Digital Humanities
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Event Review: Open Access Symposium 2017 “Open In Order To…”

October 27, 2017

 

What is it?

 

Stony Brook Open Access Symposium is an annual event to promote Stony Brook University’s Open Access materials, and publishing. It is also an opportunity to highlight the effort from the SUNY system- (State University of New York) to become more open friendly in the fields of specifically research and education tools. The themes of the Symposium are stated on their website “Open in order to… features visionary ideas from inspirational speakers. The symposium explores influential scholarly communication initiatives, including digital humanities, open educational resources (OER), open science and data visualization. The symposium brings open access front and center, with presentations and discussions on its value and meaning for academics, researchers, and librarians.” The program for this day long event not only included a panel discussion on digital humanities, but advertised with a digital humanities focus. The panel was entitled, “Open + Digital: Humanities & Social Sciences” and the combination of these three things and how they would interplay was of interest to me. Digital humanities within this dialogue of openness was the main reason I chose this event.

 

Why this event?

 

I chose this event in order to experience digital humanities in context. Instead of attending an event that is centered around dh and only dh, this was something that was an open access topic with dh included within that. When reading the material available about it there was a focus on the dh panel and appeared to have an important representation within the discourse. It was also convenient for me to visit Stony Brook University, the institution where it was held in that it is the only event I have seen that is related to dh on long island, where i am from. I also did not have a strong grasp on open materials and how they work. The subject, location, and speakers were all of my great interest for this event.

 

Expectations

 

I was aware of the atmosphere of the university. That it is very focused on research above all else as well as science so i was very excited to see if there was a bridge between the sciences and dh as well as how suny institution would interact with open access dialogue. I also knew that the Linked Jazz Project had a poster that was highlighted at the symposium which which added an even more exciting element to my attendance thinking about open data and what place open data would have in this open access discussion.

For the event itself I anticipated it to be a hall filled with academics having dialogues about openness and exchanging ideas about the panelists over coffee and free sandwiches. I expected a lot of the panel topics to go over my head.

 

I was also excited to hear what one specific speaker had to say for the keynote address: Elliot Harmon of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am interested in the the activism within Open dialogue. My understanding was that Open access and publishing open was a push back on established Academic publishing and the rising expense of textbook. A way of putting access to education materials for individuals above the business of education.

 

Reality

 

The symposium speakers were a variety of scholars embedded in open access from a medical librarian from Mount Sinai Health System who created an open access publication, to an associate professor speaking on their perspective using Open Resource materials. The diversity of background found in the symposium speakers was somewhat reflected in the audience as well. There were librarians from different institutions, professors, library students, and even high school teachers asking how to incorporate open resources into their teaching.

There was a good variety of subjects in the panels and presentations as well. The Open in order to…  was accurately describing of the symposium because the full day’s program covered many of the possibilities and limitations of the discourse surrounding Open Access.

 

A highlight from the list of panelists was Elliot Hamon. EFF has in the past and presently done a lot for information freedom and privacy on the internet. He looked at open access and its need from a nonacademic lens. He asked the question if there was a department of sharing that existed outside academia, what would it do. An organization that was set to enforce sharing policies in a similar way that we enforce copyright policies and how information would flow if that was enforced. This was a compelling way to begin the dialogue that followed about copyright and the ways that patent issues through universities infringe upon innovation and open resources. He used two key examples to elaborate on this point one including “patent trolls” who buy up patents created not to protect someone’s original ideas but on common practices just to sue others for using them. This is something Hamon thinks could be protected through something like a department of sharing. He also pointed out the importance of the role of the librarian in decision making about open access and laws surrounding patents. The idea that guidance navigating patents and rights to ideas is something that I believe would never be entrusted to a librarian for fairness, the economics behind such material and its openness, unless governmentally enforced, would be only compulsory.

 

In the late afternoon, the digital humanities panel began. There seemed to be a buzz in the room as they began to set up. The moderator of the panel was the digital projects librarian who, based on her questions was quite knowledgeable of the topic of DH but was not specifically a speaker so her knowledge of the topic which I would have enjoyed hearing was not heard. Of the three panelists one was a senior lecturer in Asian and Asian American Studies, another was an adjunct of the English department(both Stony Brook University Faculty members) and the last was Community Manager of the Humanities Commons through Modern Language Association. It seemed the grouping of people had very similar understandings of DH. Peg Christoff, the senior lecturer, was well versed in OER for pedagogy and used those materials to produce DH work, but it centered around the oral histories that her students worked to create rather than the DH tools they used or the open resources. Andrew Newman, the adjunct professor, also worked with his undergraduate students in order to create a DH project, but as far as his experience in DH or placement in the panel about open access was a little lost to me. He said he tries to use open resources when writing his syllabus but also said he would not publish his work in an open access journal because of his concern for it to be irrelevant to his tenure due to misconceptions about open access. His project did not seem to be of as great note as it seemed in the conference in contrast with projects like the Linked Jazz project. In regard to the DH panel overall I was surprised at how little actual pedagogy or insight was given to me from the speakers. I found that the acceptance of DH projects was more normalized than I thought it would be and the uses were basic on a level that ungraduates could engage with them easily. This brought into light how simply DH can be incorporated into humanities projects and classes.

 

Conclusions

 

Overall this event was a great insight into the field of open access and DH how it exists in a research University setting, where it sits and is accepted, as well as where it is not. This general survey of the field of OA and the demand large institutions like SUNY are placing on their branches to expand its acceptance and promote interest definitely gave me hope of the land of academia that undergrads will no longer need to dropout of college because financial aid doesn’t cover textbooks. The movement to create textbooks that are open to the public and without a paywall is alive and well it is just attempting to get through publishing logistics and field stigmas.

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