OpenCon 2016: a post-attendance interview with Emily Boyd

OpenCon2016_SignUpForUpdatesEmily Boyd is a Business, Economics, and Engineering Librarian at Dartmouth College in the Feldberg Library. She attended OpenCon2016 on behalf of Dartmouth College through a scholarship offered by the Dartmouth College Library.  OpenCon is a gathering for next generation professionals to learn about open access, open education, and open data. This can encompass anything from scholarly and scientific publishing to educational materials to digital research data. OpenCon2016 took place in Washington, DC, November 12-14. To help us engage with Emily’s experience attending OpenCon2016, she has agreed to respond to some before and after interview questions.  The following is a transcription of Emily’s responses to the post-attendance interview questions.

What was your overall impression of OpenCon2016? How do you think it went?

I think it went well overall.  It was well-organized, on track, there were many presenters, and it was overall very good.  There were several panels featuring six people who each spent two to three minutes presenting an open access project they are working on. That was very interesting because it gave me a sense of different projects happening all over the world in a quick and engaging way. I was actually expecting the meeting to be a bit more hands-on than it was.  The first day consisted entirely of listening to a series of presentations, which was very interesting, but a lot of information to absorb at once.  The second day also involved lots of listening, but the second half of day two was an “unconference” format, this involved opportunities of participants to gather, decide on topics, and discuss. I found this to be very productive and engaging and wished more of the conference would have been like that. Before going to OpenCon, I assumed that all of the participants would be first-time attendees, but I discovered that about 80% were first-time attendees, and the remaining  20% were returning attendees.  I really hadn’t been to a conference like OpenCon before.  The last conference I went to was a tradeshow, so it was more about walking around, looking, and talking with vendors. OpenCon was a much more immersive experience for me.

What were your objectives during your time at OpenCon? Did you feel that you were successful in meeting these objectives?

I really wanted to move past just thinking of open access is a good idea–which I believed going in and coming out—and move towards understand the bigger picture.  I think I achieved that, but I also came away feeling like the open repository effort is fragmented and fractured.   That’s something that I’d still like to understand better now that I am back from OpenCon.  Also, I went into OpenCon wanting to know more about who pays for open access.  How is this publishing model financially feasible?  I don’t feel I came away from OpenCon with a better understanding of that.  I got the sense that maybe I shouldn’t worry about the cost of it, but I am still interested in trying to have a better understanding of the financial side of open access.

One major achievement for me was that I now feel like I have a better understanding of how open access is tangible and beneficial the researcher. I went to a presentation by a psychologist who talked about the pressure in his field to publish results that are interesting and groundbreaking when, in fact, the reality is that that groundbreaking work doesn’t always happen.  He felt that we should all be publishing openly, regardless of whether the work is groundbreaking, so that we can learn as much as possible and not waste time and money doing the same experiments over and over. This was an interesting discussion for me to be a part of, and as a result of this conversation, I felt I gained a better way of articulating that now and strongly believe that it is really important to have a broad range of information open and available to the public.  People can learn from it all.

 

Was the OpenCon community of participants what you had expected?

Not exactly. As I mentioned, I was expecting all people would be attending for the first time. There were also more librarians than I thought there would be.  But, unlike me, they were all scholarly communication librarians.  I wasn’t expecting to make as many cool international connections I did. I had dinner with professionals from Austria, Beijing, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.  It was really cool to make these connections and have opportunities to talk about global education and politics.

What did you learn from participating in OpenCon?

I realized that we tend to get a little silo-ed in our various disciplines and areas of expertise.  We think in these silos as the academic, versus the librarian, versus the student, versus the lay person.  I think this poses challenges, and that was apparent at OpenCon too.  I think this is something to be mindful of as we continue to work on open access and other important goals with academia. Attending OpenCon and listening the levels of information access that exists around the world, re-affirmed for me that, at Dartmouth, we have access to amazing resources.  This helped me realize that it’s not really a good use of our time to talk about what we don’t have access to, but more about what we can access and how we can help users access information beyond their life at Dartmouth. Watching a presentation from a Cambodian woman who has access to nothing (by comparison) because the government restricts that access put perspective on the privileges we have here at Dartmouth. Will we get to a point where access is an international standard? 

What did you learn in talking with other OpenCon participants?

The library field is very different in different places.  In talking to people about what they published, I realized that the pressure to publish as a varies depending on where you are.  One interesting conversation was about how librarians are expected to publish, but the Masters in Library Information Science really helps us understand how to help others do research rather than conduct our own research experiments. I always thought I missed something with my own education, but I found through OpenCon that other librarians feel similarly. It raises interesting questions for me about scholarship and the librarian’s role in that as both one who supports it and one who creates it.

What will you remember about OpenCon in two years?

I will absolutely remember time spent at dinner with a group of very interesting and global women. That left a lasting impression. I think this concept of the silos of academics, librarians, students, and lay people will also stick with me.  The challenges this creates in communication, etc. and how we should be aware of that.

I will also remember the feeling that I had throughout the conference which is that institutions like Dartmouth should value the resources to which we have access. It left me motivated to emphasize to students the wide range of resources they have access to while they are here, help them make the most of those resources, and make them aware of how difficult it can be for them to access resources like this once they leave Dartmouth. I think doing this helps to break out of silo-ed mentality because it communicates value to open access beyond one’s life as a student. I realize now, that in the startup I worked for, if we had access to Dartmouth’s resources, we may have made different decisions in how we did things. That’s amazing to think about.

What would you like to share with your colleagues or your patrons after attending OpenCon2016?

I would say that open access is worth exploring and thinking about in any particular life or field. And, it’s important to talk about open access in real world scenarios. To remember that we are at an institution that happens to be a place of great privilege in terms of information access, and wouldn’t it be great if other people had that kind of access as well.  I think it’s also important to remember that there are still problems with open access.  For example, it seems that there are still decisions to make around who pays for open access publishing or the servers that manage it? Open access is a thoughtful endeavor, but it is important to bring it down to real world situations.

Overall, I came away from OpenCon having learned a lot, believing that open access is a great idea and I support it, and I still have questions.

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