Interview – Joy Kirchner

Joy Kirchner, Dean of Libraries, York University

August 2019

Please describe your institution [i.e. medium large, number of students, defining programs]:
York was incorporated in 1959 and has grown to be the third largest research institution in Canada with 56,000 full time students We have 25 interdisciplinary and collaborative research centres, with strengths in space sciences, history, refugee studies, health, the environment, climate change, sustainability and digital media. We have ten faculties offering more than 5,000 courses, and more than three-million people visit our libraries annually. 

What defining institutional values or characteristics did you have to consider before launching an open access discussion on your campus? How did it influence your approach?
After my arrival at York in 2015, I noted there was very good scholarly communications activities and open access engagement on campus but that it occurred in pockets. I assessed that a coordinated approach was needed to advance campus-wide discussion on critical issues in scholarly communications and publishing including open scholarship supports and new modes of research dissemination infrastructure needs, the dysfunction of current scholarly publishing economical models, data management supports and so on. I was also aware that we did not have a mechanism to help our faculty with new Tri-agency open access grant funding mandates and emerging requirements for data management. I noted that while our library had extraordinary strengths in scholarly communications as demonstrated by our management of 46 open access journals, two robust open access repositories, a previously approved York University Libraries open access policy, and important individual scholarship and activity from those involved in this space, we were not organizationally structured to fully support campus needs and activity. I was also informed that there was an earlier attempt with librarians and a faculty member to engage the campus in launching an open access policy that was not successful.

Given this context, my approach was multipronged. The timing of my arrival coincided with a revision to the University’s Academic Plan. As a member of the University Executive and Deans group, I had the opportunity to provide input into the plan that included a strongly worded statement on open access and the need for it. The statement was approved and was included in the plan through Senate processes. This meant that every faculty and unit on campus would need to align with that priority. Because the Research Plan also mapped to the Academic Plan, I was able to provide the necessary language to be included in the Research Plan that mapped to the open access statement in the Academic plan. This resulted in two key University documents with stated objectives on open access and data. In tandem, I discussed with the Provost a need for a campus wide steering committee to coalesce coordination of important campus discussion to advance: 

  • Campus-wide education on open access and data management particularly in light of Tri-Agency Open Access Policy requirements and the Tri-agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management.
  • In order to articulate a framework and coordinated service models that support faculty with these requirements.
  • In order to create a wider forum for discussion and consideration on changes to the system of scholarship, sustainability of current economic models of scholarship, access to publicly funded research, issues surrounding authors rights in the digital age, and new scholarly distribution systems and other connected open movements.

I was able to draw on my past activity in other institutions where I initiated similar groups to great effect. While she felt I should chair the committee, I suggested that I co-chair the steering committee with a leader in the VP of Research & Innovation (VPRI) office and further suggested that the committee report to both the Provost and the VP of Research & Innovation. I felt the VPRI was a critical stakeholder in this work and was best coordinated with this office. This was eventually approved and resulted in a presentation to the Deans group about this important initiative and with the Provost’s blessing and endorsement enabled me to request a representative from each of their faculties to serve on the committee. 

It is important to state that this committee was not established as an open access policy committee. Given my past experience advancing open access policy discussions (one succeeded, one was foiled due to unexpected circumstances), I knew too well how such activity could easily be thwarted from sometimes very unexpected situations that have no bearing on the issue at hand but have more to do with timing and other environmental situations that are occurring at the time. At the end of the day, I felt the true value of launching open access policy discussions was the campus engagement and the momentum that was fostered through the process. It was my suggestion and aim to establish a needed committee to engage in the issues in the first instance with an eye to advancing an open access policy as part of that work. In this way, the momentum would not be lost and the success or failure of an OA policy would not determine future campus engagement on other areas of importance.  

Finally, the Libraries also began to engage in the development of our own libraries strategic planning work that mapped to the University Academic Plan and Research Plan. The strategic plan was framed as a way forward to inform our organizational restructuring work to support university priorities such as aligning with the open access and data management priority. This eventually led to the Libraries coalescing our expertise within a new division in order to support the institution on this priority. 

What was the impetus for initiating a policy? What steps were taken to initiate an open access policy on your campus? What was the first thing that needed to happen?
With the establishment of a campus wide Open Access Open Data Steering Committee, co- chaired by the Dean of Libraries and AVP of Research & Innovation, we decided that since a data management policy was needed we would embark on a joint open access/open data policy since the issues were intertwined. It became clear with some early campus discussions that before we could discuss open data and data management, the community needed to be better informed about open access first. To that end it was decided that we would create an open access policy subcommittee and a data management subcommittee. The Open Access Policy and Implementation subcommittee was formed with the purpose of developing a campus education plan and engagement strategy to inform the York community about open access/open scholarship and the principle of openness in the context of academic plan and research plans and in the pursuit of a larger open access institutional policy implementation plan in consultation with the Steering Committee. The Research Data Infrastructure Working Group was formed to conceptualize a coordinated campus data governance structure for data management and campus education plan to inform the York community about research data management in consultation with the Steering Committee.

The Open Access policy was developed and created within the subcommittee and brought to the Steering Committee for approval. With the Steering Committee, a campus education plan was rolled out and all supporting documentation that included an FAQ, presentation materials and plans to speak at all faculty council meetings and Associate Deans of Research meetings. We also organized several town halls. The goal was to work through a process of bringing the policy for Senate discussion and approval by the end of that year. Unfortunately, there was a labour disruption that interfered with our plans and delayed our process until the following year. It was worrisome that the delay might hamper our efforts but in retrospect it actually gave us more time to better prepare our education plan and lay the groundwork for implementation of a policy should that come to pass. It also gave the Libraries more time to work through our organizational structure where we had coalesced our expertise and services within a new department and divisional structure (Research & Open Scholarship).

What did you consider the best reason the university should invest in devoting time and energy for this discussion?
It gave us the momentum and opportunity to have fulsome discussion about open access and related topics on author rights, publications, and institutional repositories. The discussion also allowed the library to work through our support models within our organizational restructuring work as we learned more about what our community needed help with.  It was also beneficial in giving the Libraries heightened visibility about our knowledge and expertise in this space. 

What communication structures did you put in place to compel the University to consider a campus open access policy?
As part of our communication plan we developed educational materials and presentation materials largely produced by the Library. It was important to us that the policy was articulated from the faculty perspective and that is was faculty driven. For this reason, faculty representatives on our Steering Committee were the presenters with librarian members in attendance to help answer any questions that might emerge. It was the best thing we did. It was wonderful watching the faculty adapt and present the materials to best serve the community they came from. We also used the FAQ as a means to capture questions asked and as a means for our presenters to have ready access to consistent responses. We also framed our work and presentations from the perspective that we wanted to learn from the community and receive their input while explaining why we think a policy is helpful to our researchers. Part of our advocacy work was to promote needed infrastructure to support our faculty with their authors rights needs, open access needs, and open access deposit requirements if needed.

What was the biggest lesson learned? What were the most significant challenges, sticking points, or perceptions you needed to tackle and how did you get past this?
Initially I was very worried about the loss of momentum due to the labour disruption.  However, I convinced the committee that this is a journey and we should continue. It helped that the Steering Committee members enjoyed the committee work and the engaged global discussion the work generated. They also enjoyed hearing the various disciplinary perspectives of each case scenario. (It is very interesting discussion!) They were keen to carry on. I also learned that every institution has its own context, culture and perspective. While some elements worked well in some other places I worked, they did not work at York. For instance, showing the Harvard open access model or examples from other non-Canadian institutions did not go over well at York. They wanted Canadian examples. At one point, we came very close to having a weaker more aspirational policy due to the fact that most Canadian examples fell in that category. However, I was able to talk about the journey we all have and terribly thankful to Gwen Bird at SFU, who shared her story of also needing to rely on Canadian examples. I was able to challenge that perspective by sharing I talked to SFU – an institution similar to York in age, character and spirit – and their journey. I was able to convince Senators that we would be letting down Canadian institutions if we did not have a stronger policy that others could build upon and that we were the ones to do it with our strong social justice and community engaged priorities. It was also very important to consult with the Faculty Association to be sure we were in alignment with collective agreements and understandings that we were not impinging on academic freedom in any way. They were supportive of moving forward with our policy. Other elements that were important to address included: restating repeatedly that this policy does not impinge on academic freedom in any way and stating that in the policy; clarity between grant funding requirements (mandated) and the difference for non-grant funded scholarship (opt out policy); debunking mythologies that open access is equated to poor scholarship. 

What elements would you have preferred were included in the policy that were discussed and not included?
Obviously, we would have liked to have a policy that was required as opposed to opt out but this would not have been possible at this time. It would have also been preferable to consider all scholarly outputs.

What was the biggest surprise?
We learned quite late in the process that there was a specific Senate policy template we needed to apply. This changed the construction of what was included in the original policy and some other specific elements needed to be included to adhere to official policy requirements. For instance, a specific person needed to be named who has oversight over the policy. In earlier versions, we simply stated it as the Provost’s designate. Due to this policy requirement, it was decided the Dean of Libraries would have the oversight role in consultation with the Provost and VP Research as needed.