Open Book

Open Book:  A person who or thing which is open to being easily understood or interpreted. Also: a person who conceals nothing; a transparent person.

Last Thursday, a colleague and I attended the Scholarly Communication Road Show, sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries and held at James Madison University.  It was one of the best workshops I have attended in a long time.

When libraries first started talking about scholarly communications (around 10 years ago), I must admit that I did not pay a great deal of attention to the conversation.  It seemed to be a topic for larger libraries to ponder, and I had plenty of other issues to keep me occupied at my small university library.  Thursday’s workshop made me wish I’d been paying more attention.  Fortunately, the speakers did a great job of bringing me up to speed.

I took away from this workshop more than I can hope to include in a single blog post.  For today, I want to ponder the idea of openness.  The idea of openness has emerged in the last five years ago, and today “open” is used in many contexts, from open source to open education.  Openness means that anyone can participate, that access is free, and that the materials can be used and repurposed with few or no restrictions.

We are seeing new models for the publication and distribution of scholarly materials develop.  The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is one of the leaders in open-access publishing in the sciences and medicine.  And there are authors who are experimenting with making their books openly accessible.

I am currently reading The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, and several others.  The novel started as a serialized publication on the internet, and it was also available as a social media application for some mobile devices.  The book was created online, and has now been published as a physical book.  But it also exists as a participatory space that readers can contribute to as they read and explore.  The website reflects the world of the Mongoliad as Stephenson and his co-authors were creating it; the physical book is the fixed, definitive version of that world.  Two more books are planned in the series.  It will be interesting to watch how the virtual and physical versions of the book evolve.

This book isn’t open access in the fullest sense.  Full participation in the website requires a paid subscription, just as reading the physical book requires a purchase.  For a truly open book, see Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.   Doctorow has made this book available for free download in multiple formats under a Creative Commons license.

The Copyright clause in the US Constitution reads:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Founders understood that the purpose of research and creativity is to inspire more research and creativity.  With the open access movement, we are finally returning to that ideal.




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