Life as an Open Scholarship Librarian

This blog post was first published on 4 August 2021 at the Hardiblog of NUI Galway Library

In our Open Voices series, we are talking to Aisling Coyne about her journey of becoming the Open Scholarship Librarian at TU Dublin Library six months ago.

Hardy: Aisling, thanks for talking to me. I believe you and I are currently the only “Open Scholarship Librarians” in Ireland. Our conversation will focus on how you arrived in your role and your first experiences. This was six months ago, wasn’t it?

Aisling: Yes, six months ago pretty much to the day today!

Hardy: Congratulations! To start off our conversation just tell me a little bit about your current role at TU Dublin. What are your responsibilities as Open Scholarship Librarian?

Aisling: The Open Scholarship Librarian at TU Dublin is a brand new role, and so it is still being developed in parts. There are a lot of responsibilities, one of which is being the Arrow manager, that is the manager of the institutional repository for TU Dublin. Another priority is to give training and webinars on Open topics and to be a support for the Open Research unit, which thus far is myself and Yvonne Desmond, but we’re hoping to add a Research Data Manager as soon as possible. I also have the responsibility of supporting three pilot Open Research projects at TU Dublin, answering general queries, managing APCs, writing blog posts, and representing TU Dublin on different steering groups and committees.

Hardy: It is you and your colleague Yvonne supporting Open practices at TU Dublin. Is there anyone else in the Library in Open roles?

Aisling: We are going through an organisational design change. There will be more roles. It is just at the moment, right now, things are a bit all over the place, and Yvonne Desmond retired from her previous role at the end of March. She has come back as the Open Research Manager. She is now back supporting Open Scholarship at TU Dublin.

Hardy: Going back a step or two, how did you get into librarianship? What interested you in our profession?

Aisling: I have always had a really deep love of books! I was quite a lonely child at points and found books to be great solace and escapism, and everywhere I lived I joined the library as one of the first things I did. I find that the library has a very inviting and homely space that excited my mind.

I never really knew what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. I knew I liked learning and I knew I liked reading and that was the height of it. It wasn’t genuinely until I was 28 years old that a metaphorical gun was put my head and I had to figure out once and for all what is it you are going to do, and what are you going to be.

That is when librarianship popped into my mind again. I thought it was worth exploring, figuring it out how one becomes a librarian, and the rest is history. [laughs]

Hardy: How did you become a librarian? Did you do a degree?

Aisling: Yes, I had to do a Master’s degree. I already had a Bachelor’s and a previous Master’s. In Ireland it is required that you have a Master’s in information science or a Master’s of library information science. You can do that Master’s at UCD, Dublin Business School, or the University of Ulster. I went to the Dublin Business School and did a one-year full time Master’s degree at Level Nine. I really enjoyed it and it was quite possibly the most exciting course I have ever done, mainly because I was so interested in it. I really was passionate about the subject! I started the course in September 2019 and graduated in October 2020.

Hardy: Was Open Scholarship featured in your degree?

Aisling: Actually, we had an entire module called Open Librarianship and we were the first library class in Ireland to be instructed through a whole module on Open and it blew my mind! My first couple of days I couldn’t believe it, it seemed so obvious. How does everyone not know about this? That was my first impression. My instructor was Niamh Brennan from Trinity College Dublin who taught that module in Dublin Business School. I immensely look up to her and she is an amazing role model. She got me so excited about Open Librarianship!

Hardy: That is fantastic. There was nothing of that sort when I did my Library degree but that was more than a decade ago. Can you elaborate ob what you learned on that module?

Aisling: One of the first things we learned was how publishing works and where libraries sync into that. For example subscription models, how it works so that libraries have access to different types of information. Niamh has been working in Open Scholarship since the 90s, I think. She is a pioneer! She began telling us about some projects that she has worked on herself, people she knows from back in the day, who are now influential.

It seems like almost a no-brainer to me to open up the research process. The benefits of Open were so obvious and so huge to me, including more exposure for your work, the taxpayer benefit from value for money, an increase in collaboration, especially internationally. It just seemed like such an obvious next step that I got really, really excited about it! 

Aisling Coyne – Open Scholarship Librarian TU Dublin

Hardy: The next step in your journey was your current role. What made you apply for the role of Open Scholarship Librarian?

Aisling: To be quite honest, I wasn’t going to apply because I was genuinely disappointed and let down by how bleak employment prospects for my class were. We just finished our dissertations through a global pandemic being locked inside. We hadn’t seen anyone from our class since we had left on the 12th of March, and we still haven’t seen each other as a group! We were applying for everything that was available, but it was a strange time in 2020 and not many people were hiring. I had had a job as a library assistant, but it was a fixed contract and my contract ended during doing my dissertation in June 2020.

And from that point I have been applying to jobs. So, I have been applying to jobs for about four months at this point and I hadn’t even gotten an interview! When the job of Open Scholarship Librarian as an assistant librarian role came up at TU Dublin I obviously was very, very interested, but I was also quite disheartened because I thought that if I wasn’t able to get an interview for a library assistant job, I had no business applying for an assistant librarian job. Even though I met the criteria – there was no experience required – and it was brand new role, I struggled with the application. Luckily, my friends and my fiancé encouraged me to just do it, sit down and fill it all out and get it in, because if you are not in, you can’t win.

I got an interview, and I was placed on the panel. I was second reserve so third in line and lo and behold two people turned it down and I got the job!

Hardy: Congratulations and well done!

Aisling: Thank you. It was a whirlwind!

 Hardy: Now you’ve been in the job for half a year. What have been your most important experiences during these six months?

Aisling: I had interviewed Yvonne Desmond as part of my Master’s dissertation research, and so I knew who she was, and I knew that she was working in Open Scholarship at TU Dublin, and I was really excited to work with her. But on my second day she told me that she was going to be retiring at the end of March, and I have to say that that was a pretty important moment because it ramped everything up a gear! Because previously I thought I would probably have one year to 18 months under her wing with her guidance and mentorship. We had to, under time pressure, make sure that I got the training I needed, that I was getting very quickly on the horse.

Another key moment for me was speaking and for TU Dublin at a Library Association of Ireland Publishing Group event. That was the first event I did a talk in a professional capacity, and I really enjoyed it. I had a fantastic time! I went first so there were no nerves. After that it was nice all the way. I could just sit back and enjoy the rest of the event.

Hardy: You mentioned that you interviewed Yvonne for your Master’s. Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation?

Aisling: Niamh Brennan had been my lecturer for Open Librarianship and when it was time to pick a dissertation topic, I thought strategically doing an Open topic made the most sense because I knew I wanted to work in Open Scholarship, and I was very excited about it. I just needed the right Open topic. I approached Niamh and asked her if she knew of any project that someone in the Open space was looking for as a research topic that I could answer. Niamh got back to me and said that her friend Vanessa Proudman from SPARC Europe was quite interested in Open Educational Resources policies and Librarians’ roles. From that I crafted a dissertation topic and a research proposal.

My method was to interview six Irish and European experts, advocates and people who work in Open Scholarship. Some of them were librarians, some of them worked in universities and some in further education. I had a set of semi-structured interview questions so we could be a bit flexible. I really would have preferred if interviews were in person because I do think that when you are interviewing someone through a screen it can be quite difficult. Also, my Internet was really terrible during the summer. So, a lot of my transcripts include “Can you hear me? Hello?” and then the connection goes down and whatever conversation flow you had stopped.

My dissertation topic shook out to be “Open Educational Policies and the role of Librarians. Review and Recommendations”. As I was searching for interviewees, I was recommended Yvonne Desmond as an absolute player in the area. I was very enamoured with her character and how fearless she was.

Hardy: Would you say your dissertation helped you first to get the job, and alsodid it help you in your job?

Aisling: Absolutely, on both points! It definitely helped me to get the job, because I was able in the interview to speak at length about and various Open concepts, and I felt like I had a really large breadth of knowledge, which I have found not a lot of people do. A lot of people might just have a very cursory knowledge.

And it has helped me in the job in numerous ways as well. Because a lot of the material I used in my literature review has given me a really solid foundation and knowledge from which I grew, and I have also found that the connections I made with the people I interviewed have really served me well! I continue to speak to you and the vast majority people I interviewed, and I really appreciate the relationships we have been able to foster online in a global pandemic. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

Hardy: Looking at your current role and your first six months, what is it that you enjoy the most in your role?

Aisling: I think the thing I enjoy most in my role is trying out a brand new idea. I am actually given quite a lot of room to experiment in my role, and I have created a few things already. The first thing I did was an Open webinar series for which I received great feedback from and which I’m restarting again for the new semester. 

But the thing that I’m most excited about was on the back of the Open webinar series. I thought it would be a good idea to have a drop-in clinic last Friday of every month for all things Open. I started that in March and have had a drop-in clinic every month since. I have actually developed a bit of a following, so everybody who comes, attends every month. We all have a bit of fun and people say that they feel like they are more part of the university when they attend these sessions. We’ve got PhD students here, and an academic over there and I’m the Open Scholarship Librarian. It is a nice mix. There are different types of people who study and work in a university and I wanted to have a space to talk about Open and ask questions. I think that is probably my favourite thing I have done so far – creating that space.

Hardy: That sounds great. But maybe you can also talk about things that frustrate you a little in your role?

Aisling: I am quite frustrated by how prevalent APCs [Article Processing Charges or Open Access fees] are getting! It might be a political answer, but I don’t think that hybrid journals, hybrid solutions and paying APCs is the way forward for Open Access. I actually think it is quite damaging. I’m frustrated because there are various and many ways to make your work Open. Some researchers seem to think that they have to pay this money to make their work Open Access and that it is the only way that it can be done, and that is quite frustrating.

Because to me it speaks to the fact that these big publishers have already changed the narrative, and they have already taken control of the conversation. Everyone now thinks that an APC is required and that is really, really frustrating.

Hardy: Yes, this is a topic that will keep us occupied for a while! To conclude our interview, I would like to ask you what tips you would give to anyone reading this interview who wants to pursue a career in an Open Library role?

Aisling: Be passionate! If you know if this is something that you care about it will show. If you want to work in this area, you can. It is new and it is exciting and there can’t be barriers of required experience put your way, because at the moment nobody has that experience. It is a great opportunity for millennials I would say, as a generation that has been quite disenfranchised when it comes to employment. Open Scholarship and Open Science is a nice “loophole”. [laughs]

If you want to work in Open Scholarship, you absolutely can! The opportunities are only going to keep coming. You need to know the basics and find what excites you, and then I would encourage you to follow what you are passionate about.

Hardy: That sounds like very good advice! Thanks very much for our chat Aisling!

Biography: Aisling Coyne did her MSc Information and Library Management at Dublin Business School in 2019/2020 and her dissertation ‘Open Education Policies in Irish Higher  Education and the Role of Librarians: Review  and Recommendations’ is available in the TU Dublin repository Arrow. She started her role as Open Scholarship Librarian at TU Dublin in January 2021. Her research interests are OERs, accessibility, library publishing and Open Scholarship. You can reach Aisling at Aisling.coyne@tudublin.ie