The Labor of Open: Report from Triangle SCI

Labor of Open zine coverOpen scholarship is a lot of work. As a librarian, writer, and editor, I’ve spent a lot of time working on open access. I was part of a team that flipped the journal Radical Teacher to an open access model in 2012, a project that took literally hundreds of hours of work, from convincing people it was the right idea to figuring out how to apply styles to headings in Word. Explaining DOIs and why they belong in the footer text is no easy feat.

Reckoning with the labor of open scholarship is also a commitment at the Mina Rees Library and a priority for me as liaison to the School of Labor and Urban Studies. As the library’s statement on open access says, “We believe that open access to scholarship is critical for scholarly communication and for the future of libraries, and that it is central to CUNY’s mission of public education.” This is reflected in our work on Academic Works, our institutional repository, our Open Pedagogy fellowship program, now in its second year, and in myriad workshops, presentations, and publications on open access and open education from library workers at the Graduate Center.

This month, I took part in the Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with a group of scholars, librarians, and artists interested in investigating these questions. How do we understand and articulate the work of open scholarship? How does surfacing this labor contribute to getting it compensated and supported by our institutions? How does work toward equity in open scholarship connect us to other movements for justice, from the Chicago teacher’s strikes to the Campesino movement? Ela Przybylo (Simon Fraser University) and Danielle Cooper (Ithaka S+R) brought experiences publishing the journal feral feminisms. The Graduate Center’s Jojo Karlin shared perspectives from working on the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and Manifold Press. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) shared her experience as a journal editor and blogger for the Scholarly Kitchen, and Leslie Chan (University of Toronto), a scholar of both international development studies and scholarly communications, brought a necessary global perspective to our conversations.

Our work at this four-day intensive workshop turned out to be the work of connection, to each other and to conversations about social change. We shared experiences as activists, authors, and editors, as teachers and as students. We struggled through definitions of labor and capital, surplus value and profit, autonomy and sovereignty. The institute was a reminder that the material outputs of scholarship are mere traces of this other kind of joyful scholarly work—thinking, talking, wondering, laughing, work that is difficult to measure and too often unsupported.

We did, of course, have a deliverable, as all grant-funded institutional projects do. Ours was a zine, the Labor of Open, featuring drawings by Jojo Karlin, whose doodling and notetaking filled the white boards as we talked, then distilled into six pages that captured the shared analysis we developed in conversation with each other. What emerged was a recognition that equitable open access scholarly communication must include commitments to anti-racist, feminist, and anti-colonial scholarly practice. This transformation necessitates collective action and solidarity with other movements that contest the extraction and consolidation of profit by global publishing elites.

What that looks like in practice, and how librarians and scholars at the Graduate Center can build power in these directions, is the work we have to do next.


About the Author

Emily Drabinski is an Associate Professor and Critical Pedagogy Librarian at the Graduate Center library.