The Open Scholarship Commons

Advancing Research for the Public Good

Verletta Kern 

Verletta Kern has served as digital scholarship librarian at the University of Washington Libraries since 2016. She is co-editor of The Culture of Digital Scholarship in Academic Libraries and has presented on digital scholarship topics at venues such as the Digital Library Federation and the Humanities, Arts, Science, the Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), and the Library Publishing Coalition. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois.

University of Washington Libraries

Madeline Mundt 

As Head of the Research Commons at the University of Washington Libraries, Madeline is responsible for planning, managing and coordinating services for student researchers in this interdisciplinary space. She received her BA from Pomona College and MLIS from the Information School at the University of Washington. Prior to her work in the Research Commons, Madeline was a librarian at Franklin University Switzerland and the University of Nevada, Reno.

University of Washington Libraries

October 31, 2020 


Higher education in the United States is in crisis. We see this in the reduction of state funding to public universities totalling US $9 billion over the past decade.1 We see this in the continuation of proposed funding cuts to the government agencies that are key to making new discoveries possible.23 Broadly, we see a continuing decline of the public’s confidence in higher education.4 It is clear that steps must be taken to restore the public’s faith in the academy and to demonstrate the value of research and education for the public good. But where do we start and what role can the library play? This paper will outline how we believe the design of a new physical and virtual space, an Open Scholarship Commons (OSC), can help advance research and education for the public good. In what follows, we will outline why we need an OSC in the library, walk through our visioning (or ideation) process for this space, share the vision and values for the space, and discuss our implementation process.

Why an Open Scholarship Commons in the Library?

As universities work to enhance students’ critical thinking skills, it has become clear that critically questioning information is only one piece of the puzzle—access to high quality information remains a problem. With the goal of creating “a world where more people have access to knowledge and more voices are heard,” it is clear that libraries are not in a moment of performing business as usual.5 How can libraries think unconventionally, beyond the framing that teaching critical thinking/information evaluation skills is the focus of our work? How can we help elevate the research that is happening daily on our campuses? How can we encourage researchers to break free of paywalls and share their research with wider publics? And once we break free of paywalls, how can we make sure we are not putting up additional barriers by sharing research in terms only understood by those who hold specialized knowledge in the field? These questions are not new, but how we respond has the potential to shape the democratization of knowledge.

Encouraging researchers to embrace open access is the first step in the process of bridging the gap between the public and the academy. In his book, The Access Principle, John Willinsky writes, “Open access holds the promise of moving knowledge from the closed cloisters of privileged, well-endowed university campuses to institutions worldwide. Such an approach also opens a new world of learning to those outside the academic realm, to dedicated professionals and interested amateurs, to concerned journalists and policymakers.”6 While open access has been a publication option for several years at this point, never has Willinsky’s statement been more relevant than in our current moment of a global COVID-19 epidemic. Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei acknowledges this moment as a wakeup call in which the global north has suddenly shifted to opening up current research and important teaching materials in order for researchers to collectively search for a cure and enabling students to continue their areas of study remotely. Van Gerven Oei acknowledges the open sharing of knowledge as a social justice issue greater than this single moment in time, writing “it is not only in times of crisis that publicly available knowledge can save lives. It always has this potential, and it’s our choice.”7 What role can the library play in furthering this social justice issue of open access to research and educational materials?

Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President and Membership and Research Chief Strategist at OCLC, describes two ways forward for libraries—the “outside in” and the “inside out” library.8 The outside in library does much of what we think of when we picture libraries today. It buys books or licenses materials from outside entities and facilitates access for library users. This puts the onus on the user to establish a relationship with the library or come to the library in person to gain access to the materials. The “inside out” model takes the scholarship produced at the institution, whether it be data sets, pre-print articles, digital scholarship, etc., and makes the materials openly available to anyone wherever they might be. Dempsey’s model presents a path forward for the research library to democratize knowledge for the public good, yet, to move the needle, libraries must not only continue to push for research to be shared openly, they must also provide training and infrastructure to make the open sharing of research possible.

In their book, Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming scholarly practice for the public good, Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite acknowledge this need for technology training, writing, “…for scholars who want to reach a wide public audience through digital media technologies and don’t know how to use these tools, there are few options available in the way of training that is tailored specifically to academics.”9 Often, and in the specific case of our institution, access to technology to create and share research openly depends on how much funding your department has for a lab or if you were able to secure funding for your research. Our institution faces a similar trend when it comes to training in new modes of scholarship with training only available to students enrolled in particular majors. Training for many of our faculty is subject to funding to attend training outside the university or funding to hire project collaborators with particular skill sets to be part of a project development team. What if everyone had the same opportunity to use technology and learn skills to create and share knowledge openly?

Finally, in her book, Generous Thinking: a Radical Approach to Saving the University, Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes the need to not only “engage readers where they are, rather than always forcing them to come find us, in our venues and on our terms,” but to think about “potential new modes of co-production that involve the surrounding communities in the work of the university.”10 As we think about models for co-production, libraries can play a role bringing researchers working in areas such as citizen science, community-engaged research, public scholarship, and even service learning together in conversation to learn from each other as they build connections with the community. Libraries can also be a resource for practical skill building in communicating research to wider publics, access to technology and platforms to perform and share research, and can assist researchers in determining the impact of their public work.

In 2017, our university’s president called on faculty and researchers to share their research openly. She writes, “[a]s a public institution, we have an obligation to put our hard-won knowledge, evidence-based conclusions, and reasoned judgement to good public use.”11 The Open Scholarship Commons (OSC) will serve as a bridge between research and the public. With a values driven approach, the Open Scholarship Commons stands as a space to encourage and advocate for open work when it is possible, provide the infrastructure and training to share research openly, offer opportunities to celebrate and create connections between those interested in co-production of knowledge with the community, and to give researchers the tools needed to share the impact of their work. How do all these ideas come together resulting in a fully functioning OSC?

What Shaped Our Ideation Process?

In May 2019, an Ideation Team (co-chaired by this paper’s authors) was tasked with envisioning the Open Scholarship Commons. Three concepts played a key role in shaping our ideation process and the culture of the Ideation Team: learning organizations, design thinking, and open leadership.

The team worked in the context of a large library that had recently designated itself a “Learning Organization.” This gave the co-chairs space to model some aspects of the team’s culture after the theory of the learning organization and after what “leadership” means in a learning organization. The term “learning organization” comes out of the business literature, and first became known to members of our team through a classic 1990 article entitled “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations” by Peter Senge, based on Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. The learning organization emphasizes a new model of leadership: as Senge writes, “leaders are designers, teachers, and stewards”—rather than authoritative decision-makers—who lead through attributes like “the ability to build shared vision, to bring to the surface and challenge prevailing mental models, and to foster more systematic patterns of thinking.”12 Approaching leadership from this perspective allows for adaptability and generative learning, two other concepts that we pulled from the learning organization and applied to the OSC. Senge defines generative learning as requiring “new ways of looking at the world,” which was something we wanted to build into the OSC ideation.13

Design thinking was another concept that shaped the process through which we successfully carried out our charge. One of our co-chairs had previously worked through a lengthy library-related design thinking project and brought some of the values and mindsets from design thinking to our ideation process. With regard to libraries, design thinking is “a creative approach, or a series of steps that will help you design meaningful solutions for your library.”14 We made use of the Design Thinking for Libraries toolkit to situate ourselves within the design thinking mindset, giving ourselves space for creativity and brainstorming throughout our ideation process. In particular, design thinking’s approach to divergent (“feeling expansive and multi-directional”) and convergent (“feeling conclusive and narrowing in on a direction”) ideation helped us organize our process in a way that gave plenty of time to divergent ideas and perspectives.15 In design thinking, divergent thinking can also be defined as thinking that is “focused on the generation and exploration of ideas,” which is where we spent most of our time in our ideation process.16

The third piece of our ideation process was open leadership, a project and concept that came to us from Chad Sansing of the Mozilla Foundation. Sansing writes that open leadership is a kind of leadership that centers understanding, sharing, participation, and inclusion and in which a team “shares roles and responsibilities for decision-making, content-creation, and information-sharing across a project or community.”17 In our case, following a model of open leadership meant making a commitment to transparency and shared decision making. In particular, we strove to “create robust, transparent systems for content development, governance, and information-sharing”—one of the core characteristics of open leadership as set out by Sansing.18

Our Process and Team

The Ideation Team’s open-ended charge tasked us with developing a vision and recommending services, technology, and zones of activity. The charge indicated that the OSC would promote and facilitate open and community-engaged work. The team was asked to develop this vision and make recommendations for services and zones of activity without considering funding and staffing for the space and without having identified a space for the OSC, and we were asked to work quickly. Eight librarians from a variety of functions, units, and backgrounds were invited to join the team in early May 2019. Members of this team were selected because their work seemed likely to overlap with or become part of a new OSC. We worked together as a team for ten weeks to gather information, develop our vision for the OSC, solidify our recommendations, and write an Ideation Report.

Grounding our process in the approaches to ideation discussed in the previous section allowed us to work through a flat ideation process in which all team members shared leadership and had a chance to reflect on the available data and contribute equally to the final vision for the OSC. Despite our short timeline, we were able to work nimbly and adaptably and from a place of openness and divergence, rather than feeling rushed to make definitive, convergent, and prescriptive statements about what the OSC should be. We engaged in generative learning, looking for those new ways of looking at the world of open and public scholarship. In fact, we deliberately committed to remaining open-ended and divergent for as long as possible, holding convergence on values, zones, and services until shortly before beginning to write the Ideation Report we produced. One comment on the design thinking mindset, as set out in Design Thinking for Libraries, particularly resonated as we stepped outside our previous organizational culture’s comfort zone to give so much time to divergent ideation:

We know this approach might be different from the way you normally work and the idea of not knowing the end result can be scary, but keep in mind it is important to trust the process.19

We also embraced the “messiness” that comes with taking an open leadership approach to a project, trusting that “openness uncovers what your project and its community need to work on in terms of creating authentic, shared ownership of the work.”20

As part of this process, the Ideation Team spent a considerable amount of time collecting and reflecting on data about the open and public scholarship landscapes at our university and beyond. We sifted through data from a literature review, previous assessments and reports conducted by our library, job ads, a review of related spaces at other universities, and expertise from team members’ own areas of work. After identifying gaps in our knowledge, the team then held a brainstorming session with library staff and conducted several interviews with carefully chosen stakeholders outside the library to fill those gaps. To make sense of all this data, the team worked through structured activities such as collaborative spreadsheet creation, identifying and grouping themes, and asynchronous brainstorming activities.

Our open-ended and divergent process generated a certain amount of conflict, as several team members wanted to immediately agree on a vision for the OSC and begin producing something tangible in response to our charge as soon as possible. However, after using most of our allotted time to engage in a divergent information-gathering and brainstorming process, we then held a session to make sense of the collected data and converge on values, services, and zones of activity. This final two-hour session, which was devoted to finally formally agreeing upon values, services, and zones of activity, revealed many key points of convergence among team members. By allowing ample time for team members to consider all our data and explore divergent points, we were able to smoothly surface our values, services, and zones of activity in two hours—two hours that built upon countless hours of work over the preceding ten weeks.

The Open Scholarship Commons Vision

The team came together to recommend a “community engaged and interdisciplinary space for knowledge creation and mobilization in service of advancing research for the public good.”21 Rich in technology, the space would build on traditional library roles of providing access to information and support the ethical creation and dissemination of scholarship. Built on the values of equity, experimentation, flexibility, openness, and technology, the space will support eight zones of activity over eight service areas. We recognize it would be difficult to support such wide-ranging areas on our own and hope to work with campus partners to build out these services and zones of activity together. The following section of this paper will outline each of these areas in more detail followed by next steps in creating the OSC.


The Ideation Team created a core set of values by which to frame the creation of the OSC. As a space designed to build community across disciplinary silos and serving as a single point of service for those performing open and digital work, defining core values seemed essential to a successful launch of this space. The values identified are defined as follows:

  • Equity. Equity offers different meanings. There is, of course, equity in open access of knowledge offered through the support given in this space. There is also equity in access to the creation tools themselves. No longer will a researcher be beholden to departmental or grant funding for access to technological tools to support and create their scholarship for knowledge mobilization. The design of this space also considers the needs of users who have historically been marginalized in knowledge production and in technology-heavy research spaces.

  • Experimentation. As a technologically rich space, the OSC will continue to adapt to the changing needs of open scholarship and usage of the space. As such, the space design will be iterative, encouraging staff and users to take risks and embrace failure as it works towards creative solutions to community needs.

  • Flexibility. The space will support a variety of work styles, from individual to large group and from low tech to high tech. It will also support users both in person and virtually.

  • Openness. The OSC encourages users of the space to share work openly and values reproducibility and clarity behind how scholarship is produced and can be used as a building block for future scholarship.

  • Technology. Technology is core to the functionality of the OSC space. It will adapt over time as the needs of open scholars change.

Zones of Activity

The Ideation Team was charged to look at what types of work might happen within the OSC to, in turn, inform the type(s) of space that would be needed for the OSC. While it was identified early on that technology would be central to and percolate through the entire OSC, additional high priority activities were identified to give the space shape and to support the goal of interdisciplinary knowledge mobilization. Zones identified include a(n):

  • Collaboration Zone for collaborative group work

  • Consultation Zone for group or individual meetings with experts within the library or beyond who will help support each stage of the knowledge creation and dissemination cycle

  • Event Zone which will serve as a flexible space to host large events and workshops yet remain open as a workspace when not in use

  • Exhibition Zone will showcase and celebrate open scholarship created by students and researchers at our university

  • Staff Zone acknowledges that this tech-rich space will need staff support and space as it evolves

  • Virtual & Hybrid Collaboration Zone will provide opportunities to bring those who are physically not on our campus to join in consultations, workshops, and events happening in the OSC

  • Workshop Zone will offer opportunities for students and researchers to attend one-off workshops on a given open scholarship topic or can be reserved by faculty or research groups to use technology in the space to lead course integrated workshops or general open workshops on a theme. The space will be flexible to serve the needs of active learners.

Having defined the values and types of activity that we see as integral for the OSC to function, we identified services that could take place in the space.


Keeping in mind our digital scholarship assessment work, which reported that digital scholars seek a single point of entry or one-stop-shop for completing digital work, we explored what services could be centralized into the OSC to create a seamless experience for advancing research for the public good. We identified key library services that could come together to offer a front porch service in the OSC. Rather than moving from one space to meet with the data services librarian to another space to talk with the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) librarian to another space to talk with the open education librarian about incorporating GIS work into a class syllabus, the user can come to the OSC and meet with a team who can support all of the user’s needs. Current library services identified as shifting to the new OSC space included:

  • Geographic Information Systems. This includes moving and maintaining the current level of GIS hardware and software, along with staffing, to the OSC and creating opportunities for connecting GIS related services with other OSC workshops, events, consultations, etc. It may also include expanding services to include remote sensing, virtual reality/augmented reality, and large format scanning.

  • Media Production. Currently tucked away on the third floor of one wing of the library, the Media Arcade provides a wealth of hardware and software to support everything from reformatting older materials to creating born-digital media. Moving the Media Arcade services to the OSC will help increase the visibility of these tools and equipment.

  • Open Educational Resources & Digital Pedagogy. An essential part of knowledge mobilization is offering open, equitable, and affordable ways to learn. The OSC will bring together those supporting the creation of open textbooks and open course modules together along with experts on digital pedagogy for instructors wishing to revamp their courses to include ethical assignments practicing knowledge mobilization skills.

  • Open Scholarship Publishing. This service would pull together the expertise of the data services librarian, the digital scholarship librarian, the copyright librarian, and the scholarly communication outreach librarian in service of ethically sharing research openly. This service may also explore how to partner with our university’s press to grow a strong digital publishing programme together.22

While the services above will provide an essential foundation for the OSC, we also recommended new services be created either within the library itself or through campus partnerships to carry out the mission of the OSC. These services include:

  • Data Mining and Visualization. Based on regularly collected triennial survey data and digital scholarship and data services assessment work, data mining and visualization continue to be an emerging and evolving need on-campus. Offering equal access to creation and visualization hardware and software in the OSC would be a starting point. Having staff available to support and consult on this work remains a necessary solution.

  • Public Scholarship. As researchers pursue inviting the public as collaborators in the research process through public scholarship, community engaged research, and citizen science work, training is needed in how best to ethically engage these communities.

  • Scholarly Identity & Impact Management. As we encourage researchers to share their research for the public good, we must also help them develop their digital scholarly profile, including understanding their digital footprint and potential associated risk with working in the open. As many departments still focus on traditional tenure and promotion requirements, we must offer support and guidance for faculty researchers to demonstrate the impact of open work. Impact management conversations should be included in the early stages of the research design process.

From Ideation to Implementation

What is next for the OSC? The co-authors of this paper are currently engaged in the next phase of this project, co-chairing the OSC Implementation Team. Taking an iterative approach, we are offering several OSC services at a time as part of an experimentation space that will inform a future, more robust OSC. This phased approach will follow our Ideation Team framework, incorporating design thinking, open leadership and learning organization methods, along with participatory design, allowing us to nimbly shift our services in response to user feedback.23 The anticipated timeline for our work is a year and a half.

With an open approach to our work, we released an open call for library staff to join the Implementation Team earlier this spring. The team includes representation from each disciplinary liaison team along with key functional roles of online learning, geographical information systems, data visualization, scholarly communication, digital humanities, media production, information technology systems and digital strategies, and facilities. Early in our process, we reached out to internal library stakeholders to share the Ideation Team’s vision for the space. We are beginning a similar set of conversations with external stakeholders identified as strong partners in developing the space. The goals of these stakeholder conversations include establishing a shared vision and understanding of the space, identifying ways the new space might intersect with and champion existing services, answering questions, and determining how stakeholders would like to remain informed as the space develops.

While the library has identified a physical experimentation space for the OSC, COVID-19 has required us to create our virtual space first and revisit the physical experimentation space once it is safe for people to gather together again. The virtual space is on track for launch this fall and will start small with consultation services, events, and workshops related to service areas of digital scholarship, scholarly communications, research data services, open education, and GIS. Starting small will allow us to test and solidify our participatory design models and will provide opportunities to develop and modify expectations for those working in the space before scaling up to add additional partners and services. Winter quarter, we hope to incorporate additional services from other library stakeholders and our external stakeholders. A virtual start for the OSC provides a unique opportunity for internal and external stakeholders to explore new ways of working together under a shared mission of knowledge democratization. This virtual work will position the OSC for success once it moves into a physical space post-COVID 19.


As higher education works to regain the public’s trust, collaborative, disciplinary agnostic library spaces like the OSC will be key to provide infrastructure and training to create and openly share work, to support the co-production of knowledge with communities in need of solutions to problems, to celebrate and model open work, and to develop workflows for assessing the impact of open work. By bringing together individual entities from across the university who support pieces of this work, we will build a strong coalition to help advance research for the public good and, in turn, begin to demonstrate and increase the value of the university in the community it serves.


“About MIT Libraries,” MIT Libraries, accessed November 12, 2019,

Ana Mari Cauce, “Sharing Our Research for the Public Good,” Presidential Blog, University of Washington, February 17, 2017,

Daniels, Jessie and Thistlethwaite, Polly. Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good, (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2016), 94.

Dempsey, Lorcan. “Library Collections in the Life of the User: Two Directions,” LIBER Quarterly 26 no. 4, (2016): 339,

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Generous Thinking; A Radical Approach to Saving the University, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2019), 138.

Hanlon, Aaron. “Higher Ed is Not a Zero-Sum Game: Cutthroat Competition is Not the Way Forward,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19, 2020,

IDEO, Design Thinking for Libraries: A Toolkit for Patron-Centered Design, 2015.

Jaschik, Scott. “NEH on the Chopping Block?,” Inside Higher Ed, January 20, 2017,

Ledford, Heidi, Emiliano Rodriguez Mega, Sara Reardon, and Jeff Tollefson, “Trump Proposes Slashing Science Spending at the NSF,” Nature, March 19, 2019,

Marken, Stephanie. “A Crisis in Confidence in Higher Ed,” Gallup Blog, April 12, 2019,

Sansing, Chad. “Open Leadership Framework,” Mozilla, accessed December 8, 2019,

Senge, Peter. “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations,” Sloan Management Review 32, no. 1 (1990).

University of Washington Libraries, Open Scholarship Commons Ideation Team Report, August 2019, 2.

van Gerven Oei, Vincent W.J.. “Viral Open Access in Times of Global Pandemic,” Punctum Books, March 19, 2020,

Willinsky, John. The Access Principle (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), 33.

  1. Aaron Hanlon, “Higher Ed is Not a Zero-Sum Game: Cutthroat Competition is Not the Way Forward,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19, 2020,

  2. Scott Jaschik, “NEH on the Chopping Block?,” Inside Higher Ed, January 20, 2017,

  3. Heidi Ledford, Emiliano Rodriguez Mega, Sara Reardon, and Jeff Tollefson, “Trump Proposes Slashing Science Spending at the NSF,” Nature, March 19, 2019,

  4. Stephanie Marken, “A Crisis in Confidence in Higher Ed,” Gallup Blog, April 12, 2019,

  5. “About MIT Libraries,” MIT Libraries, accessed November 12, 2019,

  6. John Willinsky, The Access Principle (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), 33. 

  7. Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, “Viral Open Access in Times of Global Pandemic,” Punctum Books, March 19, 2020,

  8. Lorcan Dempsey, “Library Collections in the Life of the User: Two Directions,” LIBER Quarterly 26 no. 4, (2016): 339,

  9. Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite, Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good,” (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2016), 94. 

  10. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Generous Thinking; A Radical Approach to Saving the University, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2019), 138. 

  11. Ana Mari Cauce, “Sharing Our Research for the Public Good, Presidential Blog, University of Washington, February 17, 2017,

  12. Peter Senge, “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations,” Sloan Management Review 32, no. 1 (1990): 9. 

  13. Senge, “The Leader’s New Work,” 8. 

  14. IDEO, Design Thinking for Libraries: A Toolkit for Patron-Centered Design, 2015, 6. 

  15. IDEO, Design Thinking for Libraries, 57. 

  16. IDEO, Design Thinking for Libraries, 117. 

  17. Chad Sansing, “Open Leadership Framework,” Mozilla, accessed December 8, 2019,

  18. Chad Sansing, “Open Leadership Framework.” 

  19. IDEO, Design Thinking for Libraries, 6. 

  20. Chad Sansing, “Open Leadership Framework”. 

  21. University of Washington Libraries, Open Scholarship Commons Ideation Team Report, August 2019, 2. 

  22. Our university’s press moved reporting lines in 2018 and now reports to the Vice Provost of Digital Initiatives and Dean of Libraries. 

  23. For more on participatory design, see Participatory Design in Academic Libraries, (Washington DC: CLIR, 2012),]