Friday, 3 June 2016

Open Access and the new culture of information flow

I consider myself an advocate of the Open Access movement not only in words but in deeds as well. That said I have to admit or rather just because of being an advocate I must admit that I have some problems with Open Access publications. Namely, I am not quite sure that Open Access publications can reach their target audience as effectively as their counterparts behind the paywall.

Creative Commons
I consider myself an advocate of the OA movement, because whenever I have the opportunity, I speak about it. Surely, I can speak about the concept of OA in the greatest depth during my Digital Humanities classes. There I have the opportunity to elaborate on the difference between free and OA, about the various shades of OA (gold, green), the numerous licencing opportunities from GNU GPL to Creative Commons and the degrees within these, the Budapest Open Access Initiative. I frequently use the OA button in my browser. Furthermore, I also am happy to speak about Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan, about The Internet's Own Boy, and SciHub. When reading out parts of the "Open Access Gerilla Manifesto," my voice betrays my emotional involvement, similarly to the moments when reciting Bertrand Russel's "Preface" to his Biography, or when reading out Lear’s words carrying Cordelia’s dead body on stage.

Swartz smiling
Aaron Swartz
Alexandra Elbakyan
Alexandra Elbakyan
Being an advocate of OA does not only involve talking about this fantastic concept, practice and responsibility of the Internet, but also I try to act accordingly, too. Running a blog is one step towards academic openness. With an English colleague we founded an OA journal, e-Colloquia, which is not alive at the moment but should / could be resurrected soon. I regularly contribute to Wikipedia, and request my students to do so within the framework of editathons, too. I share the PowerPoint and Prezi presentations for my classes on Slideshare and make them open on Prezi so that others can make use of them. I share my course descriptions so that anyone can copy and develop them. I am also happy to share my projects (scripts and texts) on GitHub so that anyone interested can copy, download or fork them. So I try to act according to what I preach.

That said I also have to share my problems with accessing OA objects in general and OA books in particular. The case is easy once I learn about an OA object or book: I only enter the relevant strings in the search window of the browser and Bob's my uncle. The problem arises when I just do not know or simply forget about, say an OA book. If I do not know anything about an OA book, then I will not be able to find it. Where is the problem here?—one might ask. Why would you look for something that you do not know if it exists at all? Yes, this is true and the very problem at the same time. I learn about books that are expensive, written by authorities in the field, counting as landmarks in the discipline, well before their publication, as news, would reach me very fast. Appetisers, i.e. academic advertisements would call my attention to them, and by the time of the publication, I would be eager to purchase and read them.

But this is not the case with OA books. Their authors do not mention their OA publications either during the pre-publication phase or after it, clearly because of shyness, or because fearing self-promotion, believing that a good book, article does not need advertisement, you name the reasons. The publishing house does not have an interest in advertising the OA publication, as advertisements need investment without return. Most of the time the funding for the OA publication does not include the cost of advertisements, thus beyond the fact that advertising OA publications is not in the best interest of publishers, funding authorities never think about this: their sole objective is to have the results of a research project published.

Should then the cost of advertisements be built into the research costs? Maybe. Or should a new academic culture of "care and share" be created? The digital arena does not only foster OA publishing but also provides ample opportunities to let colleagues know about one’s publications: they may be notified via personal emails and email lists, the books can be advertised through social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, But do we have the time and energy and self-confidence for this self-promotion? This initial step should be made, I’m afraid. But then it is the scholarly community’s responsibility to inform others about the news of an OA publication moving in concentric circles. Furthermore it is also the task of the big names in the guild to promote these publications, as their voice is stronger, it reaches out to more people and is heard more easily. Does this mean that the channels of promotion on the basis of the principle "care and share," a new advertising culture is to be built? A culture that is not founded on profit but on the responsibility for colleagues and for the welfare of the discipline? Maybe.

Creative Commons:
Aaron Swartz By Fred Benenson - User: Mecredis -, CC BY 2.0,
Alexandra Elbakyan: By Apneet Jolly -, CC BY 2.0,