The Library of the 21st century, through its online repository, is transforming the role of academic publishing. Enabling access is what librarians do.

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Lecturer Ernesto Priego, part of the team at City University London’s Library and Information Science Course, was thankfully able to chat with us after a summer criss-crossing the globe to speak at conferences. This interview was very special, as Ernesto is constantly tweeting and blogging about the disparity in access to information between the global north and south. His work in his birthplace, Mexico, and more recently with Scholar Africa, are an inspiration to everyone here at Open Access Button, and we hope in sharing his experiences-we can motivate many of you to get more involved in the Open Access movement.

We were able to catch up with him in-between trips to Colombia and Mexico to ask him how he became involved in Open Access and why librarianship matters in this movement. We began by asking how it all began, how Ernesto first became involved with the Open Access movement.

“I suppose I became aware that Open Access was a “thing” around 2004, when I went back to teach in Mexico after having studied for a master’s degree in the UK and realised, I no longer had access to all the online resources I had gotten used to accessing. In retrospect is kind of sad that until then I had not really thought about the particular set of circumstances that made it possible for those in some universities to have access to journals and other materials online. I became aware of Creative Commons before I knew of Open Access. I was a keen blogger before Facebook and Twitter changed the online landscape and Creative Commons was widely adopted amongst my blog roll. I read Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture in 2004 and everything changed for me. As someone who had done an undergraduate degree in literature with mostly photocopied material (the accepted, standard way of studying/researching/teaching in Mexico, in my experience), and as a blogger, everything fell into place when I learned of the Budapest Open Access Initiative from 2002. As a student and as an academic in Mexico I had faced obstacles to access research that my colleagues in the US and the UK (and other countries) took for granted.”

Ernesto’s interests eventually brought him back to the UK, where he worked on his PhD thesis regarding comics developing as a type of media. His love of comics and Open Access are evident in the blended pursuit that is the Comics Grid journal.

“One of my main interests is scholarly communications and how the Web is re-shaping the way academics produce and share information, online and offline. Therefore digital publishing, with a particular emphasis on open access publishing, is one of my major concerns.

I am the editor-in-chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, an open access journal I founded in 2010 initially as a collective, peer-edited blog-It is now published by Ubiquity Press. It is my way of connecting the dots between my theoretical research interests and practice; a way of attempting to practice what I preach, and see what it’s like, what the actual challenges and opportunities of researcher-led publishing are.

Comics taught me that form is content and that form is meaning. In the same sense, in my view research dissemination cannot be disconnected from research itself. This is a 21st century way of updating that now-old-fashioned Marxian dictum: “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” In other words, academics have for a long time only interpreted the world; the point for many and many others, however, is to make those interpretations openly available and accessible and reusable by as many people as possible in as many possible means, not just a relatively-small bunch of academics in rich institutions.”

From comics to libraries, as stated earlier- Ernesto is now a lecturer for the school of Library and Information Science (referred to on twitter as #citylis). In the past year he taught courses on Digital Architecture and Libraries & Publishing, making sure to use each class as a platform to teach the future librarians the importance of Open Access and the role they play in the movement.

“Libraries are at the forefront of both access to information and, online, to academic publishing. The role of institutional repositories to enable access to what an institution produces is essential, and these repositories are increasingly open access. The Library of the 21st century, through its online repository/repositories, is transforming the role of academic publishing. Librarianship deals with the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources. Enabling access is what librarians do.”

Ernesto not only teaches his students about the impact that paywalls have on research, but tries to spread that message through his own research and his presence online. Ernesto runs into paywalls many times a day, and tries his hardest to illustrate this frustration on twitter, recently he and others worked together to show just how little access there is to research concerning the Ebola virus-and what an amazing impact researchers could have if scholarly publications on the topic were made free for the public domain. Ernesto also shared with us his frustration and sadness at the lack of access he had to information regarding Parkinson’s disease and dementia, which his father was diagnosed with several years ago-showing that having to pay for research doesn’t just affect large institutes, but also individuals simply trying to help their loved ones. It is for these and many other reasons that Ernesto Priego is a user of the Open Access Button:

“I think it is an imaginative, interesting, useful tool that can help people engage with the obstacles placed between readers and academic information. It is helping create awareness of the pervasiveness of paywalls and about the need for less restrictive licenses for academic publications.”

Due to his many achievements and online presence, Ernesto has been invited to conferences all across the world- he became the talk of the town during the UKSG 2014 Conference in Harrogate when his talk on Open Access featured a power point slide stating “Publishing is where content goes to die”. He has also traveled throughout the global south and has seen many differences in the Open Access movement from location to location:

“One of the main differences I see in the way Open Access is discussed here in the UK in comparison to developing nations where I’ve discussed it is that the debate here is mainly focused on concerns around a) intellectual property and b) funding and government mandates. The conversation tends to see “Open Access” as a business model (it is not) and as an imposition, some kind of ‘disruptive innovation’ that is suddenly being imposed on researchers.

Something in common I’ve seen, for example, between Kenya and other African countries and Mexico, is that the conversation is not mainly centered not on copyright and funding, but on the importance of increasing the online visibility and citation impact of the research being produced outside the US, Canada, Western Europe and the UK. Most debates around Open Access in the UK have been disappointingly focused on its impact on researchers, instead of focusing on its impact on society (wider readership). Whereas in countries like Mexico the role of academic research is perceived as beneficial to society at large, it seems to me that in the UK it is assumed that there is a disconnect between ‘the public’ and ‘academia’, where the general public (who often fund research through taxes) is perceived not to be interested in accessing the results of academic research. (Detractors will say there is no evidence of the general public being interested in accessing “incomprehensible” academic research of excellence, even when they have funded it through taxes, but how can the public have an interest in something they don’t know because they have no access to it?)

Mexico recently approved a law recommending Open Access to all publicly-funded research. The ‘mandate’ is not perfect, as it appears to be optional rather than enforceable, but I believe it is definitely a reflection of the national interest in increasing open access to research because it is perceived that an informed society is better than one where only an elite has access to information. For a full analysis of the Mexican Open Access, read this article by my colleague Luis Reyes.”

Ernesto is full of surprises and good advice, he begins a new year at City University- teaching more library students about the impact they can make on the future of scholarly publishing and research- at the end of September, and can be followed on twitter at @ernestopriego.