The Revolution Will Be Open and Accessible!

On the trade side, we often forget that the shift to digital is affecting academic publishing as well. Recently, there’s been a lot of debate over how to handle journal publication and access to research. The business model is changing there too, as was evident during Open Access week, a global event, now in its 4th year, which promotes Open Access as a new norm in scholarship and research. I attended one of its events in Guelph that had me yearning to work on campus with academics. The philosophy of open access is to disrupt the status quo and to punch holes in the ivory tower to allow for research and academic papers be distributed freely (or not) throughout the world.

The panel for this event was made up of community workers who wrote policy and needed access to primary source documentation, science researchers who needed to store their data, metadata about their data and any papers coming out of the research, and academic publishers who wanted to provide free access to their journals and have conversations take place digitally.

The University of Guelph, like many other academic communities, has been developing a repository for this very thing. At Guelph it is called The Atrium. The Atrium is a repository for the academic output of the university that allows various forms of copyright to be placed on the documents, starting with creative commons and ending in a more traditional copyright.

The most exciting part of the event was a lively conversation that happened around the idea that the academic journal is not the best place to aggregate the output of academics and that the digital space is a far better place for dialogue and aggregation. Up-to-the-minute research can reaches the fringes of the globe more efficiently through digital distribution than a print copy of an academic journal could ever dream of doing.

The trick—and perhaps the revolution—will be in getting universities, funding bodies and academia to stop placing so much weight in the act of being published in an academic journal and start valuing the research that is being sent around the world. The lesson from the digital age is that leveraging the infrastructure that is available to share this research allows innovation in the humanities and the social and natural sciences to happen much more quickly and thoroughly. It also lets the public in on all the goodness. As with ebooks and publishing this is a business model change but one that will serve us all better in the end.