Open Access Opens Knowledge

Maybe you encountered a trail cam near a river bank or a sensor on a bridge. Perhaps you participated in a survey, visited a studio, or overheard a tour group discussing a memorial near your home. Maybe you bumped into a group of students collecting macroinvertebrates in one of the rivers or creeks. Whatever the experience, it’s impossible to live in this region without seeing evidence of scholarly pursuit.

But what happens to the research? Who benefits from knowledge culled from the physical and social world which we share? 

Traditionally, scholarly societies shared knowledge among members of a given discipline. Scholars cultivated an ethos of knowledge exchange which ensured that members were grounded in methods and nuanced understanding before they engaged in scholarly discourse. Peer-reviewed articles advanced knowledge and encouraged discussion, and academic libraries made volumes of scholarship available to both scholars and to the occasional member of the public. In the print era of information scarcity, no one really questioned the model.

Today, we are all exposed to an abundance of information, however we do not have expressed or shared values to think about or process information at this scale. Likewise, few are trained to focus attention on specific areas. This absence of values and experience has legal, social, and ethical ramifications, as we navigate information platforms where a few savvy publishers and content distributors profit from information chaos.

What does this have to do with information collected from our physical and social world?

A systematic approach to understanding our world is critical for learning, and the reports that stem from scientific study are evidence of scholarly values and curiosity. A public informed about the scientific and social discourse in their region can engage with academic communities to identify areas where knowledge building is needed. A regional community can promote and advocate for the work of local scholars, and informed citizens can also apply knowledge developed by local academic communities.

Unfortunately, a model of information scarcity continues to exist in the scholarly publication industry, and this model requires toll access to knowledge. Paywalls make some people enormously wealthy, and they prop up a contrived system of knowledge scarcity which contributes to inequity. An alternative to toll access is known as Open Access. 

Open Access week is an internationally recognized event started by students in Pennsylvania.

Open access is an outcome of the efforts of scholars interested in making materials available digitally, online, free of charge, and free of some use restrictions. The goal of open access scholarship is the removal of price barriers and permission barriers in order to disseminate scholarship as widely as possible.

While academic communities recognize problems inherent with the scholarly publishing industry many scholars are reluctant to embrace open access out of concern for the traditional authority of the information scarcity model. The traditional model at least concentrated the signal and kept out some of the noise. 

What is the impact on society when over 75% of scholarship requires an expensive subscription to access?

Discernment is difficult. Nevertheless, each one of us should have the opportunity to access and evaluate scholarly resources. Sequestered information cannot benefit people who may be directly affected by research. Impact on health, economies, safety, education, and social order are a few reasons why voices from regional communities are critical contributions to discussions about open access. Information drawn from our world for scholarly purposes should be available to the community.

October 21-27, the Bucknell campus community will be kicking off Open Access Week with faculty discussions, Question and Answer forums, and streaming of the Open Access film “Paywall: the business of scholarship” the following week, October 30. I encourage members of the regional community to join us, to chat with neighbors and friends about information found online, and to appreciate the responsibility we all have to advance our understanding of our world and ourselves. For more information about Open Access at Bucknell, please contact scholarlycommunications@bucknell.edu

–Tammy Troup, Scholarly Communications chair