When I think about Open Access, I think about it in terms of my teaching. As a librarian, teaching Information Literacy (the habits of mind to find, evaluate, and use information effectively and ethically) is a large part of what I, and my colleagues, do during a semester.
One aspect of the Association of College & Research Libraries’ “Framework for Information Literacy” (http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework), is Scholarship is a Conversation. And one of the Learning Outcomes University Library librarians have identified for this frame is that, upon graduation, students will be able to describe the ways that communication systems privilege some perspectives and present barriers to others.
Which brings me to the title of this post, information privilege. Because we are affiliated with an academic institution, we inherently have access to information, hidden behind a paywall, that others do not. I regularly teach this to seniors and graduate students who haven’t had to think about what they are losing access to until they have graduated and suddenly realize it is no longer available.
But in a larger sense, OA as pedagogy helps students understand that they have a voice in the Scholarly Conversation. That, if their work is Open Access, it can be viewed and critiqued by a wider audience. Their thesis or dissertation doesn’t just sit in a filing cabinet. It can inform thinking on a topic. That is a powerful message for students to learn.
I saw first-hand this power at a previous institution where I worked with a Political Science faculty member and a fellow librarian to develop a Wikipedia assignment. (My librarian colleague, Char Booth, wrote about the project in her blog, “Project Curve, Part Seven: Open Access Publishing for Learning Engagement (aka oa ftw),” April 26, 2012, https://infomational.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/oaftw/.) Groups of students wrote actual Wikipedia articles on topics related to the course. It was an amazing class which pushed students to new levels of research and pushed us as teachers. Because their work would be seen by the world, students stringently evaluated sources, and provided a staggering level of evidence to back up their claims. It was research in the real world, made possible by arguably the biggest Open Access project, Wikipedia. (See, Larry Gordan, “Wikipedia pops up in bibliographies, and even college curricula,” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-wikipedia-20140615-story.html.)
Open Access can be a powerful pedagogical tool that also breaks down information silos and privilege. That is impressive and what teaching librarians at an educational institution are proud to do.
A shout out to the awesome Char Booth, who, years ago, was instrumental in opening my eyes to this issue. She has written and spoken about information privilege in multiple venues (See, for example, “On Information Privilege,” Info-mational, Dec 1, 2014, https://infomational.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/on-information-privilege/; “Information privilege and Wikipedia: a conversation with Char Booth (Part I), Wiki Edu, Feb, 2, 2015, https://wikiedu.org/blog/2015/02/02/char-booth-wikipedia-1/).