Open Scholarship For Social Justice

On February 5th the library co-hosted a panel with the Futures Initiative, titled “Ideas in Circulation: Open Scholarship for Social Justice”. The panelists who took part:

  • April Hathcock (Librarian for Scholarly Communications, NYU)
  • Matthew K. Gold (Associate Professor of English and Digital Humanities; Executive Officer, MA Program in Liberal Studies)
  • Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education, and Women’s Studies; Advisor of the Public Science Project

The following is a transcript of my remarks opening the event:

We’ve arranged this panel discussion around open scholarship for social justice. Opening up research to new communities is an important aspect of the work that academic libraries do. Open access content is one facet of this, but there are many other ways that scholarship can be open—or closed. One possible advantage to open scholarship is that practitioners may be more welcoming to change as a response to critique, resulting in more fluidity as needs and contexts change over time.

What do we mean by “openness” and who does it serve?

What is the measure of openness in scholarship?

To what purpose are we using or advocating for this model?

Some ideal of “openness”? Or is it because we believe that open scholarship will benefit the audience? Or the participants themselves?


I would like to consider what openness means in all aspects of research–human subjects, data, the software we use, if any, and modes of dissemination. Do our frameworks incentivize transparency and inclusion? Do they champion and elevate the voices of people who were unheard under previous models? Our answers to this matter, because surely if an “open” model of scholarship has the same kinds of gatekeeping as more traditional models, it does not really serve social justice.

Our panelists today will be exploring how systematic biases influence which scholarship is truly open and accessible, and which remains marginalized or hidden. I am curious especially about the role of libraries and librarians in removing barriers to open scholarship.

We have the opportunity here to talk about how open scholarship intersects with social justice, exploring how, for instance, Participatory Action Research methods, as exemplified by the Public Science Project, can inform broader efforts toward open scholarship.

Finally, we’ll discuss the importance of open-source development to open scholarship and the challenges that exist between the two. In the digital humanities, for example, tools like Git and GitHub, which are great enablers of open-source software, may also be alienating in their culture and rarity (due to technical difficulty).

Through our discussion today, I look forward to moving toward a clearer and more nuanced idea of what the barriers are to truly open scholarship, and of the kinds of research interventions that can help foster it.

About the Author

Stephen Zweibel is Digital Scholarship Librarian at The Graduate Center.