MIT Libraries Launches Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship

When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries issued the final report on its Grand Challenges Summit in January, one of the key findings was the need for libraries and archives to play the role of advocates and collaborators on research into open, equitable, and sustainable knowledge systems. At the time, director Chris Bourg referred to a MIT Libraries–based research initiative in the works that would use the Grand Challenges Summit white paper’s call to action as a jumping-off point.

MIT Libraries logoWhen the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries issued the final report on their Grand Challenges Summit in January, one of the key findings was the need for libraries and archives to play the role of advocates and collaborators on research into open, equitable, and sustainable knowledge systems. At the time, director Chris Bourg referred to a MIT Libraries–based research initiative in the works that would use the Grand Challenges Summit white paper’s call to action as a jumping-off point.

At the end of June, MIT Libraries launched that initiative, the Center for Research on Equitable and Open Scholarship (CREOS), which will conduct and consolidate “collaborative evidence-based research about the best ways disparate communities can participate in scholarship with minimal bias or barriers.” In addition to the team conducting and supporting this research—founding director Bourg; director of research Micah Altman, deputy director Sue Kriegsman, and administrative assistant Kelly Hopkins—the participants will comprise a collaboration of institutional partnerships, faculty, visiting researchers, those involved in scholarly communication, and investors.

“We want to try to look with a really honest lens around what the tensions might be between open scholarship and equitable scholarship,” Bourg told LJ. “There are some significant concerns about certain paths forward for open scholarship that might actually end up creating new inequities, and we want to look that square in the face and try and figure out, with evidence and research, what are the most likely paths forward that won't, in fact, exacerbate inequities—that will actually start to break those down instead."


Bourg had a project of this sort in mind even before she arrived at MIT in 2015. When she gave her job talk for the position, Bourg told LJ, she discussed the often halting progress made in open access (OA) initiatives. “I said, I think it's time for the community to stop for a minute and take stock of what's worked in OA, what hasn't worked and why, and actually shine a research lens on this movement to find out." As directives to open up data and scholarship grow, Bourg added, and more system-wide decisions need to be made, it has become increasingly clear that there needs to be a solid evidence base behind open science.

This issue continued to surface as Bourg worked to convene the 30-member Task Force on the Future of Libraries, formed to investigate how MIT Libraries should evolve to advance open knowledge, in 2015. The final recommendation of the Task Force in 2016 advised that a research institute be established within the libraries; its focus eventually narrowed to information science and scholarship.

Work done at the Grand Challenges Summit helped narrow the scope down still further, said Bourg. “We were not going to take on all of information science. There is great information science research being done in iSchools and library programs out there. But our sweet spot here at MIT could be on open scholarship, and research on open and equitable scholarship—those were the themes that came out of the Grand Challenges Summit as well.”

Ultimately the CREOS team picked three research agendas: incentives and barriers to open and equitable scholarship, impacts of open and equitable scholarship, and economic models for equitable and open scholarship.

CREOS will not only be leading initiatives tackling these subjects, said Kriegsman—previously associate director for the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and program manager for the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication—“but also doing a lot of listening to hear what other people are doing, to make sure that we're getting our research lined up in a way that's helpful."


In the lead-up to launch, CREOS has conducted a variety of outreach, including an ongoing series of lunchtime lectures on campus. These have ranged from a brown bag lunch in March on Cognitive Efficiency and Roles for Visual Thinking Tools with Colin Ware, director of the Data Visualization Research Lab, part of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, to a lecture on Curating Complexity: A Sociomaterial Framework for Software Preservation in Research Libraries, by MIT Libraries postdoctoral fellow and CREOS research affiliate Alexandra Chassanoff.

The center also hosted a National Forum on Principles of Accessibility and Inclusion for the Design of Library System with partners from Harvard and Northeastern University, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The two-day forum, held in April, focused on the role of library information systems and information architecture in supporting diverse communities to discover, access, create, and learn from online library systems. It brought together some 25 librarians, scholars, and technologists to identify high-impact design principles and potential next steps; a draft white paper will be available for public comment in the fall. (All CREOS research results will be published OA on MIT’s PubPub platform, and may also be submitted to journals in the field, depending on the area of research. "But we will adhere to a pretty strict OA policy for research that comes out of CREOS,” noted Bourg. “It wouldn't make sense otherwise.")


Having established a mandate for the agenda it wants to take on, CREOS is now looking to surface research activities and secure support to augment the libraries’ base funding.

Talks with funders are currently in progress, with an eye to CREOS serving as a regranting operation—which would allow it to use private gift or foundation money untethered to a particular project toward individual research proposals. “We're sending out some prospectuses and drafts of letter of intent to foundations, describing briefly the research agenda and the different funding opportunities to do that research,” said Bourg. MIT Provost Martin Schmidt has also committed to some support, which will help ensure stability and at the same time communicates institutional confidence in the initiative.

"What we're looking to do is establish a postdoc program,” she added. “Ideally we'd have a postdoc for each of those three research agendas who could then do their own original research and also maybe supervise graduate students." CREOS also hopes to be able to fund some undergraduate research, where students can get course credit for participating in projects.

The center has been gathering as much input as possible internally, as well as from participants in the Grand Challenges summit. Its concept has resonated with faculty across campus who are eager to contribute ideas about where their own work—or that of their students—might intersect with CREOS’s research, Kriegsman told LJ.

The anthropology department, which is considering “flipping” its subscription journals to open access, has expressed interest in contributing data on readership and revenue models, and how those change in the process. “While they move ahead with the plan they already have, we could slip in and set up a couple of research questions and work alongside them as they're doing their flip,” she said. Within the libraries, Archives and Special Collections faculty is interested in research on the collection pipeline.

"There are some recommendations in the [Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT Research] report that each department create their own plan for encouraging open sharing of research and educational output,” Bourg told LJ. MIT Libraries will “help support departments in developing those plans, so we'll have a natural way of having them build in some kind of evaluation. And then we'll be able to look at the plans across different disciplines and departments."


CREOS is consulting with interested researchers outside of the MIT community as well, and bringing in supporters from other campuses. Last fall MIT’s Visiting Scholar program hosted Philip Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and founder of OA social sciences archive SocArXiv. Cohen and CREOS research director Altman, previously non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and associate director of the Harvard-MIT Data Center at Harvard University, co-presented a CREOS research talk on issues—and possible interventions—around peer review in sociology.

Cohen also spent some of his time at MIT organizing an Association of Research Libraries/Social Science Research Council joint meeting, which brought together social science scholars, librarians, and scholarly societies, and drafted a scholarly communication primer for sociology, available on PubPub. "Having someone who is really interested in research, and moving forward on open scholarship, be able to come to MIT and spend time doing that work, supported by us… was really powerful," said Bourg, who hopes CREOS can fund other visiting scholars going forward.

"We're fortunate here at MIT to have a community that supports [CREOS],” noted Bourg. “But we want to make sure that we're not trying to say that MIT is the only place that can contribute to this…. We want to be able to use the support that we have at MIT to attract and promote and celebrate rigorous research on these issues wherever it might happen, and to the degree that we can host others we want to do that.”

Heather Joseph, executive director of Washington, DC–based Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and another member of the Library Visiting Committee, is eager to engage CREOS as a research arm.

SPARC, Joseph told LJ, “is super interested in the research arena, and we've never had the capacity to be able to take this on. We've seen this as a big hole in the environment for quite some time. So we were thrilled when this idea came out of the Grand Challenges Summit, and really delighted that MIT was willing to pick it up and run with it, and develop the notion. There's just a huge need for a rigorous, comprehensive research framework helping us to attack the development of a better, more open, equitable system of [scholarly communications].”

Joseph has already reached out to Bourg and Kriegsman about a potential topic: looking for existing research on attitudes toward equity, and the understanding of what that means, on American academic campuses. “When we talk about OA issues and solutions—in particular, proposed transformational agreements or [article processing charge] structured arrangements with publishers—one of the prisms that we want to view these potential solutions through is the equity issue: who does it serve and who is left out? Are we unintentionally disadvantaging any portion of the community that we're a part of, or that we're serving, when we go into these arrangements? And we find that when our library leaders try to talk to leadership on their campuses about this particular angle, it's a muddy conversation because there's not a commonality of what equity means to individuals, even on one campus. That's something that we would like to work on getting some clarity on."

Once CREOS has evaluated the research question and decided whether and how to take it on, SPARC will step up with the necessary funding. Not only is the coalition interested in finding out answers to such questions, said Joseph, but it is enthusiastic about supporting CREOS’s mission.

"So many of us in the library community, so many institutions and organizations, are trying to do more than just talk the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity talk—we want to walk the walk,” she said. CREOS is “one of those rare things where, when people hear about it, they say, ‘We've needed this for so long, but nobody's actually put a name and a structure to it and taken the time.’ It's a big undertaking, and to do this right is not an insignificant investment in time and sweat equity and fundraising. So we're really thrilled to see this hitting the landscape...and we hope folks will be supportive.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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Jane Doe

I worked at the MIT Libraries for years. The MIT Libraries are a shell of what they used to be. Ever since they hired Chris Bourg, instead of engaging the MIT community and resources available to lead the field in implementing cutting edge library technology and services, they have gone down the rabbit hole of Bourg's political agenda in pursuit of the "inequity bogeyman"... catalogers now have to worry that they are somehow horribly biasing the metadata with evil, racist views that lurk in engineering subject terms...and employees have been asked during yearly employee evaluations how they have contributed to the cause of social justice in the course of their work (if they don't have a good answer, they don't last long). I have heard from several current employees about serious concerns in racially-based hiring practices that promote racial diversity over employment qualifications as well. MIT librarians are not happy across the board. Wake up! The whole reason Bourg thinks there's a need to investigate evidence for open science is that there's NO evidence that this supposed inequity is harming library users. Focus on providing equal access to materials, and get moving on implementing new technologies because MIT is now years behind the curve, and has been for some time. Find a new director - Bourg's not doing MIT any favors, and the library administration as a whole is lackluster.

Posted : Aug 10, 2019 04:03

Yasmin Ara

It's nice to know about MIT open scholarship

Posted : Jul 31, 2019 08:17



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