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The Big Ten Academic Alliance

min read
The CNI Interviews Podcast | Season 1, Episode 2

The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) is the academic consortium of the universities in the Big Ten Conference. As the Director of Library Initiatives for the BTAA, Maurice York is responsible for coordinating collective action at scale amongst the member research libraries toward their commitment to realizing an interdependent, networked future. In this discussion York talks about some of the plans and strategies of the BTAA in 2022.

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Gerry Bayne: Welcome to the CNI 2022 Podcast. These interviews were recorded at the Coalition for Networked Information Spring 2022 Meeting. On this episode we feature Maurice York. Maurice is the director of library initiatives for the Big Ten Academic Alliance. As the Director of Library Initiatives for the Big Ten Academic Alliance, Maurice is responsible for coordinating collective action at scale amongst the research libraries of the BTAA toward their commitment to realizing an interdependent, networked future.

I started our discussion by asking Maurice to describe the Big Ten Academic Alliance and some of his activities with the organization.

Maurice York: So the Big 10 Academic Alliance, I always like to start this way, is far more than a library consortia. So there's often like in, especially in the library space, and you say, "Oh, library consortia." And you compare them in that way. That's certainly one part of the Academic Alliance, but it really comprehends sort of a wide range of teaching and research collaborations across the universities. And we're the Big 10, but there's 15. So 15 R1 institutions, most of them are public universities and many of them tend to be the land grants. So. And many people are familiar with the Big 10 Sports Conference. We share a name, but we're a completely different side of the house. So we're the academic line.

Gerry Bayne: That's funny. It's the first of course, that's the first thing that popped into my mind.

Maurice York: Yeah.

Gerry Bayne: So I bet you get that a lot. So you guys are doing some work around remote access, or you had done some work around remote access. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Maurice York: Yeah, for sure. Well, so the pandemic, of course, for so many of us, rapidly accelerated things that we thought would take years to develop or that we never thought would happen and things like that. So one of those of course, and everyone went through this together is, colleges, university is, our physical facilities shut down, everybody being pushed out remotely, classes, research, everything taking place. And many kids, just our populations of students being dispersed across the country and things like that. So the Hathi Emergency Access Service especially, really opened up. Was like, "Okay, how do we provide the levels of services that all faculty and students have come to depend on from the libraries?" For the Big 10, about half of... So when all of that dark in copyright material was turned light, we said, "How much do we have there?"

So across the Big 10 and for the Big 10 libraries collectively hold about 22% of the print content in north America. So it's a lot. And about half of that was available through Hathi in the emergency service, right? So there's still a large proportion that was dark. Another pretty amazing thing about the, and this is all referred to the Big Collection a number of times, this is the initiative of the 15 director to say, "Let's take our 15 separate collections and turn them into one collection that's shared and fully networked." So when we look at things in the perspective of the Big Collection, a couple things emerged. One was the way that the Hathi Emergency Access Service was set up, sort of the rules of the game were, if an individual university, an individual library owned a copy of a book in physical form, you make the digital surrogate of that available.

That became a bit of a question as we looked across. Well, what if we were thinking about the Big Collection across all 15 of these universities? Say if Iowa owned it and Rutgers didn't have it, but a faculty member at Rutgers needed it and that copy was in Iowa, could we make that available? Right? It's a logical question.

Gerry Bayne: Sure.

Maurice York: The answer was no. Because the ownership rules, right? Were at play. So the question of remote access for us, and Hathi was wonderful. And also what we were able to do as an Alliance was look at when a copy of a book was not available in digital form, having the digital capacity to able to scan that book put into HathiTrust, could we deliver it that way and things like that? So, that was another rich dimension.

Gerry Bayne: What are some things that you would like our higher ed IT audience to know that you guys are working on this year? What's some things going on with the Big 10 Alliance?

Maurice York: So one of those, I think one of the really important ones we're thinking about is some really deep thinking about shared infrastructure. It's kind of looked like for some time, we've known as like the era of action by single institutions, really the sun is setting there. The future that we have is all going to be in interdependence in our ability to work together in coalitions, in alliances, and more than cooperation, right? To a level of, we make commitments to each other, we build infrastructure. That if it disappears, we all lose, we all hurt. Not, "Eh, if that goes away, I'll be fine. I'll go over here." It's a new level of deeper collaboration. So I mentioned before the Big Collection. So when we think about how do we take... And just to give you an idea, so individual libraries in the Big 10, [inaudible 00:04:56] talking about collections of anywhere from 6 million to 10 million books, kind of in that range, just roughly, right?

When we look at all 15 of those collections combined, it's well over 114 million. So, that's the 22% of printed content in North America. So that is a stewardship responsibility that the libraries have to the faculty and students of the universities. And it's both now into the future, it's a memory of the past, it's a preparation for the future of research and scholarship and it's a direct service to today, right? It drives the engine of teaching and research. And across the Big 10, again, to give you an idea, it's about 600,000 students over 25,000 faculty. So. And over $10 billion in research funding, about, as the numbers we like to cite. So the role of the libraries in that, and we could start to picture, it's about much more than the print content.

There's a huge realm of digital content, but it's about much more than the staff, it's also the people within the libraries that are there directly working with and providing services, supporting faculty and students every day. And all of that rich mix of people, of services, of content, the phrase I like to use, it's a knowledge commons, right? So how do we create a truly open, equitable, sustainable knowledge commons, and just? And that comes down is what can the Big 10 do? So I'm from the Big 10 headquarters, from the central organization, we're really small. Our role with these massive universities is to be in the middle, facilitating, collaborating, convening, bringing together and moving forward the excellence and the mission of our universities.

And for us in the library, that's about shared infrastructure. So what can we build in terms of infrastructure services that lay the foundation for what, say the Big Collection is trying to accomplish? The things I've been just newly on recently have been in the realm of things like, how might we go about creating a data lake of all of that content, just to understand what it is that we have, right? Just like a massive inventory and data problem upfront.

Gerry Bayne: How big of an undertaking is that?

Maurice York: I don't know yet. I was trying to figure that out the other day. And I'm like, "How big is 114 million records?" In a way, and the Ivy's Plus group, which are so the Ivy universities, and they're sort of the mirror side, perhaps you might say, of the Big 10, have been running a pilot over the last, how long they've been? Doing maybe a year or so to say, similar, can they take all of the holdings of libraries of Ivys Plus, and create a data lake of that and so forth. And so we're looking towards them a little bit. Can we take a lead there and say, how might we? And it's a little bit unknown because this is a new... I mean, creating data lakes and things in the broader world, this is not unknown, is pretty common now. Within the library world, pretty new, right?

So we don't know how hard it is yet. So. And then creating... So we might say this, we can create data lake of all that material and say, "Okay, what do we share? What's part of our shared collection?" In other words, what we're moving towards is how to create, you might imagine a brimming pool of the content available throughout the Big 10, and then every faculty and student, and any person in the Big 10 having seamless access to all of that equitably and rapidly. So, "Ooh, I could find anything." It exists anywhere in the Big 10 and it stretches from Nebraska all the way to Maryland and New Jersey.

Gerry Bayne: Wow.

Maurice York: And get that in two days, everything in my hands. Yeah. It's a massive undertaking. And where we're at right now is, how do we lay the infrastructure in terms of central services, indexing services, the middleware, if you will, the lower layers of infrastructure in the middleware that make that kind of thing possible? So we're in the world of indexing, registries, shared storage, those kind of services that we can build and serialize and push out to all of the universities, so that they can make use of whatever in whatever way they will for their local.

Gerry Bayne: That's an exciting utility.

Maurice York: Yeah.

Gerry Bayne: That's amazing.

Maurice York: It's really cool. So.

Gerry Bayne: Would you say that's your main thrust through 2022? Is trying to work on that shared infrastructure?

Maurice York: Definitely one of them.

Gerry Bayne: Okay.

Maurice York: So I'd say we have four.

Gerry Bayne: Sure.

Maurice York: One is in that sphere. One of them is in so scholarly publishing, faculty publications and so forth. The massive global move there is towards open publishing and open scholarship. So at the time, as faculty produce research, of course, as is made available, instead of going behind a paywall, at the time of publication, it's open and free for everyone to read. That moves the point of payment from the publisher perspectives, because they say, "Well, we're not going to get any revenue after we publish it from people subscribing to it. So authors please pay before and pay up front and then we'll be happy to publish it open." Nobody knows how to do this. So there are many different organizations and people and institutions trying different models for that. One common one that your listeners may or may not have heard of is transformative agreements.

And that's where we try to get the biggest publishers in the world with the biggest agreements to flip their portfolios to be completely open. Others have to do with experiments in different types of publications. So things where neither the author has to pay, nor the reader, this is called diamond open access where things are truly free. So where researchers can be free to do their research and put out the outputs and the results of what they've been working on and it's immediately available to anybody to be able to read. So one of the significant threads of what we're doing is the Big 10 is in our open scholarship strategy. And we've got sort of a quiver of arrows, if you will, got a number of different strands of that and are trying to find particularly the models in North America, everybody's exploring different things, right?

So I think we've done a lot with that over the last year, especially folks will be seeing us putting a lot of energy there. It's like, how do we serve our faculty in the best way? By making it as easy for them to do research and to publish their research as possible and then to make that as widely available as possible. One of the others would be, so we had collections across all-

Gerry Bayne: Shared infrastructure.

Maurice York: Yep. Shared infrastructure-

Gerry Bayne: Open scholarship.

Maurice York: Open scholarship. Two other things we're putting heavy emphasis on; one is our communities of collaboration. So we have a broad network of library collaboration across all of our institutions. And we're really strengthening that. So that's bringing a lot of focus to just the people side of this, right? Gathering people together, this as I was talking about with the Big Collection, is going to take hundreds of people in years and millions and millions of dollars to accomplish.

So we're putting a lot of energy into just strengthening and deepening those networks of collaboration. And then the fourth one is our equity and inclusion, diversity accessibility. We're putting a lot of emphasis on how do we create a cross institutional culture of equity and inclusion. And particularly, with the emphasis on racial equity. So that's just infused through everything that we do. And it's hard work, it's slow work, it requires a lot of deep, intentional thinking. And every one of our libraries is doing, and every one of our universities is doing a lot of their own work there, right? Deep at institutional work, so what we can focus on at the Big 10 is, when we show up together, when we're working across our universities, what does that look like? There's an enormous amount of work that we need to do, but there are facets of that question that we get to take up when we're looking at the cross institutional culture that don't necessarily show up every day when those are happening at the universities. So.

Gerry Bayne: Very informative interview. Thank you so much, Maurice York, for your time.

Maurice York: Absolutely. My pleasure. This has been great.

This episode features:

Maurice York
Director of Library Initiatives
Big Ten Academic Alliance