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November 21, 2023

PostNormal Times: The Many Lives of a New Librarian

PostNormal Times Podcast Andy Vosko and Jennifer Beamer

PostNormal Times is a podcast for our complex reality and unpredictable world—a world where the stakes are high and innovation is crucial. Andrew Vosko, PhD, associate provost and director of transdisciplinary studies at CGU, and his guests explore ideas that transcend traditional academic boundaries and address our most pressing needs. Get ready to challenge your assumptions.

In episode 8 of PostNormal Times, Andrew Vosko speaks with Jennifer Beamer, head of scholarly communications and open publishing services at the Claremont Colleges Library. Jennifer talks about library science as servant leadership, the ins and outs of academic publishing, and how to curate a scholarly identity.

Episode 8 Transcript

ANDREW: Welcome to PostNormal Times, a podcast for our complex reality and unpredictable world, where stakes are high, and innovation is crucial. In this series, I get to sit down with some of my favorite minds to explore new ideas that transcend traditional academic boundaries and address our most pressing needs. I’m Andrew Vosko, associate provost and director of transdisciplinary studies at Claremont Graduate University. Welcome to the show.   

I would like to welcome everybody back to our discussion not of business as usual, but of business in a transdisciplinary world. And by business, I mean everything under the sun. But really, I’m talking about what we do here in the world of education, and today I’m very pleased to welcome my guest, Jennifer Beamer, from the Claremont Colleges Library, who’s head of scholarly communications and open publishing services there. Is that right?  

JENNIFER: Perfect. 

ANDREW: I had to draw on my memory of seeing your profile page to do that. But welcome, Jen, it’s nice of you to join us today.  

JENNIFER: Thanks, Andy. It’s really cool to be here. I appreciate you inviting me.  

ANDREW: Oh, it’s our pleasure, because one of the things we like to do on our show is talk about those trends we’re seeing in a transdisciplinary world in which questions aren’t based on the traditional paradigm of what universities have been built upon, and are instead about what kind of changes we’re going through and how they’re manifested here at Claremont. …  

So, really quickly, can you familiarize people with your background? For those who weren’t listening, we were speaking in early-level Japanese to each other beforehand because we share the connection of having studied in Japan. I’m interested in you sharing more about that part, but certainly also about what your scholarly identity is because it’s one of these scholarly identities we don’t get to hear about a lot.  

JENNIFER: So, I actually feel like I’ve been a student—student has been my scholarly identity for most of my life. Out of high school, I went into a bachelor’s degree program. I grew up in Canada. So, I moved around some Canadian universities. Most of my early degrees were in textile science. I know a lot about cotton and polyester and burning different fibers to figure out what they are. I ended up in the mid-2000s being a textile science lecturer in San Marcos, Texas. At that time, I thought I’d found my calling of working with students. I’m not sure if I was the greatest lecturer or adjunct, but they kept me for several years. So, I figured that was a good indication I was doing okay.  

Then it came time to decide what was next: Should I get a PhD, or should I keep roaming around as a lecturer? I was able to secure a grant from the Japanese government with the Japan Foundation as a researcher for a year, where I did a lot of research in Kyoto about textiles. I’d been to Japan in my early life as a JET program participant and lived in a small village in Japan. So, I think it was easier to secure the grant because I understood the culture and a bit of schoolkid language. At the Japan Foundation, I could learn more academic language.  

It was at that point I realized that I really liked to do research, but I also really liked to teach. I liked to interact in new worlds and learn new things all the time. That led me to the University of Hawaii. My spouse was finishing his PhD there. We decided to move there to finish a couple of years there. I bumped into the department chair of the library in the Japan section at the University of Hawaii. He said, “I haven’t seen you around here before.” And I said, “Well, that’s who I am and that’s my background.” And he said, “Why don’t you come with me, and we’ll enroll you in one course in library school.” So, at that moment— 

ANDREW: You had a concierge service for graduate school! 

JENNIFER: Yeah! So, I had two years of library school at the University of Hawaii. At the end of that year, one of my advisors asked me if I was interested in being a PhD student. I was fascinated again by this world of publishing outside academia, or at least publications from academia that were shared with the public so that we could use them.  

That’s how I worked on my PhD in open publishing, open infrastructure, and open systems in universities. So that’s a long story, but you can always make a career change in academia.  

ANDREW: Those are the important stories that we have for each other. Especially in graduate education, if you have that glass of wine and talk to someone, you hear those stories. But if you look at someone’s research profile, you don’t have those stories, you don’t know that the people doing the work you’re interested in tend to be people who zigzag because they’re not so narrow that the only thing that matters to them is the singularity of the topic—the world’s more interesting than the topic. So, I want to know, do you ever sense the tactile textile stuff coming back? Not even in that sense of how things burn, but in the way that you think, or in the way that you have approached your career in library science?  

JENNIFER: Yeah, the thing about textile science was that it gave me the opportunity to work with students and other faculty as if I were a faculty member, outside a library situation. Of course, we work a lot internally together, but really connecting with faculty means having good empathy or understanding of what their work is. Although I was an adjunct in the school in Texas, I was treated by my colleagues as if I were a professor. So, I attended meetings with them, and I listened to students talk about how they didn’t have access to materials. I listened to a very wise person tell me how to publish: The best key to this whole publishing system she gave me was to come up with one idea, but to always have three ideas of what to publish when you create knowledge.  

So, interacting in that world first before going to this other side, maybe that’s a dark side of librarianship just to see all the stuff in the background. That was helpful. I also struggled as a lecturer when students would come to me in these power structures telling me they couldn’t afford a book. Having been a student myself for many years and having purchased a lot of books, I could understand where they came from. Some of them would tell me they’d give up their food or live with other students just because the cost of university was so high. And that was back in the 2000s, so it’s not even as high as it is now. It gave me a lot of empathy.  

I still am a bit of a textile addict. In my personal life, when I see textiles, I touch them and feel them. I’ll often buy, as all textile addicts do, a meter (or a yard in America) and stash it in a box somewhere. I have several boxes.  

ANDREW: This is a thing? 

JENNIFER: It is a thing. I have like a whole IKEA Kallax system dedicated to just boxes of— 

ANDREW: Do you keep them in plastic slips or anything? 

JENNIFER: No, I don’t. Sometimes what I do with my day planner is like, think about covering it in cool fabric without using a sewing machine—making a cover or something. … I used to make all my clothes when I was younger, but now there’s The Gap and— 

ANDREW: That’s fascinating. Okay, so when you were at Hawaii, you kind of fast-forwarded to where you said, “And I ended up researching this and this and this.” For those of us who aren’t familiar—we’re not a library science set of institutions here at the Claremont Colleges, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a very large set of academic librarians, we have a lot—but what is academic library science?

Because I know I have a friend who used to joke that his sister would make fun of him for being an expert on the Dewey Decimal System. Yeah, that was how the joke ended. But there’s something to this that’s really interesting: the philosophy behind it. What is it?  

JENNIFER: The philosophy that I live by, and I know different librarians have, is this idea of servant leadership. So, what I really want to be able to do is work with faculty collaboratively in a partnership model and get them the things they need for their courses. I think that’s the first entry point. Like faculty, we’re lucky here at the Claremont Colleges. Any time faculty ask us to buy materials for a class, we buy them. That’s called the course readings section, on the first floor of Honnold/Mudd Library. So, I think that’s our first mission.  

And then the second mission, of course, in servant leadership for me is to get faculty access to the works they need for their scholarly conversations and research. For me as an academic librarian, too, I think the element of knowing what faculty are actually doing with that research is important. So, how are they making an impact—whether that’s in the traditional model of, “Here’s how many citations I have, and here’s how many publications, and here’s my impact factor,” or, more like what I studied in library school, about the practices of sharing that work much more widely than it would be if stuck in our library databases.  

One of the things that comes to most students as a shock at the end of their program is they don’t have access to millions of dollars of research anymore. They’re stuck using Google or Google Scholar, which is what I train them on. I think some of my colleagues view that—meaning Google Scholar—as not the best way, but in my world of open access, it is the best and sort of the only way to get access to both library works and open works at the same time.  

So, to be an academic librarian is to really be immersed and empathetic towards the academy around us. What do scholars need from us? What do we need to supply to help them do their work?  

ANDREW: This point of open access is so interesting, though, because it first gets at a movement that I’ve witnessed since I noticed the Public Library of Science back in around the time that you were talking about, the early 2000s, and we’ll talk about that. I’ll ask you to explain how that started and more of the history of this.  

But it also suggests something that we get to in the show all the time, about “standing on the shoulders of giants.” But oftentimes, whatever direction that giant is oriented toward, we might miss the other 350 degrees of the circle. We have certain practices in academia like peer-reviewed publications, which are great. But some of those practices traditionally have been behind a paywall that only allows university libraries to produce information, and as such the ivory tower paradigm gets reinforced by the financial structure of non-open access.  

So, here’s something that cracked that, and it started to make this peer-review process and output more accessible. From the time that began to where we are now, I’m curious, as a scholar of this: What have you seen it do? Because to me, this is a systems issue, this is talking about new academic research, new scholarship that brings it back to people. … There’s my idealistic mind running off with all the possibilities. What about somebody who’s a little bit more careful about asking the right questions and having nuance to them—what have you seen in this time, and how is it working?  

JENNIFER: So, I should preface upfront, I’m kind of a rebel. I think I’m viewed as a rebel. 

ANDREW: You’re selling “rebel.” 

JENNIFER: Yeah, so I’m kind of a rebel. So, you know, the history and origin of this open-access movement is really interesting because it wasn’t actually started by a librarian, but by a group of scholars in neuroscience. Stevan Harnad is one of the scholars who started to write about how we work for institutions, and often public institutions, or private in this case, obviously, but public institutions where taxpayers pay for our work, and yet we lock up these articles. So, it’s time to take back our articles and free them.  

Originally, there was a lot of pushback on this idea. Parallel to this idea, too, was where the librarians came in and started to band together and say, “Each year our subscriptions go up and up and up by 5%.” I can’t tell you because we have non-disclosure agreements, but my colleagues could tell you that we pay millions of dollars each year when the bill comes to subscribe to the databases and the eBooks and everything we need.  

ANDREW: And just to add to that, they’re monopolized, largely, aren’t they? 

JENNIFER: They are. And you see, when you publish something, Andy, that is only in a closed database. That’s great, it’s there, but for the library to provide it to the greater campus, we have to purchase it. So, it’s a double whammy, where you’re producing the work, but we have to buy it back to make it available, but only to our campus. So, several groups banded together and thought that this collective action idea would work in pushing back against publishers, where we would say, “Our institutions need access to the work that the people are creating on our campuses.” Then the libraries banded together into this one collective action group—which to this day exists, and I am on their steering committee, which is a real honor—called SPARC. SPARC works together to lobby Congress these days for mandates to implement around these practices of open publishing.  

Going back a little bit further over 20 years, what we’ve seen is this banding together, and then publishers taking down a few walls. Once we got some real movement, I would say in about 2013, we started to see more and more researchers making their work openly available. Then suddenly, publishers changed again and now we have more of what we call author processing charges, where if you want it to be open, you’ve got to pay.  

And then now we’re in this really great moment, a really exciting moment when President Biden has signed several mandates, I think some people are calling them policies, that have come out of the Office of Science and Technology Policy under which if you receive a federal grant, from January 1, 2026, you’ll be required, as people who receive that research funding, to post your work in an open format. 

You’re not going to get the rest of your funding unless you post your work in an open venue immediately. Whereas, prior to that, there was a one-year embargo. This has really accelerated over the last few years because of COVID. As I wrote in my dissertation preface, the first lab in Wuhan that found COVID shared the data in an open repository, and the next day Purdue University was able to access that data and start working on solutions to COVID.  

If you think about open access in this bubble we’re living through now, it’s a high priority to share that information so that we can solve problems. I know one of the things at the forefront of President Biden’s mind is that he had a son who died of cancer. Again, how can we solve these large problems if we’re doing them in silos? So, I think that’s a really short and bland history of open access, but the really exciting thing is still to come. That’s where we’re going to be able to, as institutions, have the backing of this national open-access policy, if you want to call it that, to help us nudge those who want to be open and those who maybe are starting to just see the open practices happening around them. … Many people on our campuses are getting federal grants. Many of them are also publishing in the open and using federal grant funds to publish openly.  

The hope is that in 2026, that won’t be required anymore, you won’t have to apply for that money. Money will be going to better places, and research becoming available to others. That’s my belief, that it’s a fundamental human right, to have access to information. That’s where I’d like the utopian world to be 20 years from now.  

ANDREW: So, do you think that the models are working such that the open-access publication houses are thriving? Or are they fighting tooth and nail to stay afloat right now?  

JENNIFER: Yeah, they are thriving. For the last ten years, we’ve known that some of the biggest publishers—shall I name names? 

ANDREW: You don’t have to. Okay, I know them. … 

JENNIFER: Those publishers are making more than McDonald’s and Apple in profits, which is interesting because when you submit an article, we don’t get paid. It’s for the purpose of—in my case, for the purpose of just being engaged in the scholarly community. Maybe for your purpose, it’s to get tenure or a promotion. This industry is so interesting because there are no raw materials that they need to produce and then sell. It’s all a gift—a gift economy. You’re giving them a gift. If you’re engaging in this peer review system, where you peer review, I don’t get paid, and you don’t get paid—very few people get paid to be peer reviewers. Very few people get paid to be editors of journals. They might get some perks from the publishing industry. So, they’re making millions off of—well, billions off of—this free labor from academia, and I think that’s really corrupt.  

ANDREW: It feels like Bitcoin almost. You’re doing these digital cryptocurrency kind of things, and the only thing you’re getting is social capital, whereas they’re actually getting the financial gain from it. You’re creating value based on the potential for a position that might not be clearly translatable. That’s fascinating.  

JENNIFER: And they’re not very transparent, and they never really have been. They tell us it costs a lot to make things open, but they’re not very transparent about what those costs are. The average author processing charges these days is around $2,700. So, you can imagine if you were a new academic, and you didn’t think about writing this into a grant, didn’t have a grant, then suddenly you have— 

ANDREW: Half of a car payment. 

JENNIFER: Or a house, or rent around here. But the thing is that recently, there’s a little bit of fear around publishing for the publishers. I saw it, as soon as this OSTP memo came out last summer— 

ANDREW: That’s the Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

JENNIFER: So, I think it was unclear what was meant by this memo. Did it mean that author processing charges would go away? How are publishers going to sustain themselves? And we’ve already seen this in Europe, there was OA2020 and cOAlition S, where journals were forced to flip to open access by a certain date. I think there’s a lot of fear, but I don’t think there’s going to really be a big panic. I think they’ll still have their business model. They will still be making a lot of profits.  

Recently, what’s been very popular is for those publishers to offer us what are called transformative agreements. We have several of them at the library. They offer that we pay the same package to subscribe to everything, but any of our authors on the campuses who would like to make their work open when they publish in those journals will have the fee waived. This has become really popular. We have five agreements right now with Springer, Wiley, and the Association of Chemicals Studies—I’m trying to think of the other ones. We have biology, and there’s Cambridge University Press. These will keep coming down the line. My hope is that they’ll keep the prices the same for a while. But my guess is, as soon as we get addicted to this, then they’ll raise the percentage just like they did for journals.  

The other option, of course … is a repository. We’re lucky enough to have an open-access repository on our campus. It’s run by myself and my colleague. We can put articles in if you have permission. For 20 years, librarians have been doing this. If you have the permissions to post your article—usually the copy that you gave to the publisher before they published it, or the copy that you own afterward but not the publisher’s copy—you can make that openly available in our repository, and we will take it. You just have to contact us, and we’ll take it and put it in. Then it will appear in Google Scholar with your traditionally published article and the open version. So, there’s that option for people who don’t have money or are concerned about using money to publish. 

ANDREW: There are so many philosophical things that this brings up in my head. But I want to start with the endpoint, the endpoint being if the problem was that people who should have access to this kind of knowledge weren’t being given access to it, does making it free change who actually accesses this knowledge? Do we know this?  

JENNIFER: I don’t think we know this. Our repository is a great example. We publish student senior theses for several of the colleges … and we probably get 10–15 questions every day from students around the world asking, “Can I have access to this?” We have an option for senior theses where you can publish “wide open,” or you can have “campus-only,” and those 15 emails that come in are for the campus-only option. People are desperate to get their hands on other people’s research.  

We know how much is openly available. I think that’s around 50% of all the articles that have been published these days, which is great, but I don’t think we have an idea of how it changes.  

ANDREW: So, I like thinking in systems. That’s one of our big tools and transdisciplinary approaches to things. Thinking in terms of power is another one and thinking in terms of outside of the academic walls, too. Here we have a system that was a really beautiful, positive feedback loop for reinforcing power at very large publishing houses, so that the knowledge itself was under the control, essentially, of people who weren’t creating, discovering, or sharing it, which is wild. And yet, it’s so foundational to my experience of being trained in the academy: People who publish in PLOS, or BMC, or whatever it was in the early days when they were doing this kind of stuff, and yeah you can publish there, but we know it’s not Nature. It’s not like other journals.  

So that this paradigm shift has happened is wild, and that it cracked open the idea of what we stood on in the academy for so long is also wild. What I think is happening at the system level, which is also of interest to me, is that you have lots of people who go through academic training, even as undergraduates, who learn how to look through peer-reviewed articles, or what’s held in an academic library, only to never be able to access it again for the rest of their lives. Those folks, whether they have undergraduate- or graduate-level training, will now at least know how to do this and be able to access things later. I would assume that that population is probably to some extent able to do this in a way that’s now much more democratized.  

On the other hand, and I think this would be an interesting point of the system, there are lots of people who are powerless to even know how to access these things except the people who’ve been formally trained. I wonder if in addition to the open-access movement … is there an outreach component to also make accessible the tools to know how to access those kinds of things?  

JENNIFER: Yeah, that’s great. I’m guessing there are some of those programs in our public library system. I would hope so. There’s also a booming industry of people and businesses that have stepped forward to help people make things open access, especially to libraries.  

So, we have a couple of companies that will come to your library, if you can’t afford all of the things. They’ll help embed this other system that points people to open all the time. Within our library systems, we have visual indicators of “This is freely available, this is open access.” This orange lock icon has been co-opted by the open-access movement and it often appears on library materials. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that students’ brains click to be like, “I can always access this article, but I’ll never be able to access this experience again.” So, it would be good to have this other movement. We’re very privileged in the United States and Canada and often in Europe. We have access to, as you know, almost everything.  

But for the Global South, or for some countries in Asia, even in my own PhD cohort—I had students alongside me from Thailand, who, to prove a point, were only going to get research from the open-access world because that’s all they would have when they returned to their country. Noticing those kinds of nuances is hard to do unless you’re purposely looking for them.  

ANDREW: I remember when I graduated from a PhD program, I worked at a small college, and their library access was tiny. I’d come from a very large research university before. So, I brilliantly went back to my old university as an alum thinking this would do something like, I’ll just pay for an individual subscription to everything that you have. And they were like, “It doesn’t work that way, you can’t do that.” I’m like, “But give me something.” “No, we can’t get you anything.” I remember reasoning with him like, “You want me to call people up and just use their passwords? Because I’ll do that. I’ll come up with a way to get there.” And he was like “We cannot legally send you an individual subscription. This is only at these massive levels of information flow.” That was my first insight into like, oh God, this is really hard because I’m trying to teach now. It’s not just a matter of the public writ large. If you’re at a smaller school that can’t afford to have these kinds of subscriptions, then too bad, so sad. So, the fact that 50% of stuff is being published open access now is such a victory.  

JENNIFER: It’s amazing, isn’t it? But there’s still a really long way to go. You’ve just made me think: So, one thing I’m really passionate about and have tried to start a revolution about on this campus, but I haven’t succeeded fully at yet, only in pockets, is access to textbooks for students. There is an open-access movement around textbook eBooks called Open Educational Resources. It’s been going on for at least ten years now. For the last seven years, the government has been providing multimillion-dollar grants to institutions to help students get the materials they need.  

As academic librarians, we get a lot of requests from students for individual textbooks. And, of course, just like open-access articles, there’s a whole underground movement around this. There are libraries and Library Genesis and all kinds of Twitter indicators like #Icannhas, where people trade materials and say what they need. Also, I’ve noticed a lot of Facebook Groups, and I joined them because I want to see what people’s practices are. There are also a lot of Facebook Groups around getting access to institutional materials that you don’t have at your institution. So, you’ll see people willing to break copyright, or at least maybe get in trouble. I’m not aware of any copyright police, but we do know that publishers sometimes reach out to people who post on academia.edu or ResearchGate if they’ve posted an illegal version.  

So, again, we talk with a lot of students about how they get materials, and they tell us all the time how they get them: Professors copy them or put them in learning management systems like Canvas or Sakai, and/or they get them off of these illegal Russian servers.  

It’s not something I want to encourage, but I empathize with students. I actually give a nod to them, because they’re finding these creative ways of getting the materials they need. But yeah, if we were not living where we live, I think we would run into these problems a bit more.   

ANDREW: Okay, so part of what we’re talking about is when you say Twitter and Facebook, it reminds me—and when we started this conversation I’d asked you about your scholarly identity—that these foundations that we rely upon for creating who we are—which are largely departmental and disciplinary, based on the journals we publish in, the conferences we go to, the language we speak, the way that we become known and gain social capital—they’re all going through a rapid transition. In some ways, it’s all very different than what your mentor or your mentor’s mentor learned. In other ways, you can see the similarities with that kind of training. But with social media and with open-access platforms like ResearchGate, or quasi-open access, however they would be classified—or what are some of the other ones? 

JENNIFER: Academia.edu. Also, people are sharing materials now on LinkedIn, I’ve noticed. So, there’s social media and then there are the social networking systems as well, which are LinkedIn or ResearchGate. 

ANDREW: Totally fascinating. We’re also seeing the academic hustlers who didn’t use to exist. So, the academic entrepreneurs are the ones who are in between these really traditional departmental spaces. They’re being interviewed by a news company, or they’re the latest pundit on Twitter. … You’re seeing a lot more entrepreneurship in the academic enterprise that uses these forms of information and knowledge sharing that used to be taboo, that used to be untouchable. 

We’ve talked about this a little bit more, but I’m very curious about what you think this is doing, the direction it’s going in, and what the system even looks like, from your point of view.  

JENNIFER: I think a number of people, or a number of academics, saw this opportunity to make what we would call a research impact. It’s one thing to see an author who has this h-index and all these citations. But again, those citations are only within this academic bubble. And I think when academics started to see that they could make a bigger impact, especially in fields in which we know people need access to the work. …  

I always think of research around eggs. I really like eggs. I like them for breakfast. I like them for snacks. We see people being interviewed in a magazine or interviewed in the news about whether eggs are healthy and whether cholesterol is good or bad. So, I think once the media started consulting this academic research, there was this space where academics could say, “Well, look at what a big impact that made. My paper got accessed in academia, but what happens if I put it in an open space, or if I publish it in my institutional repository—what will happen?”

So, I think to the advantage of those people, they got more citations. Research shows that they get around four times more citations than if locked behind that paywall. …  And there are many people on our campuses, who make me very happy, who have this idea of, “Well, it’s for the common good.” Many people are partnering—some of our open-access journal editors have partnerships in Africa, where we know there’s just no access to scholarly work. … We have a similar story, Mike and I over at Pomona, where we’ve both talked to scholars in Africa who walk for many miles to access dial-up internet research to solve scientific problems or to treat patients and then walk back and only have the notes because it’s too slow to print out an article.  

That kind of thing, if you’re a person who got into academia for the common good, or to solve problems, or to help the public—even a lot of education faculty here at CGU publish open by default because they know that they need to get that information to the teachers who are working in schools with children. I think that shows that there’s this kind of impact that you can make beyond these hallowed halls or whatever they would say. But the thing about the digital revolution is that you can make things widely available. And that is either in a social media profile that you create or on one of these systems that’s designed to … make you look like a credible academic. And I don’t think there’s really any harm in that, as long as you’re not getting a letter from a publisher saying, you know, “Take this down.”  

But even then, I think there are options, now, for you to keep posting your work for the greater good so that the public is engaged with your research.  

ANDREW: One of the earliest things that I published, actually, was through Dove Press, which was an open-access company. When you’re a graduate student you’re obsessed with who might possibly read it. It used to be that the common knowledge was that nobody cared about what you just did. You had this martyr complex about it like, “I’m the only one who cares, and I’m the only one who sees the importance,” and you fell in love with your own loneliness because you just saw this one beautiful thing, and nobody else could appreciate it the way you did.  

But I’d see that because it was open-access and there were other versions on similar topics by more seasoned scholars, I was getting included in Google searches. I’d see my name come up as being on class syllabi for required reading, or I’d be included in books. I’d be a news source as like, “Oh, this paper that…” They’d have no idea that I was just a measly third-year graduate student. I noticed it. I don’t know if it changed my h-index, but it made me feel much better about myself than the “Nobody cares about this,” because what I did was now being read by millions more people. It’s a popular news article or a book that someone’s prescribing how you can take better care of yourself. So that was one of those big things.  

The thing I was also getting at with this was that researchers are now also responsible for building up their own identities. It’s not a passive process of just doing good research anymore. No, you have to make yourself known as a good researcher. It doesn’t speak for itself. So, how do you encourage people to do this as a part of this new world that we’re living in that requires you to go outside of the ivory tower because success doesn’t happen just because you’re a good person? You’ve got to know some skills, right?  

ANDREW: So, over at the library, we offer a couple of workshops, one on building a scholarly identity, and then a second one on curating your scholarly identity. Because again, we’ve endorsed two tools. The first is Google Scholar, in which anyone can build their profile, and then works get harvested, and you can attach them to your profile. Also, Google Scholar is what’s called verified. Now, this is a little bit of a problem because let’s say you decided to become an independent scholar. You need to have a .edu account to be verified. Not having it doesn’t prevent you from having your work harvested, but it’s not ideal for non-academics, and as we just discussed, there are non-academics who are making a difference in the world by making their work open as well. We also endorse and can help with something called Open Researcher and Contributor ID or ORCID as it’s known. I always tell my husband not to worship the h-index or your impact factor because he constantly checks Google Scholar. But they’re different, you know, in our databases. So, the API doesn’t work the same and the tracking doesn’t work the same. You could be an eight somewhere and you could be ten somewhere else. I wouldn’t get too caught up in that because it’s gamification.  

ANDREW: It seems like we’re playing Hot or Not. 

JENNIFER: The original person who developed the impact factor was Eugene Garfield and another fellow named Jorge E. Hirsch suggested the h-index. Eventually, they retracted that proposal. In the library world, they first said this was a good thing, and then they took it back and said, “Well wait, it can, you know, it can be gamed.” 

And often we see scholars who are pumping out papers that have very high impact factors, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making an impact. Everybody is just pulling that work because it’s available. Getting back to this other system, which I think is more like a CV—a credible CV, and community-built—ORCID, where you can curate your workplaces. If you’ve received grants, it also automatically harvests that but with less focus on numbers. Often, people don’t want to show their numbers. I have one paper that has two citations, and it’s open, but it’s like a benign textile paper. It’s probably only interesting to one or two people.  

ANDREW: If you want to plug it to our audience!   

JENNIFER: Part of this proposal from Hirsch and Garfield is that over time, we know everything gets cited. It’s just how long it takes and what the exposure is to the outside world. Curating your identity, though, is one of the most important things you can do. Because what’s happening is all of this data is getting collected about you as a scholar anyway. So, you might as well control it. The papers you don’t want people to see you can hide and the papers you do want seen … you can connect them to this credible authority.  

When we did that exercise of Googling ourselves, we saw that we had these embarrassing pictures, too, out there. Those things can all be controlled and removed by just tracking down where it is and removing it. We always say in today’s world, if you’re applying for a job, even though we shouldn’t, we often Google people … and we’re all looking on LinkedIn to see who they are, and see what their background is, judging if they’d be good or not for us 

Open access also offers us this opportunity to build our identity and make our own impact, to decide what is going to be impactful and what isn’t. I think that’s pretty important.  

ANDREW: That is huge. Yeah, this idea that you create your identity, again, refocuses your agencies so that you’re not just a researching machine, or you’re not just this creator of knowledge. You’re also looping that back to understand that there are audiences who have to understand what you’re doing. You have to be cognizant of that. It puts you back into the world.  

That being said, let’s say you get somebody like yourself, or myself, who’s a zig-zagger, and you want to curate a professional identity and you happen to have a part of you that might be published in textiles, in histories and economics of libraries, or interprofessional education—all these weird things that have nothing to do with each other. What would you recommend to people who are these boundary-crossers trying to cultivate these identities in a world where they don’t know what the reception in ORCID iD or Google Scholar is like? How do you suggest we think about ourselves and about how an audience thinks about us, given the networking movements that we have?  

JENNIFER: This is huge, and you’ve saved it for the end. For myself, the works that I saw … I’ve made choices around open. In fact, my dissertation just became open last month because I wanted to see what would happen in an embargo period. How many people would ask, “Can I see this?” And I got quite a few requests, which is exciting. So, then I said, “It’s going to be open next month and then you can cite it.” 

I think what I’ve tried to do with my own identity is curate this list to show that I know about academics, I’ve published myself, and I’ve been through the process, so I can empathize and help. But again, I think that’s the beauty of this. I’m not endorsing, like, “You should hide the things you don’t want people to know.” Because I think eventually, they’re going to find out— yeah, the truth shall be found.  

But yeah, I think certainly when applying for positions or wanting to show what your record is, picking the best of you is a nice option. That being said, you’re not entitled to share everything. There are people who’ve said, “I’m going to share every work no matter what because that’s who I am.” But you’re not entitled to share everything.  

Often, we’ll advise grad students who want to create an identity to share their best work. Maybe if you’re a grad student who doesn’t have a lot of publications at this point, maybe you presented a poster or you wrote an abstract, or you have a paper you wrote for class, you can still, you know, curate those things and show certain qualities about you that you want others to see. There are opportunities, and this is something maybe we don’t talk too much about because we’re often working on projects by ourselves and maybe not transdisciplinary collaborating. But that’s one of the greatest things: A number of opportunities have come my way because someone saw something I’d done online, and I’d curated it in a certain way.  

I was able to partner with them to work on another project or get a grant where people were like, “I saw this person, and we have this 12-university grant, this kind of college, and this kind of person would look good in this grant. So, I wouldn’t be too worried if you don’t have a lot of things to add to these systems. But I think maybe curating them the way you want them to look to other people and getting feedback from people around you—especially your other faculty members, or peers, to ask, “How does this appear to you?”—is a great idea.  

ANDREW: I almost think that is a part of the training as an academic who’ll use these systems: You should pair with artists doing an installation course to understand how you tell a story with what you put on display, so you get familiar with what people perceive and how you communicate your story but also add a richness to that with, “I’m not laying everything out on the line—this is what I’m sharing with you, on purpose.” 

I was just talking to somebody who used to be at the colleges who was sharing with me an effort at a school at which a computer scientist had attached the equivalent of MeSH terms to each faculty member. Everybody had access to all the terms, and you could start typing in combinations of terms and they would create linkage maps between you and other faculty members to say you clustered around this, or these folks might be of interest for you to talk to—to generate this version of what your colleagues could look like. I see so much potential in these kinds of systems to be utilized as not necessarily the Facebook marketing that we get but to inductively figure out that you don’t just have to be a 41-year-old man who lives in this particular area and who studies this particular thing. You might actually be somebody who can float around to people of similar boundary-crossing inclinations, or who have multiple skill sets needed on a team. I think that this has a lot of potential to bring us back from the ledge of needing really strict specialists.  

Because that’s fine to a point until it’s not: Who’s going to be there for that specialist to bring them back to the rest of reality?  

JENNIFER: Right, and we’re having an academic conversation, right? And there’s a movement, really, right now for university administration to train PhDs. We want to train PhDs, but we also want to train them not to be traditional academics because we don’t want to get their hopes up that there are all these jobs out there for academics.  

So, I think once you start these exercises of seeing what skills you have and which boundaries you cross—you also see that having PhD training or graduate school training isn’t necessarily going to end up with you being a professor. You have skills in other areas that are very useful, such as research, observing trends, etc.  

ANDREW: And to your point about traditional academics: Not only is the number of potential jobs drastically decreasing, but the entire world of academia is also transitioning out of that model. So, whatever traditional means, we’re in the process of redefining it right now. That’s one of the fun parts about being here at Claremont. It’s one of the fun parts of having you as a colleague here to have these conversations with, which, yeah, they’re academic conversations, but they’re also accessible. That’s a really important thing that I want to always be able to do. I think that that kind of conversation is one where I realize my values and those of my colleagues, that we’re not in this for the banter that we have in a living room with a martini—although that’s not bad, either.  

JENNIFER: Martinis and libraries are good. 

ANDREW: It kind of sounds like a version of Clue 

JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s in the library, with a martini and a lead pipe.   

ANDREW: But I do think that there is this divide, or that the ivory curtain is being pulled back. I think we’re seeing more of the university enterprise, the academic enterprise, finding its way to people who aren’t necessarily embedded in it anymore. As we kind of prune what that looks like in its final form and make it a little bit more cut and nice and fit between the boundaries, then this conversation is going to be even more interesting as a retrospective.  

What an interesting time to be in this world and a leader in this space, where you’re in advocacy, you’re doing this translational thing where you’re taking your knowledge and you’re making policy changes because of it—I think that’s really admirable and wonderful.  

JENNIFER: Thank you. You’re really kind.  

ANDREW: So glad to have you on today. It was really wonderful talking with you.  

JENNIFER: Thank you so much. And I guess I, as librarians always say, “If you hear this podcast and you would like to reach out to the library, then please do so.” It’s a place that can help you with not only the issues I’m tackling, but with all kinds of issues to help you get through school.  

ANDREW: You heard it here first, folks. Thanks! 

JENNIFER: Thank you. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of PostNormal Times. Thanks to our guests, and thanks to our support from Claremont Graduate University. If you enjoyed boundary crossing with us and want to hear more, make sure you follow us, spread the word, and tune in to our next episode. 

This podcast transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.