Open Access Week

We’re going to be taking a week off to finish up some midterm work, but wanted to leave our readers with something to ponder. Feel free to add comments to this post and/or continue the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Open Access is an idea that should be familiar to most folks in library school. Simply, it is the same principle that is affirmed in the ALA Code of Ethics – that it is an essential right that all people should be able to access the information they need and desire, and that it is our professional duty to insure and facilitate that access. This idea gets worked out in a variety of ways, across information institutions, and is growing more and more widely understood as technology allows for new ways to share and get information.

Most often when one hears about Open Access [PDF] it is in response to Academic Libraries and the adaptations in the Scholarly Communications cycle; the ways that professors disseminate their research through journals is being disrupted by rising prices. Introducing Open Access to this model, through archiving in open repositories or publishing in new, open access journals, is a rapidly increasing way of allowing important research to filter outside of the academy and affect society. If you are considering academic librarianship, this is an area you will want to be familiar with for sure. Spend some time reading up on SPARC, Scholarly Communications, Berlin9 and Open Access Policies and Repositories.

It is important to note that the ‘open’ movement reaches much wider than academic librarianship. Archives, museums and special collections are benefiting from sharing their digital assets (digitized copies/photos of their objects) and allowing the public to interact with these things through the internet. The Victoria and Albert Museum is crowdsourcing the collection of digital images of their collection, the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles has adopted an Open Access Policy, and a variety of collections of documents are being digitized and explored in ways that were previously not possible. Information professionals of all stripes are recognizing the value of collecting and preserving cultural heritage, and also sharing it widely for the world to discover.

A fascinating way that open access is proving really productive is in the area of Open Data, especially in the governmental sphere. As a tool to engage the citizenry, countries (including the U.S.) are taking the massive amounts of data they collect and making it publicly available. Once the data is open, finding ways to make sense of it and give it value to the community is vitally important, and federal, data-minded, technically-gifted librarians will be foundational to culling the world’s data and turning it into information. Further, open data offers a new way to enact real change in the world, as evidenced by NYC’s recent data contest and Kenya being the first county in Africa to open their data.

Regardless of your interests and path inside librarianship, it is probable that you will interact with open access in your professional life. As this area develops into the fabric of our linked world, the skills and knowledge that we can offer to help people access and make sense of the exploding wealth of information (and data!) out there has never been more necessary.

How have you interacted with open access already? Is this an idea that you are familiar with? What are some complications you see arising from open access?

3 replies

  1. MV wrote:
    …”Archives, museums and special collections are benefiting from sharing their digital assets (digitized copies/photos of their objects) and allowing the public to interact with these things through the internet”…
    …”Information professionals of all stripes are recognizing the value of collecting and preserving cultural heritage, and also sharing it widely for the world to discover.”

    Just a couple of points here, that special collections have been for generations open to the public to interact with in reading rooms for users too, and were also preserved/conserved as artifacts too. For some people, they often associate “preservation” of an item (ex: 12th c mss) by having a digital version. It’s important to be specific also and clarify the differences too. the real original items still need conservation of a different kind of “digital preservation” that is more commonly tossed out in the discussion. i prefer to use the term “access” rather than “preservation” in this sense. At some research libraries too I have heard some people over the years say they promoted the digital version to users so that they could save staff time from retrieving the original items for readers, and they also thought this was actually “preserving” the original too. Research studies have shown that the increase of digital copies of items in museum collections very often has increased the demand not for the digital copy but rather for the originals. Good research collections still need good conservation depts for the original items too– having a digital version of something or what some call a digital “asset” is much more than that.
    It is also necessary to talk about copyright as well, it’s just not as simple either not only for academic libraries, but also for museums/special collections where there are still important issues of ownership, provenance, rights involved. Do you use ArtStor database?
    this is one of my favorites lately
    guess my point here is to also distinguish digital preservation from conservation of original cultural heritage items too. to me, digital preservation is more of an “access” angle first. and to keep in mind that museums -museum libraries continue to provide access to users in the reading rooms too to users. digital copies have shown libraries that users also value & want more access to the originals. It’s important to be more specific than just “data” 🙂 …. cheers, Karen Weaver


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