January 30, 2024

Four Questions with Camille Thomas

One of the goals of Open Access (one of your favorites and ours!) is to make the scholarly communication landscape more equitable on all fronts. Do you think we’ve made any progress, and what do you think we still need to do?

In short, I would say no, not yet. We’ve made progress in the sense that there is much more awareness, discourse, and research on this topic.  However, there is not much action, behavioral change, or impact yet. Inequalities concerning race, ethnicity, region, language, sexual orientation, and gender, etc. are systemic, intersectional, and touch several if not all areas of one’s lived experience. Likewise, scholarly publishing and promotion and tenure are systems. It will likely take years to change the traditional system which is hundreds of years old. Open Access itself is approximately twenty years old and still growing. It is not the default and there are still obstacles to getting there, at least, in the U.S.

We are still working to stop replicating the inequalities and limitations that carried over from traditional publishing. Open is different and I think we should fully lean into the strengths of its ethics and tools rather than continually trying to prove it is just as prestigious as traditional publishing.

I believe there is a lot of potential to harness the power, flexibility, and principles of open access to create a more equitable scholarly communications system that better reflects how scholarship works in the present moving into the future–a system that is truly for and by for all scholars, including those from outside of academia.

Further reading:

You’ve started studying why more BIPOC people don’t go into the scholarly communications and copyright areas of librarianship. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned so far? What assumptions were confirmed and what surprised you?

We know that librarianship still lacks diversity and inclusive practices in general, which creates a multitude of barriers for BIPOC people to go into the field, feel supported, and succeed in the field. I can tell you, anecdotally, BIPOC people outside of libraries continuously ask me WHY I’m a librarian or say it is the first time they really met a BIPOC librarian. So, I hypothesize it is more about us answering the question of why someone WOULD go into librarianship-- and copyright librarianship at that.

The image of librarianship is still stuck in an outdated, romanticized version of traditional services people grew up with. Traditional services are fundamental to communities, but don’t really demonstrate libraries’ full role in other areas like digital access or copyright. 

In my experience, copyright is a misunderstood and/or intimidating topic for most people. A lot of people only see these big court cases or see copyright considerations as only restrictive or risky, when in actuality, they are utilizing public domain, creative commons licenses, and fair use on a daily basis. When I do copyright education, I like to focus on real world examples like we see on social media or publishing a thesis rather than just cases or general concepts.

Further reading:

What experiences shaped your belief in digital rights and equitable access?

My first experience with digital rights was learning about Creative Commons licenses in college. I majored in Creative Writing and minored in Journalism before becoming a librarian. I was interested in independent publishing and discovered zines. It felt accessible to me as a broke college student and has a spirit of democratizing how people get their voice to their community. I made friends with some local zine creators, read lots of zines, and fell in love with the personal, tangible experience of zines in contrast to the rise of blogs at the time—so not digital at all. I liked blogs too, though. A lot of blogs were labeled e-zines, and several zines became full-fledged independent magazines by that time. So, I decided to make a zine with some friends, including an artist friend who said we should put a Creative Commons license on it.

When it comes to equitable access, I also did a certificate in Women’s Studies. Actually, the zines I read by women creators and some friends in the program got me interested in it.  I joined related student groups and a mentoring program with middle school girls. I took a course on digital identity and girlhood. I created a lesson plan for the girls as part of my experiential learning project for the class. It was circa 2010 and I thought we ought to talk to them about their digital lives because social media was becoming so prominent. This opened a can of worms and became a grant project for the organization. I go into more depth about these experiences a bit in the autoethnography of personal digital archiving book chapter I wrote a few years ago.

What fills your time when you’re not at work?

When I’m not at work, I advise, consult, or manage funded research projects like the copyright study with Library Futures. These are usually more passion projects that I feel can have a larger impact outside just my institution.  For fun and balance, I take guitar lessons and sometimes work on creative writing projects. I love traveling and attempting to learn other languages. I also spend time with friends, family, and my cat. I’m into health and wellness too, so those are incorporated into my routines before and after work usually.

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