Thanks to an Early Career Librarian bursary from Wiley, I was fortunate enough to attend the UKSG conference for a second year and found the experience as a returner to be even more fruitful than the first. Here are some of my Conference highlights.
Plan S and research support
Plan S, which mandates full and immediate Open Access (OA) in scholarly communications is scheduled to come into force next January, so it’s unsurprising this was the hot topic at this year’s Conference. Uncertainty around what this will mean for how we as libraries support researchers and scholarly communications was my main motivation for returning to UKSG this year.
The final plenary posed the question: Plan S and the ultimate measure: is it good for research? Speakers represented the OA2020 initiative, publishers and researchers. It was positive to hear many publishers are now willing to support the OA movement and seeking transformative agreements with research institutions which shift the balance from paying for reading to publishing OA. However, two areas which require addressing urgently, if Plan S is to be ‘good for research’, are for libraries and publishers to work together to effect change on a global level (attitudes to OA vary across countries), and the need to improve researcher awareness of Plan S requirements – concerningly, surveys suggest many researchers have not yet heard of it. Supporting researchers in the wake of its ambitious changes is certainly something most academic librarians are prioritising at present and therefore it was extremely helpful to hear from the experts about the current state of play.
With research support forming an increasing part of my role, I also picked up some highly practical tips on supporting Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from two excellent sessions. Charlotte Matthieson’s plenary outlined the challenging environment faced by ECRs, and advised how librarians can support them, with reference to her work at the University of Surrey. Help with finding funding, developing writing skills and improving research visibility were all seen as areas to which librarians could make valuable contributions. Later, Katrine Sundsbo explained how the University of Essex established a ECR network and ‘Research Week’ in-house conference to develop the skills of ECRs. This included Katrine’s OA Escape Room, which is a novel and engaging way to promote OA to researchers. As we are soon trying this out at the University of Huddersfield, it was useful to pick up some advice from its creator! (materials available here: https://figshare.com/projects/Open_Access_Escape_Room/56915)
The diversity strand was a welcome addition this year and provided some of my key take-aways. The standout plenary session for me was on Day 2. It included a keynote on Unconscious Bias delivered by Femi Otitoju from Challenge Consultancy, followed by a panel discussion on enabling BAME representation in scholarly communications. Femi opened with a compelling case for the importance of workplace diversity – diverse organisations perform better! She then helped us to understand how our unconscious biases influence our actions. Without our awareness, they lead us to automatically favour people similar to us, believe and recall things which confirm our expectations, and make generalisations about groups of people who differ from us. Femi concluded with some simple, practical steps to reduce the influence of unconscious biases on our future actions – including anonymisation in applications, avoiding micro-inequities by considering the needs of all when planning workplace activities and environments, and offering micro-affirmations to marginalised groups, by amplifying their voices and challenging inappropriate behaviour.
Later that day I attended Jennifer Bayjoo’s breakout session, where she spoke passionately about the shocking inequalities still experienced daily by the BAME population, which compelled her to found DILON (Diversity in Libraries of the North). She challenged us all to fight for more inclusive libraries, and urged non-BAME professionals to act as ‘active allies’ – speaking up against inequalities, questioning policies and practices, and listening to and amplifying BAME voices (you can read more at DILON’s blog: https://libdiverse.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/so-you-want-to-be-an-ally/). I left Femi and Jennifer’s sessions much more confident in the actions I can personally take now to improve opportunities for all.
Innovative university initiatives to support diversity in the curriculum include the ‘Decolonising Research Methods’ workshops and ‘Liberate our Library’ campaign introduced at Goldsmiths, University of London, which were explained in a breakout session by Sara Ewing. Particularly interesting about these is that the workshop design itself is intended to destabilise hierarchical education systems – with each being student-led. Students are encouraged to reflect, discuss and generate ideas for disrupting Western norms and epistemology and making visible marginalised voices. Certainly an important step in improving diversity of the curriculum, if not an easy one to implement – Sara reflected that removing lecturer authority can cause feelings of vulnerability and result in unpredictable classes, but emphasised this is a worthwhile risk. With our own successful ‘Broaden my Bookshelf’ campaign now established at Huddersfield, it was useful to find out how this can be expanded into teaching and learning.
Considering unconscious bias from another angle, I enjoyed Adam Blackwell from ProQuest’s engaging session on ‘the irresistible lure’ of fake news. He argued the compelling pull we all feel to believe news and speakers who support our existing views has led not only to belief in ‘fake news’ as lies reported as truth, but also to the dismissal of true information one does not want to believe as ‘fake news’ lies. Adam believes this is a ‘resistible rise’, but with the only real solution being education and making everyone aware of their cognitive biases. As a librarian, this was a stirring call to action, and reminder of why what we do is arguably now more important that ever. I feel inspired to place greater emphasis on the importance of source evaluation in my future teaching sessions and to present this vital skill to students in a more compelling way.