The Labor of Open

This is the first in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2019, and their projects. This one was submitted by Danielle Cooper.

Painting titled "The Harvesters" by Léon Augustin Lhermitte

This project, The Labor of Open, will examine the labor of scholar-led independent open access publishing as an equity issue in scholarly communications.

There is growing policy pressure on scholars from funders, governments, and academic institutions to disseminate their work through open access publications, including venues that are not associated with for-profit publishers.[1] These policies are being advanced under the auspices of increasing equity in higher education by alleviating the cost burdens associated with journal subscriptions for publicly funded institutions and readers who do not have access through institutional affiliations (e.g. non-academics, unaffiliated academics, academics at institutions with limited subscriptions, including those beyond the West). Some of these policies also target the article processing fees charged by some journals to authors to make their articles open access and seek to limit or regulate them.

Financial burdens for readers and authors, however, is just one component of the equity equation in open scholarly communications, as the onus for scholars to work with or on scholar-led independent open access venues constitutes considerable labor. This labor is often unacknowledged and neglected in emerging open access policies, particularly with respect to scholar-led open access journals and pre-print venues. Independent open access journals and pre-print platforms are intended to challenge the oligopoly of academic publishing wherein the majority of journals are in the hands of five commercial publishers with net profit margins parallel to automotive industries and big pharma.[2] Despite the important role of independent open access in knowledge creation, however, sufficient attention has not been paid to the labor involved in their creation and sustainability.

In this project, the team will interrogate the labor of scholar-led independent open access publishing as an equity issue in scholarly communications. Scholar-led independent open access publishing often constitutes a form of “hope labor” wherein work done for free is deemed “a good opportunity for exposure” and invoking the promise of employment and financial compensation that may or may not arrive in the future. The project will identify and critically examine the full range of labor responsibilities for scholars when publishing and/or working in an editorial capacity on scholar-led independent open access publishing paradigms. The project will focus especially on how such responsibilities relate to the evolving economic context of higher education, especially the increasingly precarious status of postdocs, graduate students, and faculty in the academic labor market. In doing so we will bring much needed attention to how the labor of open scholarly communications intersects with the politics of work in higher education more broadly and identify ways forward to ensure that the open access agenda is enacted equitably for contributors and consumers.

How equity issues of gender, class, race, and other marginalized positionalities intersect with the politics and labor of open scholarly communications paradigms will be a focus of the project. For example, often termed a “labor of love,” facilitating independent open access publishing venues is feminized work, expected to be undertaken for no pay and little recognition.[3] Further, while open access has been celebrated as a tool of increasing access to knowledge, Indigenous scholars have raised questions around whom this knowledge is open for and at what cost. As Kimberly Christen highlights, open access relies on Western colonial understandings of knowledge sharing that thieve Indigenous and traditional knowledge, while promoting “openness” to knowledge “at any and all costs.”[4] By examining questions of labor and inequality in the move to independent open access, our project will highlight the possibilities, limits, and labor of making open access equitable.

Our team is uniquely composed to undertake a project of this aim and scope. Members of this international team include individuals who study and research at the intersection scholarly communications, publishing, researcher information practices and equity issues; editors and authors of open access publications and platforms; librarians supporting scholar-led publishing; scholars at all stages of their careers in a variety of academic and applied settings; and, labor activists. The team’s strong expertise in the project’s subject areas is coupled with demonstrated ability to effectively communicate with stakeholders in higher education about social justice issues in scholarly publishing.

Team Members

Leslie Chan is an Associate Professor, teaching stream, and Associate Director of the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough. His teaching and professional practice centers on the role of “openness” in the design of inclusive knowledge infrastructure, and the implications for the production and flow of knowledge and impact on local and international development. An original signatory of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, Leslie is active in the implementation of scholarly communication initiatives around the world, serving as Director of Bioline International and principal investigator for the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network and for the Knowledge G.A.P project. He is a member of the advisory board of the Directory of Open Access Journals, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, and the Investing in Open Infrastructure working group.

Danielle Cooper is the Senior Researcher of Libraries, Scholarly Communications and Museums at Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit research organization working on issues at the intersection of information, technology, and education. She is an applied qualitative social scientist with expertise in studying the information needs of researchers in higher education contexts and working with stakeholders, including librarians, publishers and scholarly societies, towards meeting those needs. Her work focuses on information practices and needs in underrepresented and under-resourced academic communities, including recent and ongoing projects on Indigenous studies scholars, community colleges, and post-secondary correctional education. Examples of recent publications for Ithaka S+R include: Scholars ARE Collectors: A Proposal for Re-Thinking Research Support and When Research is Relational: Supporting the Research Practices of Indigenous Studies Scholars.

Emily Drabinski is Associate Professor and Critical Pedagogy Librarian at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is on the board of Radical Teacher, a journal she flipped to diamond open access in 2013 with the University of Pittsburgh’s library publishing program. She is also a union activist who has written and presented widely on organized labor in libraries and archives. Emily’s research interests include the politics of knowledge organization, power and library infrastructures, and gender and sexuality issues in information studies.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library and Affiliate Professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During her term as President, the Association of College and Research Libraries flipped its flagship journal, College & Research Libraries, to diamond open access. She is also the current editor of Library Trends, an embargoed gold open access journal, and writes for The Scholarly Kitchen.

Jojo Karlin is a PhD student in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and adjunct at Brooklyn College. A member of the editorial collective of the open access Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, she co-edited Issue 14: Teaching and Research with Archives. She has contributed to MLA’s Literary Studies in the Digital Age. As the Graduate Fellow to Manifold Scholarship, an open source publishing platform built by the Graduate Center, University of Minnesota Press, and Cast Iron Coding, she is researching open educational resources.

Ela Przybylo is presently a Ruth Wynn Woodward postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. Starting in August 2019 she will be Assistant Professor of Publishing Studies in the Department of English at Illinois State University. Ela is also a founding co-editor of the peer-reviewed, open access, independent journal Feral Feminisms. Her teaching and research examines questions of digital publishing as they relate to feminism, anti-racism, and decolonialism.

Painting titled "The Gleaners" by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

Team Engagement and Output Plan

The team’s participation will result in a handbook that accounts for the different forms of labor, and their trade-offs, associated with scholar-led independent open access publishing. We anticipate developing the handbook in an accessible and entertaining digital zine format. The handbook will be designed with scholars as the main audience and will include a supplementary section for those involved in scholarly research support (e.g., academic librarians, policymakers and grants officers, and those involved with developing and supporting open access publishing platforms). The handbook will be distributed through social media, listservs, blogs and other high-impact channels for promoting scholarly communications issues to scholars and their stakeholders. A webinar and/or conference session about working with the handbook will also be developed for stakeholders to further promote using the tool.

The team will begin their work in advance to ensure maximum use of their time together at the institute. Prior to the institute the team will hold a remote introductory meeting to brainstorm the breadth of the thematic categories related to the labor of open access.  Following that meeting, the members will do independent research to further refine their understanding of those categories, building up a shared repository of resources that will be shared and finalized through consensus as the first collective activity at the institute. The remainder of the time at the institute will be devoted to designing and creating the handbook as well as identifying next steps for external review and feedback, a revision process, and the dissemination of the handbook.


[1] For examples of funder policies, see Wellcome Trust and  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For examples of government policies, see Plan S in Europe, CIHR in Canada, NIH in the US .

[2] Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era.” PloS one 10, no. 6 (2015): e0127502.

[3] McLaughlin, Lisa. “Feminist Journal Editing: Does This Job Include Benefits?” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology 4 (2014):

[4] Christen, Kimberly A.. “Does information really want to be free? Indigenous knowledge and the politics of open access.” The International Journal of Communication 6 (2011): 2870-2893.

[ Images: The Harvesters and The Gleaners, by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, public domain. ]

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