Open with Purpose: Open Access Week 2020

International Open Access Week 2020 is upon us, and the need for equitable access to research has taken on a new sense of urgency. Every year, libraries celebrate Open Access week to bring attention to issues related to scholarly communications. The theme, “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion” is intended to get us thinking about the ways our current systems marginalize and exclude.

Banner for Open Access week. Blue background with white text that says "open with purpose: taking action to build structural equity and inclusion"

This year, we celebrate amidst a pandemic that has completely changed how we do things. Usually, immediate access to scholarly research isn’t on many people’s minds. But, research about COVID-19 has made clear the importance of open access to research. This urgency has caused several publishers to open up their content related to COVID-19 and may be accelerating the shift towards open access as the default for scholarly publishing.

Making research about COVID-19 openly available speeds up the research process by allowing more people to access the data they need to find a solution to this crisis. The CDC, UNESCO, and National Institute for Health have all compiled open access information about COVID-19 for research and educational use to assist in this effort.

However, making research available for free is not enough. In her blog post “Opening up the Margins”, April Hathcock writes, “there are so many ways in which open access still reflects the biased systems of the scholarship in which it’s found, even as it can be used to open up scholarship at the margins” (Hathcock, 2016). Open access is still exclusionary if it maintains practices that privilege the publication of white, western, academic voices and centers those perspectives.

open access logo. orange open padlock

It is no secret that COVID-19 disproportionately affects African-Americans. A quick search of “COVID-19 and African-Americans” in Google Scholar reveals tons of studies demonstrating that fact. While the pandemic has made visible the need to address social inequalities that lead to higher vulnerability in black populations, these problems are not new and the solutions cannot be found under a microscope. The people living in these areas are not the ones conducting research, and yet their perspective is invaluable to knowing how the lived experiences of oppression contribute to this tragedy.

Researchers should not treat people as objects of study but as full people whose susceptibility to the disease cannot simply be linked to genetics. To address the pandemic, we must center the experiences of those most vulnerable. With open access advocacy, we must make sure to include voices that aren’t traditionally acknowledged as scholarly and recognize how those experiences inform the research process.

“Open with Purpose” means mindfully and intentionally creating systems that invite people in. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of this movement, but the social, economic, and political viruses of racism, sexism, classism, etc. had already made this urgency visible to those who are the most marginalized. Open systems need to not only unlock research, but also to question the very structures that keep it closed to certain people in the first place and rebuild them into something better that can more fully address the world’s problems.

U of I System Weighs in on Sovereign Immunity

In June 2020, the United States Copyright Office put out a request for public input on issues related to states’ liability in cases of copyright infringement. This topic was brought to public attention in March during Alan v. Cooper, where the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to repeal state’s sovereign immunity in cases of copyright infringement since there was not enough evidence to justify this action. This means that creators whose copyright is violated by the state do not have clear next steps for how to proceed with litigation.

To determine how to move forward, the U.S. Copyright Office was asked to study the extent to which states violate copyright, whether there is a remedy for the creator, and whether the violation is a result of intentional or reckless behavior. The study will inform the decision to repeal this immunity enjoyed by states, which would certainly have consequences for institutions like universities and libraries.

Reading room of the Main Library at the University of Illinois. Large room with tall white ceiling, large windows, light fixtures, and wooden tables and chairs.

“Main Library”. wabisabi2015. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. https://flic.kr/p/238q6et

As a state-funded, land-grant institution, the University of Illinois system is a major stakeholder in this conversation. The University system both consumes and creates a huge amount of copyrighted material and has a responsibility for making sure our community is following copyright law. We also need to make sure we have the freedom to use and share copyrighted materials to help foster the scholarly and educational mission of the institution.

So, Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian and interim head of the Scholarly Commons, and Scott Rice, Deputy University Counsel, submitted their own response to the United States Copyright Office on behalf of the University of Illinois system. They are currently awaiting a response, which is due by October 22, 2020. In this document, Sara describes some of the ways she educates our community on issues of copyright in her role at the library to help us all contribute to a culture of copyright awareness. This is because the responsibility for following copyright law primarily falls to individual people to make the right choices.

And, for the most part, we do! Sara and Scott say that the University system only experiences 3-6 copyright infringements a year, and that these infringements are not the result of intentional or reckless behavior. The University of Illinois community makes a good-faith effort not to infringe copyright, and will continue to be diligent in face of potential legislation that might increase our liability for copyright violations.

Maintaining our ability to use copyrighted materials in our teaching and research is a group effort. So what can you do to be a good copyright actor? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Cite your sources! Including attribution shows a good-faith effort to credit the original creator. While this doesn’t necessarily protect you from claims of infringement, it is helpful for showing that the work wasn’t used maliciously.
  • Learn about Fair Use! Fair Use is a great way to think through whether your use of copyrighted materials is permissible. But, keep in mind that only a lawyer can give you advice on whether your use is a fair use.
  • Ask for help! When in doubt, asking for a second opinion is a good way to avoid copyright infringement. Email Sara Benson at srbenson@illinois.edu with your copyright questions (please note that Sara cannot provide legal counsel).

Check out the library’s Copyright Reference Guide for even more tips on how to be a good copyright-actor!

Creating Accessible Slides for Presentations and Online Posting

Making presentations accessible is important, whether in a classroom, in a meeting, or any situation you find yourself delivering information to an audience. Now, more learning than ever is taking place online where inaccessible content can create unequal learning opportunities.

Do you want to learn what it takes to make an accessible presentation? Read on for information about creating accessible slides for both live and recorded presentations!

Thinking about Universal Design

Universal Design is the idea that things should be created so that the most people possible can make use of them. What might be considered an accommodation for one person may benefit many others. The following tips can be considered ways to improve the learning experience for all participants.

Live and Recorded Presentations

Whether your presentation is happening in-person, live virtually, or asynchronously, there are several steps you can take to make your slides accessible.

1. Use a large font size.

During in-person presentations, participants may have trouble seeing if they are sitting far away or have impaired sight. In the virtual environment, participants may be tuning in on a phone or tablet and a larger font will help them see better on a small screen.

Image reads "this text is way too small" in 12 point font.

Example of text that is too small to read from a distance, phone, or tablet in 12 point font.

Image reads "This text is big enough to read" in size 28 font

Example of text that is big enough to read from a distance in 28 point font.

2. Use sans serif fonts.

Fonts like Calibri, Franklin Gothic Book, Lucida Sans, and Segoe are the most accessible to people with reading comprehension disabilities. Leaving plenty of white space makes your slides both more readable and more visually appealing.

3. Minimize text on slides.

People who can’t see the slides may be missing out on important content, and too much text can distract from what you’re saying. When you do include text, read everything out loud.

Image of a slide with too much text. Slide is completely filled with text.

Example of a slide with too much text.

Image of a slide with the right amout of text, including three main bullet points and a few sub bullets not in complete sentences.

Example of a slide with the right amount of text.

4. Use high contrast colors.

High contrast colors can more easily be seen by someone with a visual impairment (black and white is a reliable option). Always explain your color-codes for people who can’t see them and so all participants are on the same page.

Top half contains dark blue background with white text reading "this is high contrast". Bottom half contains light blue background with white text reading "this is low contrast"

Examples of slide font and background using high and low contrast colors.

5. Summarize all charts and images.

Images and charts should also be explained fully so that all participants understand what you are communicating.

6. Use closed captions.

For recorded presentations, both PowerPoint and Google slides allow you to add closed captions to your video or audio file. For live sessions, consider using subtitles or creating a live transcription. Technology Services offers instructions on how activate subtitles for Zoom meetings.

Posting Slides Online

Virtual presentations should be recorded when possible as our usual participants may be in other time zones, experiencing technology issues, or dealing with a countless list of challenges brought on by the pandemic or life.

Posting your slides online in an accessible format is another way to make that information available.

1. Use built in slide designs.

Slide designs built into PowerPoint and Google Slides are formatted to be read in the correct order by a screen reader. If you need to make adjustments, PowerPoint allows you to check over and adjust the reading order of your slides.

Screenshot of office theme slide designs in MS PowerPoint.

Built-in slide designs in MS PowerPoint.

2. Give all slides a title.

Titles assist people who are reading the document with a screen reader or are taking notes and allow all readers to navigate the document more easily.

3. Add alt-text to all images.

Alternative text allows screen readers to describe images. Use concise, descriptive language that captures the motivation for including the image on the slide.

4. Use meaningful hyperlinks.

Both screen readers and the human eye struggle to read long hyperlinks. Instead, use descriptive hyperlinks that make clear where the link is going to take the reader.

Examples of inaccessible hyperlinks

Examples of inaccessible or non-descriptive hyperlinks.

Example of a descriptive hyperlink

Example of an accessible and descriptive hyperlink.

5. Create a handout and save it as a PDF.

Finally, always include your speaker’s notes when posting slides online as the slides themselves only contain a fraction of what you will be communicating in your presentation.

Example of a slide with speaker's notes saved as a handout

Example of a slide with speaker’s notes saved as a handout.

It is always easier to make your presentation accessible from the start. By keeping these tips in mind, you can make sure your content can be used by the widest audience possible and help create a more inclusive learning environment!

For more information about how to use and apply these features, check out the following resources: