Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Friday, March 23, 2007

Profile of John Willinsky and the Public Knowledge Project

Bruce Byfield, Open access and open source intersect in Public Knowledge Project, IT Manager's Journal, March 23, 2007.  Excerpt:

The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) is a hybrid of two philosophical trends in technology: the well-known free and open source software movement, and the open access movement, whose goal is to provide free online access to scholarly research. By combining advocacy with the software tools needed to accomplish its aims, in nine years the project has grown to become a significant force in academic online publishing.

PKP was founded in 1998 by John Willinsky, a professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia....[T]the project arose directly out of two of Willinsky's research interests. The first was his interest in post-colonialism, the study of developing nations since the end of the European empires. Having just published a post-colonial study entitled Learning to divide the world: Education at Empire's end, Willinsky says, "It was very much a question of what I could do...."  In other words, how could he enable researchers in developing nations to participate more readily in academic discourse?

Willinsky's second interest was in improving access to research to the general public. Through experiments done in collaboration with The Vancouver Sun and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, Willinsky concluded that "only a limited sample of research could be provided. Otherwise, [teachers] needed access to a university library. I was frustrated by my inability to share research."

From these interests, PKP was born. During the first two years of the project, these original motivations were supplemented by the rise of the open access movement. As Alec Smecher, a full-time developer with PKP, says, "The open access movement is trying to free up control of journals so that it's not in the hands of a few publishers." The movement also shares Willinsky's concerns with rising periodical costs and access to knowledge in developing nations....

Originally hosted in the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Education, the project is now a joint effort of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. The project is active in the African Journals Online program, and last month it received a $5.8 million Canadian grant from the Canadian Foundation of Innovation....

Like most open source projects, PKP keeps no formal record of users. However, Smecher estimates that Open Journal Systems alone has more than a thousand installations worldwide....

The project's forum is increasingly active with all levels of users, and all translations for Open Journal Systems except the French one have been contributed by volunteers....

"We didn't revolutionize the entire world of scholarly publishing in nine years," [Willinsky] says. "But, on the other hand, the success of the software exceeded any expectation I had. And the pleasure of helping new journals start, not just in developing countries, but among editors who have been fired because of editorial interference, and new groups that wouldn't have been able to organize earlier -- these kinds of questions of academic freedom and editorial independence have been achievements we hadn't expected." ...