Open Access – do you really think it’s a good idea?

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I seem to have developed the habit of starting off with questions, but I think that only reflects – or perhaps even highlights – the areas about which I need to know more, or that I have not yet formed a view or understanding that is satisfactory or complete.

Open Access.  This is increasingly a phrase that is associated with ‘digital libraries‘, as much as it is with ‘Google ebooks’ and ‘scholarly communication’.  One understanding is that the results of all publicly funded – i.e. tax-funded – research should be made available freely to all.  This is considered to be a more equitable model than relying on for-profit scholarly journals to publish such materials, where neither the author, nor reviewers, nor author’s employer, nor research funder, receive any portion of the monies that are made by selling subscriptions to such journals.  Is this truly fair?  Doesn’t this mean that wealthier research institutions or nations are supporting those less privileged?  Possibly.  But what’s wrong with that?  Let us never forget that ideas or information cannot change hands like entities: they are more like phenomena in which sharing or exchanging enriches both giver and receiver.  Ideas multiply as they spread, not only proliferating but stimulating new conversations and insights.

There are more serious problems, however.  Now that we are aware that much research is culturally mediated, this would suggest that what is chosen for study, and how entities and phenomena are studied and reported, and how these results are disseminated, may all be governed by some or other hegemonic cultural code.  We would be foolish to think that ‘scientific research’ is, or can ever be, free of such biases.  Thus it would follow that the cultural expressions of scientific knowledge which are created and produced by specific cultural communities would differ, and those which are most prolific would dominate.  Ironically, as has been well documented, these communities would most commonly be found in Minority World (‘developed’) countries, who publish predominantly in English.  The knowledges of the Majority World remain, to all intents and purposes, more or less invisible, particularly in the formal research arenas.  In order to succeed, scholars from the Majority World follow Minority World traditions and mores in order to receive appropriate recognition and respect.

Another problem has come to light with the possibility that ‘Open Access’ may be a snare and a delusion.  There have now been several court cases regarding copyright issues and Google’s proposed digitisation of the library collections of many major academic libraries.  As this constitutes new legal territory which changes as the technologies change, I daresay we have not seen the end of this saga.  But there are three problems that must be resolved in such a case: firstly, will a company or companies (any company, not specifically Google or its relations and descendants) ‘own’ access to all such intellectual properties (even when they are out of copyright) simply through the access mechanisms – the digitisation protocols employed when digitising these works?  Secondly, if access is not dependent on Google’s goodwill (or payment to Google), much existing access to GoogleBooks is only possible if you are a member of the holding library’s community.  So, for example, if you are not a student or staff member of, say, Yale, you cannot digitally read in full all of the works held by the Yale University Library which Google may have already digitised.  Lastly, what will happen to such digitised collections over time?  Will Google continue to update and migrate the data as technologies change?  What if Google, as a company, ceases to exist?  I must say, at this stage it does appear rather unlikely – Google is apparently now entering the travel industry as well – but we know that empires come and empires go, and Google will probably not last nearly as long as the Roman Empire.

Another point that must be made is this: ‘Open Access’ is, to all intents and purposes, a term that can only be used in the digital environment, partly because it is so extraordinarily cheap and easy to transmit and store digital data.  In other words, if you do not have a computer, an internet connection, and a robust download allowance, you remain even more on the back foot.

Many of the decisions regarding Open Access seem to be being taken by people other than librarians (in particular), who have long wrestled with precisely the problems that Open Access once again raises.  Publishers, scholars, tertiary educational establishments, charities, technologists – all of these and more are interested in the phenomenon, but I would like to know to what extent libraries have been consulted (rather than the comments that we make to each other).  Robert Darnton recently suggested a ‘Digital Public Library‘ for the United States of America, and the discussion list on this topic has made it abundantly clear that all of these concepts are unclear and up for grabs:  What exactly do we mean when we say ‘digital’ or ‘public’ or library’ – or ‘document’ or ‘access’ or, indeed, anything else that we thought we had known?

See also: Digital Koans:

Implementing time travel for the Web

Dipping a toe in digital librarianship

Everybody’s libraries

Study queries open access benefits

A little cross-fertilization

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Today I decided to do a little cross-pollination from the FaceBook group of the same name (Digital Collaboration) which, of course, you are welcome to join.

There, I asked if you could list the issues that you think you should know something about in order to be a successful 21st century information professional. So far, the suggestions have been:


Australian Policy Online ( Briefing paper on impact of open access outside European universities.

Legal aspects of Open Access in Australia:

Fitzgerald, Anne (2009).  Open access policies, practices and licensing: a review of the literature in Australia and selected jursidictions.  (pdf available here).

Academic publishing in Europe.

Open access: Europe’s secret weapon?

Directory of Open Access Journals (courtesy of Lund University).

Hylén, Jan (2007)Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris, France: OECD 10.1787/9789264032125-en

“Open educational resources programme – phase 1” JISC 2009

“Open educational resources programme – phase 2. JISC. 2010.

WSIS Platform of Communities.

University of Geneva. CERN Workshop on innovations in Scholarly Communication.  22-24 June 2011.

People’s Open Access Education.

OECD. Giving knowledge for free.

OER Commons.

I HAVE EMPHASISED THIS SECTION I suppose because it serves to illustrate the extent to which we (the people) – knowledge users and creators – live in a virtual, digital, information environment.  My apologies if you think I have gone a bit overboard.  What is our role in such an environment?  Do we become guides and mentors? Comments?


National Library of Australia.

Digital preservation e-forum.

Digital Preservation Coalition.

Alliance for Permanent Access.

JISC Beginner’s guide to digital preservation. 2011.


Critical information literacy (Not only for library users – records managers and archivists would also know that their users may well need some assistance in this area).

Primary author here is James Elborg.

Association of College and Research Libraries. 2006.

Information Literacy Thinking Group.

Swanson, Troy.  2004.  A radical step: implementing a critical information literacy model.

Archive fever: interations on identity and knowledge in an age of accelerated human information interaction. (interesting blog).

Viadhyanathan, Siva. Critical information studies: a bibliographic manifesto. (I really like this).  You could also take a look at

Pawley, Christine.  2003. Information literacy: a contradictory coupling. Library Quarterly, Vol. (4): pp. 422-452.


15th International Conference on Information Visualisation (in London).

Some examples

And some more

I love the way these guys transform data into something easily understandable:  Information is beautiful.

The state of information visualisation 2011.

AT &T Labs Research Information Visualisation. (And they’re looking for staff!!)

Bertini, Enrico.  I fell in love with data [blog].  Here he lists the most important papers to read on information visualisation. and more useful stuff at


There is a journal devoted to this topic:Marketing library services. as well as a track at the upcoming ‘Computers in Libraries‘ Conference (March, Washington DC):

Dempsey, Kathy. 2009.  The accidental library marketer.  Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc. is a recent book on this topic.  A book review of this item appears at, explaining why this is important for librarians.

Ideas for marketing can be found at the blog New marketing trends: marketing ideas for non-profits and libraries.

Marketing in 2011.

Many of you will be aware of the IFLA Marketing Award:


This is a useful and recent starting point: Digital library futures: user perspectives and institutional strategies.  2010.  Edited by Ingeborg Verheul, Anna Maria Tammaro & Steve Witt.  Berlin/Munich: De Gruyter Saur.

Enhancing user interactions in digital libraries is a useful blog, with plenty of examples as well.


‘Crowdsourcing’ is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘outsourcing’.  In the information world, it means getting a range of opinions and ideas from which to choose – hopefully this choice means you will discern the best possible information.

Interesting sites and software can be found at this blog: Readwriteweb.

Crowdsourcing in action can be experienced at this blog:

This leads naturally into the next topic:


The Semantic Web continues to develop. Some latest news:

There is, in fact, a semantic web association (there had to be, I suppose):

A guide to the top recent software for the semantic web: and

There are a couple of conferences coming up on the topic, too (aren’t there always?  In fact, who has the time and money to attend all of these conferences?????)

The 10th International Conference on the semantic web is being held in Germany this year:

There is, interestingly enough, a call for papers on the topic of semantic web and collaboration (through social networking).  Check it out:

Combining with information visualisation, there is a conference in Palo Alto on Visual interfaces to the social and semantic web, but as it’s this Sunday, I don’t suppose many of you will be able to go, even if you really wanted to!

In Europe – Crete, Greece, to be precise – the EU is holding a conference on the Extended Semantic Web.


Cloud computing predictions for 2011.;

ACM Symposium on Cloud computing

One other link that some of you may be interested in is the South African framework for digital resources, available at:

Underneath each of these topics, I have inserted linked to some of the seminal sites in the respective area.


What other topics are important to you and should be discussed here?

Would you like to contribute a paragraph or two on why you find this essential/intriguing/important or whatever?

This is long.  That’s what happens when information professionals get going.  We know there’s so much out there.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.