Research Ethics for Canadian Academic Librarians and Archivists

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Background
Researchers at Canadian universities must follow the research ethics guidelines set out by the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (aka TCPS2), and this of course includes academic librarian and archivists who are conducting research. TCPS2 was developed by the Panel of Research Ethics, a group created by the three federal research agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR) and composed of Canadian researchers.

TCPS2 guidelines are based on three interdependent and complementary principles: respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice. Respect for persons involves respecting the autonomy of potential and actual participants, and seeking free, ongoing, and informed consent. Concern for welfare includes minimizing risks to participants, and providing potential participants with enough information about risks so that they can make an informed decision about their participation. Justice means treating people fairly and equitably, and designing the study such that processes like recruiting practices and inclusion criteria do not unfairly include or exclude certain groups (in particular, vulnerable groups).

Many academic librarians and archivists have practitioner, research, and service responsibilities. So how does research ethics relate to each of these roles?

As an individual researcher
It’s likely that at some point in your career you’ll want to do research involving students, faculty, or other librarians/archivists, using methods like interviews, surveys, or observational research. Before beginning your research, you must obtain approval from your research ethics board by submitting an application with details of your research project and methodology based on the board’s guidelines. Universities generally have two research ethics boards (for medical and non-medical research) comprised primarily of researchers at that institution, as well as research ethics officers and administrative staff.

The two most important things I recommend as a researcher: first, learn how to write a good research ethics application. Consult with colleagues who have previously submitted successful applications, and follow the board’s guidelines carefully. Make it exceedingly clear to the board what potential participants will experience in your study. Second, build the research ethics approval process into your timeline. When you’re excited about your research project, you want to get started, and it can be frustrating to be waiting for approval. Plan ahead as much as possible – for example, if you want to interview undergraduate students, submitting your ethics application in March may mean that it’s approved just as students are in the April exam period and then leaving for the summer. Work backwards from your desired study date and build in extra time for the ethics approval process.

As a member of the academic community at your institution

At some universities, librarians and archivists have a seat on the non-medical research ethics board. This is a great service opportunity. By serving on the board at Western for two years, I learned a lot about the amount of thought and care board members put into reviewing the applications from the potential participants’ viewpoints, as well as what types of issues regularly require revision in order to be approved. After reviewing and providing feedback on dozens of applications, I also learned what kind of language (concise and clear!) makes these applications easy for board members to read – remember that board members will be reviewing applications from researchers in many disciplines. It can be a fascinating and rewarding experience that will help you to better design your own research studies to meet ethical requirements.

If your university doesn’t have a seat on the board for librarians or archivists, consider approaching the research ethics office or the Chair of the non-medical research ethics board to discuss the possibility. Some groups (such as librarians/archivists and other academic departments in my own institution) have multiple people assigned to the same seat. With 12 meetings of the board per year, four librarian or archivist members each attend three of the meetings per year and also review delegated (low-risk) applications outside of meetings.

As a practitioner
As practitioners, especially those of us who do work related to assessment or user experience, we often conduct studies in our own libraries to better understand our users and make improvements to our online and physical spaces and services. TCPS2 states that “quality assurance and quality improvement studies … do not constitute research for the purposes of this Policy, and do not fall within the scope of REB review” (TCPS2 Article 2.5). This means that studies undertaken to make improvements to library services or resources, when there is no intention of publishing and sharing the results more widely, do not need to be reviewed by the research ethics board

In such situations, I would encourage colleagues to set the same ethical standards for themselves for internal studies as they do for more formal research projects, and to apply the concepts of respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice to their recruitment and methodology. Thinking through these concepts as they apply to different aspects of your study will help you design a better study and feel more confident that human participants are being treated ethically.

Learning more

• Read the policy: Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans
• Your local research ethics board may require that you complete TCPS2 training before becoming a board member or before submitting a research ethics application. It’s freely accessible online, and the exercises are based on realistic research situations: https://tcps2core.ca/
• Read this previous Brainwork post: Ethics are for Everyone
• Read books about research ethics (here’s a list of suggestions)
• Pick up any social sciences research methods textbook – there should be a chapter on research ethics

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Two Years Post MLIS: What I’m Glad I Learned and What I Wish I Knew

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

I graduated from UBC iSchool (SLAIS) nearly two years ago. In many ways my time at SLAIS feels like it was just yesterday and in many others, library school feels like a distant memory – time really does fly! I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on some of the things I learned in library school that I am so glad I did (whether or not I was glad at the time is another thing) and some things I wish I had known before jumping into an academic library career.

Things I learned in library school:

  • My least favourite courses I took during my MLIS were Foundations of Bibliographic Control and Cataloguing and Classification; to say that I loathed these classes is not an exaggeration. For many boneheaded reasons, I didn’t believe that I would actually need to know about any of it, there were cataloguing librarians for that kind of stuff. All I can say to my past self is, “HA! You are so wrong and you have no idea”. The foundations I learned in these courses have become some of the most important and frequently called upon skills I have in my arsenal. Granted, I am definitely not constructing and enhancing bibliographic records or creating cataloguing systems, but knowing how these things work facilitates more effective and systematic information retrieval on my end (a.k.a. permits me do the thing that librarians do best which is to find-all-the-things!).
  • Love it or hate it, there was a lot of group work in library school. We’ve all had groups that were awesome to work with – collaboration was free flowing, people were eager and able to meet up regularly (but not everyday) to discuss the project, everyone agreed instantly and got on with their work, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is group work that was…less awesome (perhaps to the point of testing your already fragile sanity). Whether or not I always agreed with the pedagogical constructs of group work, I can see how this is was excellent preparation for real life librarian work. The work that we do as librarians does not happen in a vacuum, often our work requires careful and extensive collaboration with one (or many!) stakeholders and colleagues whom have their own schedules, priorities, commitments, and visions for a project. Learning to navigate the choppier waters of group work, rather than always coasting on serene waters, has made me a more effective collaborator in my current work.
  • Project management was an interesting course because unlike some others (see my first point), I saw an immediate practicality. Perhaps not always the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a librarian’s role, but managing projects (big and small) is becoming more and more important and it is not necessarily a natural skill everyone possesses. Teamwork, communication, management of time, costs, people, risk, etc., these are all things that fall under the “project management” umbrella and all can have a huge impact on the success of a project. My biggest takeaway from this course was gaining an understanding of the scale of work required to see a project through to completion and compartmentalizing tasks into manageable chunks in order to get it done – I do this even with small projects (like managing my daily workflow).

Things I didn’t learn but wish I knew:

  • Meetings. There are a lot of them and some will be more useful than others.
  • Emails – see above.
  • Imposter syndrome is a real thing. My imposter syndrome mostly relates to research because, frankly, I have no idea how to go about getting started with the whole process. I feel like it should be as easy as “have a great idea, research it, write about it” but I know that getting from A to B to C is definitely not that simple. I took one research methods course during my MLIS but the “use it or lose it” element of this learning has indeed meant I lost it. Luckily, I am surrounded by fantastic colleagues carrying out interesting research of their own who kindly let me pick their brain – also the great resource that is C-EBLIP!
  • Finally, mentors are the best and you really should have one (or maybe even a few!). I have learned A LOT about being a librarian from the people I’ve worked with thus far in my career and I’m not sure there is any MLIS course that could ever give me that unique experience.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Moving in the Circle: C-EBLIP Journal Club, February 20, 2018

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

Blair, Julie, and Desmond Wong. “Moving in the Circle: Indigenous Solidarity for Canadian Libraries.” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 12, no. 2 (2017). http://dx.doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v12i2.3781

February’s journal club reading and discussion focused on this 2017 article from Blair and Wong, who write about the role of libraries in an “era of reconciliation.” Central to this paper is a focus on the historical relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers, existing power dynamics, and systems of oppression. In particular, Blair and Wong call on library staff to “analyze their own intersectionality (situating ourselves in terms of race, class, gender, ability and sexuality), juxtaposed with the intersectional identities of the members of other communities” in order to better understand role of the library as a settler colonial institution (2). Finally, the article points us to the 2017 CFLA-FCAB Truth and Reconciliation Report from the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, which outlines four areas of inquiry:

1. Identifying best practices already in existence related to Indigenous peoples of Canada
2. Conducting a gap analysis on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action and recommending an annual review to evaluate progress;
3. Reviewing existing relationships and development of a contact database; and
4. Reviewing the existing body of knowledge related to the decolonization of space, access and classification, Indigenous knowledge protection, outreach and service.

The journal club members discussed what is needed and necessary in a time when systemic racism, acts of racism, and targeted microaggressions are still experienced by Indigenous people on campuses and in the wider community. We discussed the calls for reconciliation, but not without truth and decolonization. Foremost were the challenges that we know exist in library systems and spaces, such as the need for amendments to subject heading schemas, learning for library employees, spaces for ceremony in libraries, better collaboration with communities, and representation in the library profession. At the end of the conversation, we returned to what we as individuals can do to commit to decolonization, beginning with a commitment to look for Indigenous voices when seeking out information on truth, reconciliation, and decolonization in research, media, and professional sources.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

When you play the game of information literacy… students win!

by Chris Chan
Head of Information Services at Hong Kong Baptist University Library

“Let’s play a game.” These are not words that I usually utter during library instruction. But it is a phrase that will become more common, if the results of a recent experiment are anything to go by.

During my ten years as an instruction librarian, student engagement during information literacy (IL) sessions has been a persistent challenge. I know that the practices and dispositions that librarians are teaching are vital to their success, and in many cases the students themselves recognize this too. Yet the one-off nature of much of the instruction that takes place at my library means that students are often expected to learn these abilities devoid of any meaningful context.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have experimented with various ways to increase engagement. PowerPoints have been replaced with Prezis, and lengthy librarian monologues or demonstrations are now interspersed with questions posed via online polls that students can respond to via their smartphones. Wherever feasible, hands-on exercises are incorporated into instruction. Nevertheless, in our feedback surveys the effectiveness of activities is consistently rated lower than the relevance of the session itself.

In my interpretation, this is indicative of a need on our part to do more to design engaging instruction sessions. How does this relate to playing games? When implemented effectively, games and gamification have the potential to provide the spark that seems to be missing from our instruction programme. As Jennifer Young writes in her 2016 article on using games to teach information literacy:

Good educational games will motivate and engage students, provide context for information in the course, offer satisfying work that puts students in a state of “flow,” and encourage collaboration and social learning.

Of course, designing a good educational game is easier said than done. Many of the games described in the literature are digital, which presents an additional technical barrier. Recently, however, I stumbled across a physical card game called Search&Destroy. Designed by librarians at Ferris State University, it challenges students to use their database searching abilities to be the last person standing. Essentially, players draw keyword and modifier cards, and must run searches on a chosen database. The goal is to avoid running a search that returns zero results.

This concept intrigued me, and I purchased a copy to experiment with it. First I ran through the game with fellow librarians, and it was a tremendous amount of fun. There is definitely a certain thrill to saddling your opponent with cards that make their searches much more difficult (e.g. item must be in French!).

Our next step was to find out if students enjoyed the game as much as librarians. At HKBU Library we run regular learning events for which students receive a required co-curricular credit. As the Library has control over the content of these sessions, they were a natural place to play the game with students in an informal setting.

So on the afternoon of 5 March 2018 I found myself sitting with a group of six students explaining the rules of the game. I served as a sort of referee, guiding play around the circle. They quickly got the hang of it, and became very engaged in the competitive aspects, with some players forming impromptu alliances to gang up on and eliminate mutual foes.

The design of the game produced many teachable moments. For example, one of the cards allows a player to use the OR operator in their search statements, which led to a discussion of why this is beneficial if your goal is to avoid 0 search results.

At the end of all learning events we do a quick anonymous survey. For the Search&Destroy event, all students either agreed or strongly agreed that they had learned something interesting or useful. Qualitative comments included: “very good game, new experience” and “interesting and good”, which indicate that for this small group at least, the activity was successful in teaching search skills in an engaging manner.

While the overall experience was great, after reflection I identified several areas that could be improved or considered further. First, the game took much longer than the expected 15 minutes. I was hoping to fit in at least two rounds of the game, but ended up with just one that took almost 45 minutes. This was partly due to the number of players, and also due to the fact that we used the Library’s discovery service as the database for the game. Because of its wide coverage of full text content, it took some time before players were at risk of getting 0 results. More specialist disciplinary databases could produce quicker rounds.

Another future consideration is how to best incorporate the game into typical course-integrated instruction (as opposed to a one-off event). An activity like this would be great for introductory first-year courses, but such sessions typically have 20-30 students. Running multiple simultaneous sessions of the game in a class would be possible, but quite intensive in terms of staffing resources.

Scaling up in this way will definitely be a challenge, but it is one that I am keen on exploring after this positive initial experience with game-based instruction.

For those attending LOEX 2018 interested in learning more, librarians from Ferris State will be running an interactive workshop.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Wikipedia Dashboards: an easy way of collecting edit-a-thon data

by Joanna Hare
Hong Kong Libraries Connect

Today I’d like to share my experience working with Wikipedia Program and Events Dashboards as a means of collecting evidence of edits to Wikipedia articles made during a edit-a-thon.

On March 9 2018, Hong Kong Libraries Connect (HKLC) hosted an Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Art+Feminism started in New York in 2013, and has grown into a massive, global campaign “improving coverage of cis and transgender women, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia”. I have edited Wikipedia before, and provided teaching support for a Wikipedia editing assessment, but this was my first time coordinating a formal edit-a-thon – and my first time hearing about Wikipedia Dashboards! Assuming there are others out there like me for whom this might be new information, let me describe the basics.

A Wikipedia Dashboard is a tool that allows users to sign-in to a Wikipedia program or event. Once they have logged into that program, all edits they make on Wikipedia will be tracked and attributed to that particular program or event, giving everyone a clear picture of their editing efforts. Here is a screenshot of our Dashboard, showing the total results of our editing efforts at the end of our event:

In the space of three hours we edited 15 articles, made 45 edits, and added over 2000 words. Not bad for a group of beginners! Also in this screenshot you can see you have the option to track the edits associated with an event for longer than the event itself, allowing participants to make edits before and after the event. You can also see under ‘Actions’ the button where users can choose to join the program, and the option to download the statistics. This option downloads to Excel, and has more detailed statistics than what you see on screen. For example, the Excel download tells me 9 of our 11 participants were new editors.

My favourite feature is listed under ‘Articles’ in the menu at the top of the screen. Here you can see what edits were made and by whom via coloured highlights:

Art+Feminism provided very detailed instructions for how to set up the Dashboard and associate your event with their campaign, but in fact it was quite easy. The process is quite similar to setting up an event in any blogging or web management platform – and Wikipedia takes care of the rest!

While I often talk about Wikipedia in my information literacy workshops, showing students the ‘back end’ and demonstrate the ease with which one can edit articles, I was not aware of this excellent tool that would allow me to have students join a program, make edits to Wikipedia, and then easily collect evidence of their efforts. I contacted the Art+Feminism coordinators (who are fabulous, by the way) to ask about using the Dashboard in the classroom, and they pointed me to Wiki Education Dashboards, which has loads of resources available to higher education instructors who want to use Wikipedia for assessment tasks. It seems support is limited to Canada and the US for the time being, but the site is worth a look regardless of your location. The tutorials and case studies are excellent.

This is all new to me so apologies to readers who are already familiar with the platform! The dashboard was a breeze to use and I am looking forward to experimenting with it to incorporate some Wikipedia editing into my next workshop. I’d like to acknowledge the support of the Art+Feminism coordinators who were speedy and warm in their support, very accommodating of first timers, and provide a lot of helpful print and multimedia resources. If you have never organised a Wikipedia event before, Art+Feminism is a great place to start.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The High Hopes for Our Research: Don’t Lose Sight

by Selinda Berg
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

When I deliver professional development workshops on cultivating research topics and creating research questions, I highlight the importance of ensuring that research topics and questions have significance and that researchers can articulate that significance. This is not about statistical significance but rather considering how the question aims to have consequence, impact, and importance. This is imperative because as Huth (1990) notes research is:

“not just baskets carrying unconnected facts like a telephone directory; they are instruments of persuasion. [Research] must argue you into believing what they conclude; and be built on the principles of critical arguments.”

Researchers must be able to articulate why their research matters and what the research sets out to convince the reader. This type of significance of research is an element that is not always strongly articulated in our professional literature. Often, researchers start with a strong understanding of the high hopes and intended impact of their research, but throughout the arduous research process they lose sight of it, and in turn, the readers/audiences cannot see it either. However, articulating the significance of research is important to ensure that the research fits into a wider context, that the research can be built upon to achieve the larger goal, and that the importance of the research is explicit.

Librarians engaging in research to support critical librarianship do this well. They are explicit that they aim to identify, expose and disrupt social and political powers that underlie information systems (Gregory & Higgins, 2013, 3). I think many researchers hope that their research can contribute to a healthier work environment, a stronger profession, or a better society, but they do not situate their research within these higher goals. Many librarians, independent of method or approach, set out to uncover injustices, inequities, or areas where we can just do better within and around our profession, but are not overt in their intentions. We need to consciously and explicitly do this better.

I encourage researchers to not lose sight of the larger goals that inspired them to engage in research, and to use space within presentations and articles to situate their research within a wider context and within their high hopes for how their research might just lead to a stronger profession or better society.

References
Huth, E. J. (1990). How to writing and publish papers in medical sciences. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Higgins, S. & Gregory, L. (2013). Information literacy and social justice: Rodical professional praxis. Duluth: Library Juice Press.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Mount Allison Way: Finding Research Collaborators at a Small Institution

by Elizabeth Stregger
Systems Librarian, Mount Allison University
Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada

In a recent meeting, a colleague asked me how I got started on a research project with Christiana MacDougall, a faculty member from Women’s and Gender Studies. I squirmed in my seat, looked perplexed, and started my story, “well, I went out for a beer with another faculty member and we got on to the topic of Wikipedia….” Merriment burst out in the room. “Ah, the Mount Allison way,” someone commented.

When I came to Mount Allison University, I was keen to find people with similar interests. I started going to all kinds of campus events, from evening lectures to the Pride parade to Faculty Council. I asked everyone if they were a knitter, or if they knew of a knitting group in town. I said hello to people I recognized at the Farmer’s Market. I helped organize a film series in the library. Little did I know that I was starting to establish my research network.

At a smaller library we all have broader responsibilities. If the projector isn’t working, I’m the person who goes and checks all the connections. If a faculty member needs a repository for a digital project, that question comes to me too. These interactions across faculty boundaries are part of life on a smaller campus.

New responsibilities send me into research mode. I start searching the literature, creating Zotero folders, and sharing articles. Although my initial intention is to use evidence to inform my practice, follow up conversations with faculty members spark new ideas for projects and collaborative research.

Bringing these ideas back to the library creates new connections with library colleagues. The best space on campus for the Women’s and Gender Studies Wikipedia edit-a-thon was the library. When one of the students had questions about some genealogical abbreviations in a source, I called the Archivist, David Mawhinney, for help. Now David and I will be speaking together at our International Women’s Day event about women in science at Mount Allison.

Truly engaging in the university community in these ways has required a bit of bravery. The positive feedback loop has me committed to challenging my introverted instincts. In less than a year, I’ve had two conference presentation proposals accepted, my first collaborative REB proposal was approved, and I was included in a SSHRC grant proposal.

Previous positions at other institutions laid the groundwork for the activities I’m involved in now—from developing an evidence based practice at the University of Saskatchewan to working with medical researchers on their research profiles at the University of Manitoba. The “Mount Allison Way” is an exciting approach to research, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of opportunities will come out of the woodwork next!

What are your tips for adapting to a new institution?

How do you take advantage of happenstance in your research?

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Setting sail as a CEO – what is the optimal tenure for a library CEO?

by Stephanie Hall*

This post is rather personal, as for a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to leave my job after five years as the CEO of a large library system in order to sail around the world on a tall ship. It’s a fabulous job, with an amazing staff and board, and I didn’t decide to leave lightly. As strong as the allure of sailing is, there was also an instinctive sense I had that the time was right for the organization. Our system had made many positive changes, and we were at a good handing off point. I wondered what, if anything was considered the average ‘ideal’ time for CEO transition, recognizing that individuals will vary greatly.

Looking at the corporate world, a 2013 study from Temple University suggested that, while the optimal tenure, as measured by stock returns, is 4.8 years, the average CEO stayed on for 7.6 years. The study’s authors suggested this may be due in part to a tendency of CEOs to depend more on exploratory learning and external input in the earlier part of their term, and to depend more on internal corporate input later in their tenure, potentially ‘losing touch’ with customers and clients. An earlier study of 2500 companies found that longer tenure was correlated with higher overall performance, but for both long and short tenure CEOs, performance was generally best in the first half of their tenure.

However, as we know, the corporate world has a different bottom line from the social sector. In Forces for Good, researchers looked at 12 high-impact non-profits and found that long tenure was a common feature among those high impact CEOs. One of the highlighted techniques emphasized in that book is the strategic use of partnerships. When I think about some of the most high-performing libraries in Canada, partnerships are a critical part of their success. Partnerships depend on trust and relationships, and both of those things take time to develop.

Have you been reading (or conducted) any research in this area? I doubt it needs to be said, but I’m not looking for personal CEO critiques here! I admire my CEO colleagues and respect their humanity and the important work they do. But, as to research on this topic, I’d love to hear your observations.

Fair winds and following seas.

*Stephanie Hall was the CEO of the Okanagan Regional Library from 2013 to February, 2018, and is about to board the tall ship Picton Castle on a 14 month circumnavigation of the globe.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Paying for Peer Review?

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge
Alberta, Canada

I got to talking with a newer professor in our Faculty of Management about issues around open access and the huge profits of the big publishers, and found that she was surprisingly passionate about the subject. I say surprisingly, because often I find faculty members, especially in that particular Faculty, somewhat resistant / unconcerned about the issue. But this particular professor is from a younger generation, having recently completed her PhD, and is not yet totally convinced about the traditional scholarly communications models. As we drove home from a trip our book club had taken, we had hours to muse about the state of academic publishing and the unfairness of it all.

Then she said something shocking, at least to me: “Those publishers should be paying us for peer review”. But the more we talked, the more she had me on board; sure, writing the articles is part of our job, but the reviews we are also expected to perform for free? Those are often seen as over and above, certainly not counting nearly as heavily towards one’s tenure & promotion package but often time consuming and, at least for some, undertaken quite painstakingly and conscientiously. I argued that the ‘good’ guys, those truly open access publications which are operating at a break-even level, wouldn’t be able to afford that; but I couldn’t deny that charging the Big Five a hefty fee for at least some of the free labour we provide as academics would be incredibly satisfying. We fleshed out the idea, devising a scheme in which universities would administer the funds on behalf of their researchers; the funds would go towards the cost of research (RAs, equipment, etc) rather than being paid directly to reviewers, and a portion of it would be held back in a central fund to ‘reimburse’ those who were reviewing for non-profit, open access journals. We got ourselves so worked up about the issue that we decided right then and there to write a blog-post/style article about it, and within hours of getting home she’d sent me an outline of the arguments we’d use.

We did write the article; it’s currently being reviewed by one editor and we hope to get confirmation of publication this month. [Editor’s note: the article has been published and can be found at University Affairs.] But as I floated the idea past my colleagues, I was met with several objections, most of which were philosophical. I get it – the idea of monetizing any element of publication seems inherently wrong. But as long as we are stuck in a world in which some people (read: publishers) are getting rich off of the free labour of others (read: academics), shouldn’t we try to balance the tables at least a little bit? Another objection was that publishers would simply raise the prices of their subscriptions to compensate for their increased expenses. We countered this by calling for government intervention on subscription prices, much the way they currently cap the price of pharmaceuticals. We also noted that this harebrained idea would only work if everyone, worldwide, insisted on payment for their reviews – as soon as someone caves and does it for free, the system falls apart.

So do I think it will work? Not really. I’m sure it’s just another of the many, many ideas out there about how to transform academic publishing that won’t pan out. And in the process, it will probably raise the ire of many a librarian. But what I loved about this collaboration was that another academic – not a librarian, and a business faculty member to boot – cared as much about the unfairness of it all as I, a librarian, did. And I loved the idea that we would put this crazy idea* out there and potentially raise the conversation in a wider forum among academics – not just among librarians and other scholarly communication gurus, but among scholars from all disciplines. We intentionally submitted it to general academic, blog-type sites to gain as wide a readership as possible. And if it does nothing more than stir the pot among a larger audience of scholars and make a few of them think twice about feeding the oligopoly, then I will view that as a success.

So what do you think? Will I be outed as a traitor if this thing gets published? Will all librarians think I’m crazy, and shun me at conferences? Or is any idea a good idea if it raises awareness of the broken scholarly communication system?

*To be fair, once we started writing the paper we discovered that others have flirted with paying for peer review, with some success; see https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/should-academics-be-paid-for-peer-review for examples.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Elephant Tale of Data

by
Kristin Lee, Tufts University
Liz Settoducato, Tufts University

Earlier last year when I asked my colleague Liz Settoducato, Engineering Librarian here at the Tisch Library, if she would be interested in looking into Jumbo the Elephant with me we didn’t realize it would become a bit of a weird obsession. A simple idea to use data about Tufts University’s beloved mascot for instruction sparked research into the circus, P. T. Barnum and his shenanigans, taxidermy, and scientific specimens. The more we read, the more we wanted to know.

This project has become a place where our personal journeys to librarianship collide. My background is in science and I have long been fascinated by the idea of physical objects as data. I also love maps, a perfect way to present the adventures of an elephant who had his own personal train car. Liz comes from the world of gender studies and archives. She understands how our fascination with different forms of entertainment impact scholarship and research, and why it is essential to study this as part of the experience of being human. Together we can look at our subject, the sadly doomed star of the London Zoo so fiercely pursued by circus showman P. T. Barnum, who met his end in a train accident in St. Thomas Ontario in 1885, as the pop culture icon and flesh and bone creature that he was.

Chasing down information hasn’t been easy. There are circus handbills, correspondence, newspaper articles, songs, and images of Jumbo in collections all across the country. But we wanted more. Jumbo became the mascot of Tufts University posthumously, when his stuffed hide was donated to the Barnum Museum of Natural History in 1889 by Mr. Barnum himself, after travelling with the circus (The Story of Jumbo). There are pieces of Jumbo, King of Elephants, in collections all over the country (I just found out about this piece of tusk at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan while writing this ). His heart was purchased by Cornell University, but all they have left is the jar, a fact which caused Liz and me to have a conversation about just how you could lose a 40 lb elephant heart. All of these specimens were once a whole, living elephant, a collection that requires each piece for context, and bringing them back together (at least virtually) has become a bit of a mission.

What we call “Our Eccentric Jumbo Research Project” isn’t really that outlandish in the context of librarian research at all. We are using tools from the digital humanities to explore texts, like the biography of Jumbo by his keeper Matthew Scott, to try and figure out how the people around him understood him. We are thinking about how P. T. Barnum, purveyor of “humbug” and serial hyperbolist, spread misinformation about his prized attraction to get the attention of crowds and how that affected the public view of wildlife in places they could only imagine in the late 19th century. We are tracking down data from studies of Jumbo’s bones and his tail (the only piece that survived after the rest of his hide was destroyed when Barnum Hall at Tufts burned down in 1975) to better understand how he was treated during his short life. Librarianship is about not only providing our communities with what they need, but giving them access to worlds they didn’t even know were out there and allowing a sense of wonder and whimsy to infiltrate the research process.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.