Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

OA as transition to newer models of scholarship

Gideon Burton, Conventional Scholarship as "Legacy System" and Open Access as "Middleware", Academic Evolution, April 7, 2009.

... The restricted-knowledge model, inherited from print, affects not just the distribution of knowledge, but the nature and quality of its creation. Modern popular knowledge has been socialized through commenting and recommendation systems that academic knowledge has kept itself immune from behind its ivory curtain. And there is strong motivation for it to resist current communications. If academic publishing stays within its established genres and persists in the gateway model of peer review, it can continue to pretend to fixed and certain authority, as though knowledge is a commodity (as indeed, it is within the academic reward system). This is understandable given tradition, but it is inconsistent with the open and ongoing review of knowledge that is the new paradigm of communication and knowledge production. Ultimately, traditional academic publishing will prove to be inferior knowledge of diminishing significance (largely due to its own self silencing and its voluntary withdrawal from persistent social knowledge systems).

It is within this light that the Open Access movement should be considered, as well as the efforts to institutionalize OA through academic policies and online archives. Most of the Open Access movement is taking place in terms of accommodating Scholarship 1.0. Almost all the discussion regarding Open Access takes as a given the persistence of the traditional genres of academic knowledge (especially the journal article, but also the monograph, the dissertation, the thesis, etc.), and the persistence of the single-instance, gateway model of peer review. (It is still rare to hear OA advocates speak about born-digital scholarship, teaching media, or student-generated work--all of which should be captured and maintained in such repositories, as I've argued elsewhere).

I'm not saying that the current focus in Open Access on traditional scholarship is wrong; I'm simply observing that this is "middleware." The term "middleware" has been coined within technology to name the necessary bridge that often needs to be made between generations of software or hardware. Such technology is created to sustain the life of legacy systems. And that is very, very important. ...

Nevertheless, the digital world is the world we must plan for. Academic publishing is going to evolve. Already the case has been made that scholarship can consist of creating tools that advance the "cyberinfrastructure" -- such as creating a computer program or posting a complete data set properly formatted for reuse by future scholars. Journal articles are going to be versioned one day just as Wikipedia pages, collaboratively created and mediated with sound and image as never before. Tagging and linking will be as critical, as required to substantiate knowledge, as peer review and documentation conventions are now. ...