Saturday, January 07, 2012

The knowledge commons: free resources & speaking notes for Tragedy of the Market - from Crisis to Commons

Free resources & speaking notes

For: Tragedy of the Market – from Crisis to Commons
Jan. 6 – 8, 2012
Unceded Coastal Salish Territory
Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre / Bonsor Community Centre Burnaby

Free resources


Directory of Open Access Journals
Over 7,000 fully open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journals

Open Access Archives

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine
Metasearch through over 30 million items from 2,000 contributors


Free indexing services, U.S. National Institutes of Health, links to millions of full free-text documents

Medline Plus
Consumer health information

arXiv (physics)
Research Papers in Economics (RePEC)
E-LIS (library and information studies)

Open Education

Open Educational Resources Commons

Local resources

Public Knowledge Project
Free open source journal / conference publishing software

Ha-shilth-sa newsletter

BC Grasslands Magazine

University of British Columbia cIRcle

Simon Fraser University SUMMIT

U Vicspace

Post-colonial text

West Beyond the West (BC historical resources)
Speaking notes 

Tragedy of the Market: from Crisis to Commons
The Knowledge Commons: Heather Morrison

What is the knowledge commons, what do I study?

            My area of study is the knowledge commons. What I mean by the knowledge commons is basically the vision that all of the collective knowledge of humankind will one day be freely available to everyone, everywhere, through the internet. My specialty is open access to scholarly communication, the works of researchers who work in universities. I acknowledge that much, if not most, of the world’s knowledge was not created by people who work at universities. This is just what I study. First I will give a very brief overview of the history of enclosure in scholarly communication. Then, I have good news to share about the dramatic growth of open access, and the free scholarly resources already available. Links to the resources I talk about can be found from my blog, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics.

A brief history of scholarship in recent decades
            From the 1600s to the middle of the last century, almost all scholarly journals were published by scholarly societies. Beginning in the 1950’s and continuing to the present day, there has been a strong trend for scholarly publishing to be taken over by for-profit companies. The commercial sector has gone through mergers and acquisitions so that now close to half of the world’s scholarly journals are owned by just four companies.

Prices have risen so that university libraries and scholars can no longer afford to buy the knowledge they need, even at the world’s largest and wealthiest universities. This is particularly true in the areas that are seen as creating profits for our society, that is, science, technology and medicine or STM. The costs of STM journals have become so expensive that libraries have had to cut back on almost all other spending, so that there is almost no funding anymore for scholarly books, or humanities or social sciences journals.

This is an inelastic market. That means that it does not bounce with the conditions of the market. If a university’s researchers are doing research in STM, the universities have to buy the journals. In 2010, Elsevier, the largest of the scholarly publishers, made over $1 billion dollar in profits alone. This was 36% of their total revenues. This is normal for the large commercial scholarly publishers. 2010 was a time when many of the people who do the work – the writing and peer review - at no cost to these commercial publishers, were losing their jobs, taking unpaid furlough or otherwise trying to manage on less than full-time salaries.

The fundamental problem is enclosure of knowledge for the profits of the few. As Drahos & Braithwaite pointed out in their book, Information feudalism: who owns the knowledge economy?, traditionally, knowledge was seen as the classic public good, with two characteristics. Knowledge is nonrivalrous in nature – if I know something and you do too, this does not take away from my knowledge. Knowledge was also traditionally seen as non-excludable; there used to be no way to enclose knowledge, to stop people from knowing things. Now, with the latest in information technology and digital rights management, knowledge can be enclosed. As Drahos & Braithwaite point out, enclosable knowledge can be seen as the perfect commodity, precisely because it is nonrivalrous in nature. You can sell the same thing over and over, whether it’s an old Disney movie or a scholarly article, and you still have the item after the sale, to keep on selling over and over again.

Open access to scholarly knowledge

One of the remedies to enclosure of knowledge is open access. Open access, as defined by open access guru Peter Suber, is literature that is digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. There are two ways to make a work open access. One is by publishing open access in the first place. This is sometimes called the gold route to open access. The other way is to take a work published in the traditional way and put it in an archive for open access. This is sometimes called the green route to open access.

Dramatic growth of open access

The growth of open access in the last decade has been truly remarkable. There are now more than 7 thousand fully open access, scholarly peer reviewed journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, or DOAJ, and DOAJ is growing by about 4 titles every day. DOAJ is a vetted list. Librarians at Lund University in Sweden look at every title submitted for the list to make sure they are fully open access, which means that they are free from the moment of publication, as well as whether the journal practices peer review or an equivalent form of academic quality control.

When you add in all of the journals that make their back issues freely available and the journals that are not peer-reviewed, the total is over 30,000 free journals, as tracked by the Electronic Journals Library. The Electronic Journals Library is a list collectively created by a consortium of libraries based in Europe.

Here in B.C. we have a smaller list of free journals which we call the CUFTS Free! Open Access Collections, with just over 12,000 titles, created by local librarians. There is an A to Z list and the titles can also be found through the OutLook database, which is available through your local university, college, or public library.

There are millions of items available through open access archives. The world’s largest open access archive is PubMedCentral, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health with branches in Canada and the U.K. The long-term goal is PubMedCentral International, with the world’s medical literature available in every country and every country contributing their knowledge to all. If you search through PubMed, the N.I.H.’s free indexing service to the medical literature, you will find that by two years after publication, about 20% of the world’s medical literature is now freely available. Many journals actively contribute their whole journals to PubMedCentral, and this is a growing tendency.

Another very large archive is arXiv, the physics archive. In high energy physics, by the time an article is published, most of the physics community interested in the topic have already read it, because the physicists put their working papers into arXiv even before they submit them for publication. arXiv was started by one physicist, Paul Ginsparg. For years, arXiv has been supported by Cornell University Library, and now arXiv is moving towards sustainable funding by having all of the libraries at universities that have very active physics programs contribute. They are not yet at 100%, but they do have more than 130 libraries contributing so far, and they are well on their way.

Research Papers in Economics or RePEC is a scattered archive managed by a global collaboration of volunteers in this area. E-LIS, the open archive for library and information studies, is similar in this respect. The server and a little bit of staff time are contributed by the CILEA library consortium in Italy. A team of over 60 volunteers from 6 contents gathers the documents and looks after the quality of metadata.

Historical resources are being digitized and put online. Here in BC, we have something called the West Beyond the West portal. Through this portal, you can search for digitized newspapers and photographs.  The Internet Archive, in cooperation with the Open Content Alliance, has been digitizing public domain books for year. There are now over 3 million texts freely available. The Internet Archive also features movies and audio, some old and some that are being contributed today by contemporary creators. The Europeana project aims to digitize and make available all of Europe’s cultural heritage.

Open education is taking off. MIT was a leader in this area, making all of their courses freely available. Recently, MIT announced an initiative called MITx, which provides a means for people to take the MIT courses online on their own, and then go to MIT for exams and to obtain a credential – not quite the same as an MIT degree, but much better than not being able to afford an education.

Resources available

That’s the big picture. Some of the local resources available include the open access archives at UBC, called cIRcle, where UBC students and researchers are beginning to share their work; at SFU, there is a similar service called SUMMIT, and at U Vic, it’s UVicspace.

There are many open access journals produced locally, such as the Journal of Post-Colonial Texts founded by Dr. Ranjini Mendes of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. 

There are journals and magazines produced locally by people who may or may not be university-trained scholars that are shared openly by people who are seeking the truth, and these are very important to the knowledge commons. One example is the Ha-shilth-Sa newsletter developed by the Nuu-chalth-nuth tribal council, and the BC Grasslands Magazine, produced by a group dedicated to conservation of grasslands. 
The struggle continues – the challenges of success

Although there is much good news to share, I would not want to underestimate the challenges that lie before us. Scholars are still in a system that drives them to publish in journals owned by for-profit companies to obtain job security and advance in their careers. As I mentioned earlier, the profits of these companies have not diminished at all, and in some cases are still increasing. The very success of the open access movement to date is creating challenges, from my perspective. We are now seeing some of the commercial publishers shift from fighting open access to beginning to compete for what they must see as an open access marketplace. This may liberate more knowledge, but it is troubling to see companies competing for open access when at the same time they are still lobbying for laws that would further enclose knowledge. For example, Nature Publishing Group has a number of open access initiatives, while its parent company, Macmillan, is lobbying for the Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S.

We are also beginning to see the entrance of new scholarly publishers. Some of these new entrants are, or have the capacity to become, producers of high quality scholarly publishing. However, there are also what appears to be scam artists taking advantage of scholars who want to make their work open access. Jeffrey Beall has started a list of Predatory Open Access Publishers to raise awareness about these practices.

On the other hand, scholarly publishing in spite of the high profits remains largely a gift economy. Scholars continue to give away their journal articles and their peer reviewing services for free. Scholarly societies are still involved in publishing close to half of the world’s scholarly journals, and could thrive into the future with a little bit of support. The Public Knowledge Project, initiated by John Willinsky at UBC with the lead development work now happening at SFU Library, is one source of such support, developing the free, open source Open Journal Systems used by more than 10,000 journals around the world, most of which are scholar-led, free or open access journals.

In spite of the current challenges, overall I think that open access to scholarly knowledge has much to offer the commons as a whole, for two reasons. First, there are the scholarly resources that are now available. Second, there is the success of the movement on a global scale; hopefully there are lessons learned from this that will be of benefit to building the commons in other areas of life. 
Thank you for listening!

Drahos, P., & Braithwaite, J. (2002). Information feudalism: Who owns the knowledge
 economy?. London: Earthscan.
Economist (2011). Of goats and headaches: One of the best media businesses is also one
of the most resented. Retrieved September 25, 2011 from (Elsevier profits)
Morrison, H. Retracting recommendation of Nature’s Scientific Reports. The Imaginary
Journal of Poetic Economics. Retrieved Jan. 4, 2011 from
(explains Nature – Macmillan and Stop Online Piracy Act, with links)

Heather Morrison, M.L.I.S., Doctoral Candidate, Simon Fraser University School of Communication
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics
hgmorris at sfu dot ca

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