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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2015


Public Access to Federally Funded Scientific Research: Building Communities of Collaboration

Janice Young
U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

"It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge.
It is the interconnectedness."
-- James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Several weeks ago I volunteered as a Civility Award Judge for the 2015 Tennessee Science Bowl. In my role, I was to observe the behavior of the teams during competition and in between competition while they were on break. This also included observation of the behavior of their coaches. If a team exhibited good sportsmanship, school pride, respectful communication, and social decorum, they were awarded points based on a scale from 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest.

One of the perks as a Civility Award Judge was that I had access to the competition room, which was tightly controlled. During team competition, the only persons allowed access were the student team members, their respective coaches, the moderator, the science judge, the timekeeper, the rules judge, the scorekeeper, the runner, and the civility judge.

There were 56 teams representing 54 high schools from all over the State of Tennessee. I observed 10 teams, who answered questions in chemistry, physics, geometry, calculus, biology, astronomy, aeronautics, and computer science, the fields that comprise what educators refer to as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). During my time in the competition rooms, I was really amazed by these young men and women. These students are smart, and I started wondering: what textbooks are they using? Do they even have textbooks? To what peer-reviewed journals does their school library subscribe? Is there cross-curriculum pedagogy occurring between the classroom and the library? From what resources are they deriving their knowledge base?

I am a former middle-school computer teacher and now work as a librarian for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI). (DOE has sponsored the National Science Bowl for the past 25 years.) As an educator (yes, librarians do fall into this category), I am always on the lookout for teachable moments and opportunities. How can I as a librarian help these students and future Tennessee Science Bowl students to achieve their full potential?

In an era of tightened fiscal belts and mandatory budget cuts, when we are asked to work smarter and do more and greater, how is it possible to provide access to quality, authoritative, peer-reviewed, evidence-based, robust, and sustainable scientific data to students in a cost effective manner?

At OSTI, I am helping to implement a new federal initiative, public access to federally funded scientific research, and as I considered these questions, I realized that access to scholarly scientific literature can supplement programming gaps in curriculum development and usher in new manipulatives and learning aids to further expand students' critical thinking development. Collaborations among STEM teachers, librarians, and other stakeholders that leverage public access to peer-reviewed scientific publications can foster innovative, cross-curriculum pedagogy that will help attract and retain middle and high school students' involvement in STEM.

In a span of six months, several Federal agencies have released (or are in the process of releasing) their Public Access Plans as a result of the February 22, 2013, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum titled "Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research." This applies to Federal agencies with research and development annual expenditures exceeding $100 million dollars. The curation of federally funded metadata and digital data makes access to scientific research possible through databases, portals, repositories, and federated search products.

Among the many public access returns on federal research and development expenditures, one is the more accessible knowledge resource that will serve to prepare the next generation of chemists, engineers, mathematicians, biologists, and physicists. Public access to the scholarship of STEM scientists and researchers is a valuable resource, with downstream benefits for current middle and high school students.

Who knows, perhaps as I was walking the halls at the Tennessee Science Bowl, I may have crossed paths with the future scientist who will harness a new energy source, or solve the issues of climate change. I'm just saying.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ISTL, the Science and Technology Section, or the American Library Association.

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