Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Interview with Christine Borgman

Scott Jaschik interviews Christine Borgman in today's issue of Inside Higher Ed.  Excerpt:

It’s hard to meet academics these days whose work hasn’t been changed by the Internet. But even if everyone knows that the world of scholarship has changed, it’s not always clear just how or the way those evolutions fit into the broad history of scholarship. Christine L. Borgman sets out to do just that in Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure and the Internet, just published by MIT Press. Borgman, a presidential chair in information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, responded to e-mail questions about her book.

Q: In terms of the creation of scholarship, how do you view the significance of the changes brought by the digital age — in contrast to changes brought by earlier revolutionary changes (atomic age, age of mass non-digital communication, etc.)?

A: ...Most new publications are distributed in digital form and vast portions of the print archive are being digitized. Scholars (at least in the developed world) have ubiquitous high-bandwidth connectivity to the Internet, online access to digital content in their fields (both free and by university-paid licenses), and the tools and services to make use of these resources. Taken together, this environment offers a wealth of opportunities for new kinds of data-and information-intensive, distributed, collaborative, interdisciplinary scholarship.

However, the availability of this environment does not lead directly to changes in scholarly practice. The scholarly communication system has evolved over a period of centuries — it doesn’t shift quickly. Scholarly journals still look a lot like they did in the 17th century, for example. The tenure system is a much stronger driver of scholarly infrastructure than is technology. Scholars are rewarded for publishing journal articles and books, in the right places. They are not rewarded for good data management, except in a very few fields. Rewards for open access publishing are indirect, such as more citations, and recognition of these benefits has been slow to emerge....

Q: Has the digital age resulted in professors having less ownership of their intellectual property than they had before?

A: Yes, although “control” is more the issue than is “ownership.” The set of rights associated with copyright ownership is even greater for digital than for printed works. If authors sign over all associated rights to a publisher, they indeed have even less ownership than before. Many universities and funding agencies are encouraging (or increasingly, requiring) authors to hold back certain rights from the publisher, such as the rights to self-archive on Web sites or in repositories, to use the work in their teaching, or to make their own derivative works. A growing number of authors are using Creative Commons licenses to distribute their work, which reserves rights such as attribution to the author and places limits on reuse for commercial purposes.

The other side of the coin is that the extension of copyright term (70 years after the death of the author, and longer in the case of commercial works) means scholars have greater difficulty obtaining access to recent materials....

Now that the Internet makes wider dissemination possible, copyright laws and contracts are restricting dissemination. The “open access” movement is a response to these limits on access to scholarly works. Funding agencies in Europe, and increasingly in the U.S., are encouraging or requiring grantees to make their publications, and sometimes their data, available within a specified period (usually 6 to 12 months) by submitting them to an open access repository. These policies do not restrict where researchers can publish; they just require that the publications also be deposited....

Q: What do you see as the key unexplored policy issues raised by digital scholarship?

A: The overarching policy issue is what the new scholarly information infrastructure should be. Cyberinfrastructure is the policy answer of the moment. My concern is whether this is a solution in search of a problem that we don’t yet fully understand. Building something is much easier than is determining what to build – the risk today is that we construct a new infrastructure that locks in a number of questionable assumptions about what scholarship is and what it could be in the future.

Some aspects of a successful new scholarly infrastructure are these:

  • It would support both collaborative and independent research and learning.
  • It would provide relatively easy and equitable access to information resources and to the tools to use them.
  • It would provide scholars in all fields with the ability to use their own research data and that of others to ask new questions and to visualize and model their data in new ways....
  • Open access would prevail, and access to digital content would be permanent.
  • Institutional responsibility for obtaining and maintaining digital content would be clear and would be sustainable....

Comment.  I like all of Christine's answers, and just have a quick comment on the first one.  It may be true that the benefits of OA for authors are "indirect".  (I say "may" because I'm not sure what's more direct than increased visibility, audience, and impact.)  But we shouldn't draw the conclusion that the benefits from conventional, TA publication are somehow more direct.  Authors are not paid for their journal articles by either kind of publisher.  Their rewards in both cases lie in intangible, perhaps indirect, benefits like citation impact, prestige, and career advancement.  Whether the OA is gold or green, delivered by an OA journal or by an OA archive after the author publishes in a conventional journal, OA and TA do not differ primarily in the kinds of rewards they bring to authors.  Assuming that authors publish in journals of equal quality or prestige, the chief differences are that OA brings these rewards sooner and in greater degree.  For details, see Steve Hitchcock's bibliography.