must be interrogated to address these concerns.  However, this should not inhibit work toward the deconstruction of established exclusionary systems.

These proposals can be applied in other areas of academia beyond librarianship.  The broad need for restructuring of credentialing is pointed to by Jonathan Finklestein of digital credentialing service Credly, in this article on alternative credentials.  Using alternative paths to credentialing is one step, the next step is to figure out how to get a wider array of voices into the scholarly and cultural record.

The institutional repository of Indiana University – IU Scholarworks – is a good example of a how to provide an access point for diverse voices.   Access to the repository is not limited to faculty and scholars. Anyone with a connection to IU can deposit work into the repositories, and once deposited the works are freely available for anyone to access.  The same applies to our Open Journals platform, which provides a low or no-cost digital journal publishing service.

The Indiana University Libraries Diversity Strategic Plan and the work of the Diversity Committee reflects an appreciation of the risks and nuances, while doing actual work to transform the library into a space that people from traditionally excluded groups can access and thrive.  The collections are being revamped, alternative qualifications are specifically referred to in job postings whenever possible, a member of the Diversity Committee takes part in the search and screen committees, and job applicants are specifically questioned on their commitment to diversity. The Diversity Committee plans outreach to cultural centers, the office of disability services, veteran support services and many other campus bodies that serve staff as well as faculty, in its work. IU Libraries joined the ACRL Diversity Alliance and created its first Diversity Residency – my position, the Open Scholarship Resident Visiting Assistant Librarian.

In my work I investigate the publishing output of the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries through Open Journals and the university repositories.  The goal is to identify gaps, and reach out to underrepresented communities and provide them with access to publishing.  Indiana University maintains several repositories for articles, thematic series, theses and dissertations, and images and video.  Our librarians can help you assess your rights to place your work into the repositories.  The goal is to create a scholarly environment without cost, geographical, or systemic barriers.  You can reach out to me at wtavern@iu.edu.

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