Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 01, 2003

The new Library of Alexandria will try to realize the ambition of its ancient predecessor by making "virtually all of the world's books available at a mouse click." This phrase is from a story in today's New York Times. I'd like to say more but the story lacks just about all the detail worth reporting --and if the Library web site could help, I'll have to wait until it's working. The project will be called the Alexandria Library Scholars Collective (no web site known to Google), and has the support of the Egyptian government, UNESCO, and the Mellon Foundation, although it will need a lot more funding to get past Phase One. The project is the brainchild of American Rhonda Roland Shearer, who designed the software and led the fund-raising. Her non-profit Art Science Research Lab will run the project with the Library.

My hazy impression is that the project will use new software to link together new and existing text archives around the world, with extensive options for user customization. Minus some of the customization, this sounds exactly the project, already in progress, to make distributed text archives throughout the world interoperable through the Open Archives Initiative metadata harvesting protocol. By depending on a standard, rather than a single software package, the OAI project allows anyone to write software to create and maintain the archives (such as Eprints, DSpace, or CDSWare) and tools to search and otherwise process the data contained in them. Is the Alexandria Library Scholars Collective based on the OAI standard? Is it aiming at the same end without the standard? (If so, why?) Is it aiming at a different end? So far I can't find the answers, and would appreciate hearing from any readers who can. More later, I hope.

Fred Rogers died yesterday. Best known as the star and producer of a children's TV show, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, he was also an unsung hero of fair use. The U.S. Supreme Court cited him in footnote 27 of Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, the case that legalized the VCR and established the principle that copying technologies with a substantial noninfringing use do not violate U.S. copyright law. Rogers was one many television producers who testified in the case that he welcomed noncommercial home copying. At the time, his show was the most-syndicated program on public television, with an audience of over three million families a day. Here's the portion of his testimony quoted by the Supreme Court:
Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the "Neighborhood" at hours when some children cannot use it. I think that it's a real service to families to be able to record such programs and show them at appropriate times. I have always felt that, with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the "Neighborhood" off the air, and I'm speaking for the "Neighborhood" because that's what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family's television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been "You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions." Maybe I'm going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.
Also see this QuickTopic discussion. (Thanks to HRRC via C-FIT.)

Robert Wilensky, Principal Investigator, UC Berkeley's Digital Library Project, gave a talk at PARC on 7th March 2002, about 'Re-inventing scholarly dissemination'.

Friday, February 28, 2003

JISC is looking to fund "two prototype demonstrators to promote the discovery, retrieval and use of electronic content drawn from a wide variety of sources within higher education, Research Councils, the British Library, museums, libraries and archives, and the National Electronic Library for Health (NeLH)." Funding proposals are due March 21.

Stevan Harnad's essay, Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at the Speed of Thought, is the focus of an online discussion at Interdisciplines.

The Berkeley DRM Conference started yesterday and ends tomorrow. The schedule includes some industry representatives and some important critics such as Hal Abelson, Edward Felten, Lawrence Lessig, Zoe Lofgren, Pamela Samuelson, and Hal Varian. To follow the blow by blow, read Dan Gillmor's eJournal and the blog reports by Bryan Alexander and others on Mindjack.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

How unpopular is the USA Patriot Act among librarians? The ALA has created a web page collecting the Resolutions of State Library Associations condeming the act. It's so large that the index needs an alphabetic navigation guide. (Thanks to LIIWeek.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The Earlham School of Religion (ESR) has received a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to digitize and distribute free online 64,000 pages of rare texts from the Earlham Friends Collection. (PS: ESR is the Quaker seminary attached to Earlham College, where I teach. Despite this connection, I have nothing to do with the grant. I'm just a proud bystander.)

In the March issue of Reason Online, Douglas Clement argues that "perfectly competitive markets are entirely capable of rewarding (and thereby stimulating) innovation, making copyrights...superfluous and wasteful." (Thanks to Jason Bobe.)

(PS: This thesis is important for the wider open-access movement but irrelevant to science and scholarship for two reasons. First, scholarly authors typically transfer copyright to journals and therefore don't receive whatever incentive or reward copyright gives to other creators. Second, scholars are not paid for their journal articles, even when they retain copyright. So if the reward of copyright is a temporary monopoly creating a temporary revenue stream, then scholarly authors relinquish it for the sake of advancing knowledge and their careers. This is why open-access to scholarship is attainable immediately, while open access to other content requires fighting and winning either of two hard battles --the battle of copyright reform or the battle of persuading royalty-earners to join scholars in waiving revenue.)

Monday, February 24, 2003

A student writing a dissertation on public access to the documents of the European Council wanted to see one of the Council opinions on a legislative proposal to regulate access to the documents. The European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, sided with the student and asked to the Council to make the opinion available. The Council said no. (Thanks to QuickLinks.) (PS: Open access should be debated, but not in the open.)

On February 24, 2003, The Chemistry Preprint Server (CPS; free registration is required) had archived a total of 623 preprints (plus 72 conference proceedings). Of these preprints, 264 (42%) were classified as Physical Chemistry. On September 16, 2002, this percentage was similar (44%). The percentage of preprints classified as Organic Chemistry was much lower (63/623 = 10% on February 24, 2003; 55/532 = 10% on September 16, 2002).

The student paper at the University of Pennsylvania reports that in the battle between Google and the distinguished campus library, Google might be winning. (Thanks to LIS News.) (PS: Another one of these stories. Another occasion for my usual two-sided point. On the one hand, don't let students think that "if it's not online, it isn't worth reading." On the other, don't expect students to overlook the spectacular convenience of free online access to information. The solution is put more serious research literature into this basket, not to blame students for looking first in the basket closest to them.)

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administraton (NARA) has launched a tool for cross-archive searching, Access to Archival Databases (AAD). AAD can search across 50 million online records created by more than 20 federal agencies. (Thanks to LIS News.) (PS: If the relevant archives were OAI-compliant, then users could choose from an array of cross-archive search engines and expect future improvement as tools compete to deliver services for this commonly structured network of content.)