Talk about the Broad Value of Open Access

As a librarian, I talk with other faculty and students about their academic work and the life-cycle of the research process. I’ve always stressed that open access is important for many reasons, including toward making research outputs available to people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to get them. This post provides some background about the Concordia Library’s new interactive open access display, Seer. You can also learn about it in this video recorded for the Open for Climate Justice: An Across-Disciplines Fair at 4TH SPACE.

Over the last few years it’s worried me that open access conversations tend to happen just within the academic context. As important as I think open scholarship is, most students will graduate and live and work outside of academia. Key arguments promoting open access serve those people who no longer have easy Library access to research sources. I wanted to find a way to expand the discussion around open access, beyond academic interests.

Open Access Week 2022, which focuses on climate justice, provided an opportunity. Several of my colleagues and I began discussing this issue. I’d wanted to offer people something simple that would let them explore facts, building into a sort of story from OA research sources (inspired by the Harper’s Index model). My colleagues proposed the brilliant idea of designing it in the context of something like a tarot reading or divination game because that would provide a fun, interactive way to explore the information.

We set to work putting all of this together in a very short time-frame, fortunately getting help from more of our colleagues that were eager to volunteer, and the result is Seer. Seer presents users with questions floating across the screen as interactive portals into more information. A user can touch or click a question and then see a series of facts related to it. These facts don’t completely answer the question but suggest enough information that the user can imagine interesting connections, which lead to more thinking about the question. Here is an example:

Screenshot of the Seer interface showing some open access facts related to climate crisis adaptation.

Each of these facts includes its source (with bibliographic information) and licence information so that the user can get a better sense of why they’re able to access the research and what sources they’re able to access. Seer, aside from promoting information about our environment, is a learning tool both about open access and information literacy.

The content we created in Seer is available as open access (collected in a Zotero group) and the code will be available from the GitHub repository. This means that other people can help improve it in the future or use it for other topics of their own choosing. It also serves as an example of the ways that open access content supports experimental, open digital scholarship work.

We used Zotero as a back-end because it made it simple for a team of people to work together collecting bibliographic data and assigning it to specific questions (each Zotero collection becomes a question in Seer). It then becomes easy to export the content from the Zotero library as a JSON file. Here is an example:

How we collected and organized content for Seer in Zotero

And we wrote the facts for the questions, as Zotero notes like this:

How we incorporated the facts that we found in the research

Seer is hopefully a fun example of a variety of research that all people can find and access because it is licensed as open access. Anyone can inform themselves about the pressing things happening in our world by searching for this research.

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