Academic Movers Q&A: Willa Liburd Tavernier on Exploring and Expanding Open Access

Willa Liburd Tavernier, research impact and open scholarship librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University–Bloomington, was named a 2023 Library Journal Mover & Shaker for her work facilitating open educational resources and the development of open pedagogy projects. We recently spoke with Tavernier to find out more about these projects and what’s next for her.

Willa Liburd Tavernier head shotWilla Liburd Tavernier, research impact and open scholarship librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University–Bloomington, was named a 2023 Library Journal Mover & Shaker for her work facilitating open educational resources (OER) and the development of open pedagogy projects. We recently spoke with Tavernier to find out more about these projects and what’s next for her.

LJ: What have you been working on since you were profiled as a Mover & Shaker?

Willa Liburd Tavernier: What I’ve been focusing on is pushing for more participatory knowledge production. The digital archive/exhibit that I was featured for [Land, Wealth, Liberation: The Making and Unmaking of Black Wealth in the United States], even though I conceived the project and managed it from inception to completion, wasn’t a one-woman show. We had a lot of librarians contributing. We had a lot of students volunteering to get involved. For the students, it changed the concept of what a library was and what the library did in terms of access to knowledge.

There was a faculty member who attended, and she had us incorporate the timeline in her class, and train the students on digital methods over several class sessions. Then the students created material directly within the archive. That was another twist to the exhibit, because it was students producing that material. We just gave them the methods and let them run with it.

How has the project inspired the university community to explore open access?

About six months after we released the digital archive, we had our Open Access week. It prompted a lot of scholars who typically weren’t engaging with scholarly communication and open access through the library to come and participate. Most of them had maybe one open-access project that they’d done. What stood out from those conversations was that the reason they’d done a particular project through open access was so the communities they were studying could have access to it. Some of those were remote communities, and some were in countries where access to knowledge is highly restricted by the government, not just by commercial forces or paywalls. So centering community was the driving force for their reasons for publishing open access.

How do the students learn about open access?

We had a graduate class with a pre-tenure faculty member on critical race theory in education. We offered him a grant because he was interested in OER. We thought that that class would be a good, fun open pedagogy project where students create the material. Instead of being a disposable assignment, if they actually produce a piece of scholarship, that then serves as an educational resource for others.

The first thing we had to do was familiarize the professor with open scholarship and pedagogy. So I created a Canvas course that walked him through the theoretical underpinnings, examples, and exercises to scaffold his development of what that assignment could be. He decided to [create] an anthology called Critical Race Theory in Education: Reader of Open Access Scholarship. Each student chose a previously published open access article on some aspect of critical race theory and wrote a review and analytical questions to accompany that article. Then we compiled it into a textbook and published it. I also created a guide for the students introducing them to open access, open educational resources, open pedagogy, and the purpose of a renewable assignment versus a disposable one that just goes to the teacher and never sees the light of day again.

That was a really good project. The students got into it. They were very happy to have produced a piece of scholarship that they could send to their colleagues, their friends, and family, and say, “I have a publication.” When you grab them at the graduate level, especially if they approach PhD programs and plan to go on to teach, it’s lighting a spark of thinking about knowledge production in a different way.

What’s next for you?

One of the things I planned to do was to try to get perspectives from other countries on open access. I joined the library advisory board of Bristol University Press, which is a really forward-thinking press. I was introduced to the Global Social Challenges Journal, and it’s remarkable the geographic breadth of scholarship they were able to produce. Their initial plan was to have for just one year fee-free open-access publishing. But they changed their mind and want to keep the journal open-access so no one would have to pay fees to publish or read. They’re applying to programs for funding to keep it completely free.

I recently got a grant from our Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities, which has a Faculty Fellowship Program, to do a study on community researcher attitudes to community-driven publishing. I’ll be working on that study and will go to Sweden this spring.

Why Sweden?

Sweden is an interesting case because they have a national-level policy on open access for the full country. They’ve also been at the forefront of AI [artificial intelligence] because they have a policy that a copy of everything published in the country has to be deposited with the National Library. They’ve decided to develop their own large language model, training it on the material. Because of that, I thought it would be an ideal location for beginning the study on research attitudes toward community-driven publishing.

What’s your involvement with your homeland of St. Kitts and Nevis?

I’ve been working with their college library on a website that highlights local authors. The college library is very well-connected but very under-resourced. They were able to get authors to do little blurbs so we didn’t just have to take the text from the back cover of the book. We got the authors to write in and talk about their thought process in why they wrote a book, why they put this thing into the world. It’s not released yet—it’s a work in progress. We have more items to upload and then we have to edit the language. There’s only one librarian, and everybody on staff was basically hired straight out of high school. They don’t have any labor retraining, they don’t have any training on metadata. I’ve being doing some of that training. They were just putting up whatever the author gives them, but from a user experience, it doesn’t read right. There’s a lot of cleanup to be done.

You’ve got a lot on your plate!

It is, but it’s exciting. It just keeps moving toward the future.

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