As I begin writing this blog post about my attendance at the 2019 NASIG Conference, I can’t help but note that the conference was from June 5th through the 8th. The sharp-eyed and date-oriented among you may have quickly observed that this post is coming more than a month after said conference. For that, I sincerely apologize. On the last day of conference, I began showing symptoms of having caught the chest cold that my roommate Michael was just getting over (the guy has six kids, so he’s regularly infected with something from one of the little germ factories). The cold was brutal and lasted about 12 days, and I got over it just before heading to ALA. After getting back, I’ve been trying to dig out and get stuff sorted out, so I’m just now settling down to write about NASIG (ALA will come later). Although I attended a number of interesting sessions at the conference, I’m going to go in-depth on two of the sessions of more general interest, rather than give a glancing treatment to all of the sessions I went to.

The first program I’m going to discuss is the opening Vision Session given by DeEtta Jones of the consulting firm DeEtta Jones and Associates, whose presentation was called “Courageous Leadership: Walking Your Talk From Wherever You Are.” In her general description of courageous leadership, Jones argued that courageous leaders need to be emotionally intelligent and culturally competent. And they need to bring these qualities every day. She also emphasized that if you have to choose between intensity and consistency, always choose consistency. Consistency lets people know who you are and what to expect, which reduces fear.

Jones went on to enumerate six qualities of good leadership:

  1. Anchored to aspiration – In the absence of aspiration, we’re more likely to sink into fear, because we don’t know where we’re going. When we’re afraid, we’re irrational and bad at problem solving.
  2. Values driven – Everything comes down to values. Values are not about a statement, the point of values is to drive behavior. Values permeate every single thing we do, and consistency with values builds trust. We should operate in a values-rich manner.
  3. In the service of – We should always operate with a service-oriented mindset. There shouldn’t be any “my part” of the organization, we should always be in service of the whole. This also helps build trust.
  4. Emotionally intelligent and culturally competent – In 360 studies of senior leaders, the difference between the leader’s self-perception rating of their performance and the perception rating of their performance by others is 1 to 0.321. When you get higher up, you get less corrective feedback. You select data that reaffirms your self-serving bias. To defeat this gap, you need a feedback mechanism that comes from an external source, and you need to practice at closing the gap.
  5. Trustworthy – Competence doesn’t equal trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is about consistency, not just intensity. It’s about how we hold confidences, how we demonstrate our values, and how we accomplish things. Let people be heard. You don’t have to agree with their ideas, but explore the ideas and validate the approach of sharing ideas. If your idea is shot down immediately, it feels like retribution and creates fear.
  6. Equity-oriented – Equity lives in the process. The development of process requires a pause and takes time, but is necessary.

According to Jones, the courageous part of all this comes in being willing to step forward and lead. Things are such a mess in the U.S. right now that folks don’t want to take the chance and put themselves out there. But not doing so is privilege. We need to use our status and privilege where we can to lead and help improve things.

Jones concluded by offering the following suggestions for courageous action in leadership:

  • Model the way in
  • Reflect on why you want to be a leader
  • Seek feedback
  • Develop a reputation for helpfulness
  • Be trustworthy
  • Be committed to equity
  • Explicitly and intentionally practice inclusivity
  • Practice and seek mentors

The second program I want to discuss is a session by Allan Scherlen of Appalachian State University, called “Building Bridges for Social Justice in Global Publishing: Seeking the Mexican Perspective,” based on research that he conducted after receiving a research grant from NASIG. Scherlen argued that Open Access (OA) is often touted as a panacea to combat the high cost of access to published scholarly research. Many OA sources are based on researchers paying fees (called Article Processing Charges, or APCs) upfront to have their articles published. Many European countries are legally requiring researchers to publish in OA titles, and the model is becoming increasingly popular in the US and other countries of the so-called Global North (basically, what used to be called First World countries). However, how does this OA model based on APCs impact researchers in the Global South (what used to be called the Third World or developing countries) and what are the social justice implications of these practices?

Schelen pointed out that universities strive to get high rankings in the various University Global Ranking (UGR) systems, such as Scimago Institutions Rankings, QS World University Rankings, Academic Rankings of World Universities, etc. These ranking systems were developed in the Global North and are biased in favor of the academic practices of the Global North, which creates a cycle of dominance by Global North institutions. The journals that researchers publish in are ranked by their “prestige,” and most of the high prestige journals are published in the Global North and most of those are in English. This creates enormous pressure on researchers in the Global South to publish in prestigious English-language journals from the Global North. Since many of these journals are now OA and require paying APCs, that means that, rather than simply sending an article off to be published, researchers from the Global South are expected to pay a fee for the privilege of being published in a journal. Furthermore, they may be expected to publish in English, which is likely to mean that they will have to either find a native English-speaker to co-author their article or they will have to write an article in English that is good enough to compete with the writing of researchers who are native English-speakers and writers. And once their articles are published, there is a great likelihood that their students won’t be able to read them because they are in English. Scherlen likes to ask researchers in the US how they would feel if they had to publish in Chinese in Chinese journals and following Chinese cultural protocols. That’s basically the situation that researchers from the Global South face.

With all that, what can be done about the unfairness of the position of Global South researchers? Scherlen’s answer was: listen to them. He traveled to Puebla, Mexico and met with local librarians and publishers to get their perspective. The librarians he met with had concerns about the costs of journals, as well as concerns about providing needed journals to researchers. Despite the problems with Global North dominance of the OA scene, they were trying to educate researchers about OA. They were interested in cooperating and sharing information with US libraries (perhaps through shared institutional repositories). The publishers he met with were concerned that the Mexican government may have locked them into agreements that tie them to old publishing models for years to come, and concerned about matching international standards.

Scherlen concluded by arguing that we need to listen to the voices and concerns of librarians and researchers in the Global South. Also that we need to look at the publishing success of the Global South, while remembering that publishing success doesn’t equal commercial success. He argued that in order to achieve social justice in global academic publishing, we need to move away from a system of information privilege and toward an equitable system of global scholarly communication through the inclusion of voices from the Global South.