About Molly

Librarian. Copyright specialist. Serial snacker. Unofficial Creative Commons evangelist.

What college students learn about IP

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a comment yesterday called Intellectual Property: Valuable to Every Discipline, arguing that colleges and universities should provide more curricular offerings to teach students in a range of fields about copyright, patent, and trademark. I expected it to annoy me and it didn’t disappoint. The author, John Villasenor, describes IP as a set of potential costs and benefits to employers, emphasizing the importance of understanding (and not violating) the ownership rights of companies, as well as developing the ability to file patents successfully.

Villasenor focuses on the lack of formal instruction about IP available to students outside of law schools, but in doing so, he overlooks the very real lessons that college kids are learning about copyright, patent, and trademark every day. They learn all about the illogic and greed inherent in the copyright system from the content industry; while the RIAA may have stopped its mass filesharing lawsuits in the late 2000’s, the MPAA and others in the film industry continue to sue students for using bit torrent. They learn about how the patent system stifles creativity and thwarts innovative new companies when Elon Musk’s decision to open up all of Tesla’s patents makes it to the front page of Reddit. And their very own universities teach them plenty about trademark when those universities deny student groups permission to use the school mascot on t-shirts the administration disapproves of.

College students know more about IP than Villasenor gives them credit for, but that knowledge reflects the problematic reality of our broken copyright, patent, and trademark systems, rather than the shiny, corporate version he wants to teach them. I’m all for offering courses in which students study and learn about IP. The difference is that I want students to learn not just how to operate successfully within the system we have, but to question that system, identify its flaws, and think about how we might move towards something better.


The need for high speed

A few weeks ago, my colleague Jillian Gross and I presented a paper on the online course taking behavior of community college students at the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference. It’s part of a new special extended paper session on the changing missions of community colleges, and as an experiment ASHE shared drafts of all the papers in advance so attendees have a chance to read them before the presentations. I think most ASHE papers are not available publicly, so this is a nice little back door to open access.

Here it is: The Need for High Speed: Online Course Taking Behavior Among Community College Students.

Practicing what I preach: Here’s a paper I wrote for school about self-archiving

Given how much time I spent as a librarian advocating for open access to all kinds of scholarly content, including teaching and learning materials, it seems only fair that I should practice what I preach and share my own work. Last fall, as a part of the gateway seminar required of all first-year doctoral students in my program, I wrote a literature review about faculty self-archiving attitudes and behaviors. And now, with only some very minor edits for clarity and typos, I’m sharing that paper with you. I will note only that doing this is kind of scary, and resist smothering you in caveats.

Faculty self-archiving attitudes and behavior at research universities: A Literature Review

I learned a few valuable things from writing this review, and assuming that most people have no interest in reading a 25 page paper a new grad student wrote for a class, I’ve summarized them here.

Not much on this topic is peer reviewed

There is very little peer reviewed scholarship on faculty self-archiving attitudes and behavior. The assignment required us to use only peer reviewed articles, and that requirement proved to be a major constraint for me. Many of the larger studies on this question have been released as reports in the gray literature, and so I reluctantly left them out of this review. I’m not convinced this is a problem for anyone other than grad students with assignments limiting them to peer reviewed work, but I would posit that it says something about who is doing a lot of this research (not faculty) and for whom they are doing it (not faculty).

We know why people don’t self-archive, but not why they do

I found a solid consensus around the barriers to self-archiving, including copyright concerns, confusion about publisher policies, time constraints, fear of plagiarism, ignorance, and the belief that the work is already freely available in some form. However, there was little agreement around the reasons faculty do self archive. One researcher says disciplinary culture has a big impact, another says discipline has no effect. One researcher says altruism plays a role, another says faculty are purely self-interested. This is an area that is begging for more investigation.

Most self-archiving might really be mediated archiving

Multiple studies had results suggesting that much of the behavior we term “self-archiving” is actually mediated by librarians, administrative assistants, and automated processes. Faculty may be consenting to have their work deposited in institutional or disciplinary repositories, but the work of the deposit is handled by someone else. If this is the case, many purported barriers to self-archiving might not matter, while efforts to increase deposit rates may fruitlessly target faculty when they would be more successful if they focused on expanding mediated deposit services.

The impact of mandates is an open question

Mandates are the big new thing in open access advocacy, but they are almost completely unstudied. There are a tiny handful of scholarly articles that investigate the impact of mandates on improving deposit rates and expanding access. Given the rising number of open access mandates for both data and published research, it seems wasteful not to understand what is influencing compliance or non-compliance with the mandates already in place, in order to shape more effective policies in the future.

This question of mandates is where I plan to focus my research energy in the coming months. If anyone out there is already looking into it, I’d love to hear from you. I have some ideas for how to approach it, but they’re still nascent.

A change in direction

Two weeks ago, I quit my job at the University of Michigan Library after five great years. This week, I started a new life as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. This site was pretty dormant during my last two years working in library administration, so I’m not sure who reads it anymore besides the people who come for Creative Commons attribution guidance,¬†but I figured it was worth documenting this life change here anyway. Especially since I expect to have all kinds of new and exciting reasons to post in the future. In my last position in library administration there wasn’t nearly so much that I could write about publicly, or that I thought would be interesting to the wider world. I hope that won’t be the case now that I’m a shiny new student full of wonder and excitement and ideas I’ll one day be embarrassed to have published on the internet.

All week in classes and at orientations people have been asking us to explain why we are in this program, and what our research interests are. I expect lots of people who know me already may be wondering the same thing. The answer I keep giving is that I’m in this program because I saw something that was broken in higher education – the system of scholarly and educational publishing – and I felt like I couldn’t fix it from my position as a librarian, approaching the problem one interaction at a time. I wanted to be able to approach it from a place where I might be able to make a bigger impact, at the level of organizational, institutional, and governmental policy, and to do that I was going to need to learn a whole lot more about universities, systems, incentives, statistics, economics, research methods, sociology, psychology, and on and on. I needed to go back to school.

So here I am. At the moment, I feel like an insect between shells. I was in Washington D.C. during the great cicada bloom of 2004, and I remember hearing on NPR that the cicadas are very vulnerable and tender (and delicious) right after they have emerged from their nymph skins, before their new exoskeletons have a chance to develop. That’s how I feel right now (minus the delicious). I’ve shed the safety of a profession I still identify with quite strongly, but I haven’t formed the comforting exoskeleton of the new one yet. The shared culture and language and practice of this new field is foreign to me. I have a pat one-paragraph explanation for why I’m here, but I’m hyper conscious of the fact that my interests are likely to change several times throughout the course of the program, and also, I’m not always convinced that my reason is not terrible (I appear to have mastered imposter syndrome right out of the gate). Being a full-time student again feels a bit like being demoted, especially in a college town where I’m still sometimes mistaken for an undergrad.

But I’m really excited anyway. My professors are excellent, my cohort is excellent, and I’m getting paid to read and learn all day. Speaking of which, I have a couple more chapters to get through for tomorrow…

Open Attribute: Now in WordPress!

As you may recall, Open Attribute is a growing suite of tools that makes attributing openly licensed content as easy as cut and paste. We started with browser add-ons for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera that detect Creative Commons license information on a website, and pull that information into a properly formatted attribution that complies with the terms of the license. With our browser-based tools, any user who wanted help attributing open content from anywhere on the web could get it.

Today, we released a WordPress plugin into the wild (you can see the little button over in the sidebar), and our Drupal plugin will be out any day now. We’re shifting our focus to open content creators and publishers, people who want to make it easier for their users to attribute them correctly; after WP and Drupal, we have our sights set on learning management systems.

Laura Hilliger, our designer extraordinaire, gave shout-outs to the rest of the team this morning, and I’m inclined to do the same. This group remains a joy to work with, and I’m flabbergasted by how much we have accomplished in such a short time. A tip of the hat to Pat Lockley, our developer who never sleeps (would you say that you’ve become our developer lead, Pat? I think you have), Paul Booker, Hans Lemuet and Nathan Yergler, developers who do appear to sleep from time to time (but do excellent work nonetheless), and our Mozilla cheerleaders Ben Moskowitz and Matt Thompson.

Goooooo team!