Open Access: Problems of Collective Action and Promises of Civic Engagement

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Open Access: Problems of Collective Action and Promises of Civic Engagement Session Organizers: Nick Bramble, Melanie Dulong de Rosnay

As universities increasingly consider open access, as an initiative and mode of scholarship, they inevitably engage with broader civic values around knowledge, authority, and the nature of traditional scholarship. How will this debate shape the role and constitution (in the sense of civic health and collective governance) of universities in the future? What are the "values and identity questions" lurking at the core of questions about authorship, ownership, and distribution? How might open access act as an extension of the social and societal role that universities and libraries have traditionally played? How does it also forge a new path? More broadly, in opening up the raw materials of academic culture, how does it relate not just to access but also to the proposition that "design for innovation is inherently about design for unforeseen use"?

Open Access: Problems of Collective Action and Promises of Civic Engagement

Background: Harvard recently passed a sweeping mandate encouraging all faculty members to license their scholarly articles to a free and open repository. This panel examines the politics of getting such a mandate passed, the civic values of promoting collective engagement at an institutional level, and the social role that universities and libraries might play in the larger world.


  • 1. How did we do it? Interviews with Harvard faculty re collective action problems and solutions; presentation of empirical evidence re how things are coming together.
  • 2. How can we expand it (e.g., to other departments, other domains)? Compare to other existing/proposed university and institutional proposals, specifically MIT and NIH; analogize to free culture's own efforts to encourage students to post theses online. How can other universities follow suit?
  • 3. What does open access mean for the role of the university both as a political community and as an actor in various global communities? Draw analogies to OpenCourseWare and OLPC.

Possible panelists: Stuart Shieber, Peter Suber, Melissa Hagemann, Robert Darnton, Stevan Harnad, Hilary Spencer, John Wilbanks, Zak Kohane

from GK: one possible connection here to my eLangdell project: while it's foundationally important to provide the open content, what apps need to be built on top for it to be useful? e.g. eL enables profs to remix content to create new textbooks. What else?

  • from NB: Thanks, that's a good connection. I agree that it might be more productive to focus on apps rather than theory in my third question above. The most immediate application-based question is how to structure the harvard repository (and PubMed Central as well) to maximize:
    • (a) ease of use (both for contributor and downloader),
    • (b) ease of legal interpretation (e.g., what can I *do* with the work I just downloaded?), and
    • (c) integration with other platforms like eL, Google Scholar, OLPC, and any other OCW-like projects.