Open Access – the good, the bad and the ugly

Open Access has become a major theme of interest within the research community and those interested in dissemination of information and knowledge.

In the debate around Open Access, the sadness around the loss of  Internet activist and programming star Aaron Swartz highlights that we have much to learn, and little time to learn it. Computer hacking Swartz was a vocal open-access campaigner, and died at the age of 26. Swartz was integral in creating RSS, and created a company that later merged with popular internet destination Reddit. However, more recently he was investigated for hacking JSTOR, the subscription-based journal service, and extracting its database with the intention for public release. For more on Swartz – and the impact of his work on free-data, and the world he leaves behind – read Lawrence Lessig’s piece “Prosecutor as Bully.” BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow also has a must-read tribute to Swartz, including information on the organization, DemandProgress, Swartz helped establish.

But what exactly is Open Access?    In this video  Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen take us through the world of open access publishing and explain just what it’s all about.

Historically, the two main types of obstacles to information discovery have been barriers of awareness, which encompass all the information we can’t access because we simply don’t know about its existence in the first place, and barriers of accessibility, which refer to the information we do know is out there but remains outside of our practical, infrastructural or legal reach. What the digital convergence has done is solve the latter, by bringing much previously inaccessible information into the public domain, made the former worse in the process, by increasing the net amount of information available to us and thus creating a wealth of information we can’t humanly be aware of due to our cognitive and temporal limitations, and added a third barrier — a barrier of motivation.

Open Access publishing is aiming to bridge the gap in higher education areas. Good research should have no boundaries. Here in Australia the Australian Research Council (ARC) is the largest funder of basic science and humanities research in Australia. So when the ARC talks, academics listen. The ARC has introduced a new open access policy for ARC funded research which takes effect from 1 January 2013. According to this new policy the ARC requires that any publications arising from an ARC supported research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a twelve (12) month period from the date of publication.

In most cases, this open-access publishing will occur through electronic institutional repositories – university websites where one can freely download researchers’ articles. Search engines such as Google Scholar will automatically index these articles and link them to related research. The resulting stream of freely available research will be a boon for our society and economy. But it’s not perfect, just a step in the right direction, as publishers also get ‘a say’ in what happens with published information.

Check the ARC Open Access Policy for more information. While  the ARC policy will shift some power away from the publishers by putting institutional repositories centre stage, there is a counter-flow that is not in the same spirit of Open Access. Just because public domain content is online and indexed, doesn’t mean that it’s useful.

Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers

The gold open-access model has given rise to a great many new online publishers. Many of these publishers are corrupt and exist only to make money off the author processing charges that are billed to authors upon acceptance of their scientific manuscripts.

Scholarly Open Access showcased the Beall List of Predatory Publishers 2013. The first includes questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. Each of these publishers has a portfolio that ranges from just a few to hundreds of individual journal titles. The second list includes individual journals that do not publish under the platform of any publisher — they are essentially independent, questionable journals.

In both cases, the recommendation is that researchers, scientists, and academics avoid doing business with these publishers and journals. Likewise, students should exercise some caution when reading and referencing these articles in their own academic learning.

Follow Scholarly Open Access for more insights into the contentious field of Open Access publishing.

Image cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by kevin dooley

From manuscripts to big data


The global popularity of the Internet and the ready access to information via web searches has led people to expect access to almost any kind of cultural material via a web browser.

As  Burnable books states, it’s hardly controversial to note that the digital revolution over the last ten to twenty years has changed the face of medieval studies. Nearly every major manuscript archive has launched a digitization project, with hundreds of high-resolution images added every week, it seems, and eye-catching portals inviting new users to click through and examine the treasures within.

Medieval manuscripts have entered the era of Big Data, a phrase that emerged a couple of years ago to capture the character of information storage, retrieval, accessibility, and usage in the networked worlds of the early twenty-first century.

Burnable Books will feature over the next several months a series of invited guest posts on the topic “Medieval Studies in the Age of Big Data.” Medieval Studies in the Age of Big The Data serial forum is worth reading, especially as it deals with the issues of big data, digitisation, digital revolution, speed vs wisdom, culture and knowledge.

Bibliotheca Apostolica

The Bibliotheca Apostolica, as the Vatican Library is known, is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains nearly 90,000 historic books, documents, papyrus texts and other ancient treasures. Among its treasures are early copies of works by Aristotle, Dante, Euclid, Homer, and Virgil. Yet today access to the Library is limited. Because of the time and cost required to travel to Rome, only some 2000 scholars can afford to visit the Library each year.

Digitizing its contents in order to preserve the Vatican’s historic treasures and make them available to scholars and historians around the world has become a priority, and the Vatican is embarking upon a multi-year project to digitize, store, archive and put the entire collection on line.

Image: Rothschild Canticles (in Latin) cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Beinecke Library

Did you know about DSPACE and PANDORA?

A recent comment from one of my students reminded me that I wanted to share information about DSPACE, in particular for the educators amongst us who haven’t come across this digital repository tool yet. People are so busy writing about ‘curation’ – as if it is something new. Actually what’s new is the interpretation of what is possible in the world of curation -  and that’s a topic for another post!

But back to DSPACE.

DSpace is the software of choice for academic, non-profit, and commercial organizations building open digital repositories.  It is free and easy to install “out of the box” and completely customizable to fit the needs of any organization. DSpace preserves and enables easy and open access to all types of digital content including text, images, moving images, mpegs and data sets.  And with an ever-growing community of developers, committed  to continuously expanding and improving the software, each DSpace installation benefits from the next.

DSpace open source software is a turnkey institutional repository application.  For example, as explained by one of the participants in INF443:

The University of Technology, Sydney uses Dspace repository to archive different academic information including, journal articles, other scholarly works, conferences papers, books and theses. This allows for interoperability between different universities to share and exchange information. This also allows for ‘gray literature‘, eg unpublished conference papers and posters, datasets, pod and vodcasts, presentation slides and other forms of scholarship that don’t usually see formal publication which are usually peer reviewed. This repository allows different file formats to be ingested which provides flexibility for the uniqueness of the intitution’s needs.

Isn’t it interesting to learn more about  what is actually going on in the world of preservation and curation?  Preservation is key to cultural memory organisation. Curation is key to making sense of what is both transient and long-term expressions of our human activities.

Whether it is analog or digital materials that we think about, we certainly want some sort of security in how we want to  preserve and share resources and information. Our digital era is so expansive, and so much more vibrant than any of us could have imagined.

Visit the MetaArchive and learn about another initiaitive. In 2002, six libraries in the southeastern United States banded together to develop a digital preservation solution for their special collections materials. The outcome of that collaboration was MetaArchive, a community-owned, community-led initiative comprised of libraries, archives, and other digital memory organizations. Working cooperatively with the Library of Congress through the NDIIPP Program, they created a secure and cost-effective repository that provides for the long-term care of digital materials – not by outsourcing to other organizations, but by actively participating in the preservation of their own content.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by verbeeldingskr8

Of course we have  PANDORA  Australia’s Web Archive, which is a growing collection of Australian online publications, established initially by the National Library of Australia in 1996, and now built in collaboration with nine other Australian libraries and cultural collecting organisations. The name, PANDORA, is an acronym that encapsulates our mission: Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia.

There are many more examples. What I love about this is that it shows the quintessential role of libraries in our global society. Whether it’s Library of Congress archiving Tweets, or your own organisation preserving, curating and making relevant materials accessible, the need for expansive funding and support for libraries is core to our human endeavours in the 21st century.