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Open Access Week
An introduction to Studies in Open Scholarship, by Mark MacGillivray

It is Open Access Week 2013 - October 21st to 27th - and this year, I am taking the opportunity to present some of the topics I have been studying for my PhD via the CL blog. Since October 2010, in addition to my work with Cottage Labs, I have been a PhD student in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh; my early research aim was to find ways to use techniques common in the open source software development world to benefit the education and research community.

Before starting my research, my work mostly involved (and still does) figuring out what people wanted, and then trying to get them to a solution where they had what they actually needed. But this is hard - it is not something with definable or discoverable structure, but something emergent; it is not even about what people want and need but about how communities interact, about how those interactions shape the technology they use, and about how technology shapes their interactions; even if there is a technology capable of solving a particular problem, there is not necessarily a community capable of engaging with such a technology - and alternatively, there may not be a technology correctly configured to realise the needs of a given community.

Within the scholarly community there exists such a problem. The stated aims of scholars and scholarly organisations, and the activities that define scholarship - from using educational resources to teach children all the way through to sharing discoveries via journal article publication - are all predicated on sharing information and building on the discoveries of others. It seems obvious, then, that it should follow that anyone involved in a scholarly activity or with the scholarly community would demand the greatest degree of access to the materials that support and are generated by the scholarly activity.

And yet, they don't. Instead, there are factions - there are events such as Open Access Week that promote open access, and there are contrary efforts to restrict access. There are arguments put forward for AND against increasing access, both by scholars and non-scholars alike. There are, in short, a vast array of additional factors that people take into account when considering their response to that first seeminly simple problem of sharing information for the sake of the advancement of scholarship. This is a form of politics - a debate between people about their personal concerns when considering solutions to the otherwise technical issue of distributing content to users; a sociotechnical problem.

With Cottage Labs I have worked on numerous projects that have produced open source software and/or open access collections of data, and through this work I have observed a great many debates of these political perspectives. However, the purpose of my research is not political, and I do not intend to advocate for or against open access. Instead, I want to present the situation that has emerged over the last few years in a context from which I can provide an expert analysis - about how software developments can be used to advance scholarship - not regardless of but complementary to (or perhaps despite) the social context.

I want to use the available (or feasible) technical solutions to transcend the social problems. To that end, I have grouped the debates I have observed into eight topics, each of which I will present over the coming days of open access week:

scholarship - open vs closed

education and research - collaborative vs competitive

scholarly materials and output - shared vs restricted

dissemination methods - inclusive vs exclusive (combined post with the above topic)

contribution to scholarship - cheap vs protifable

access to scholarly content - free vs costly

scholarly (peer) review - public vs anonymous

the purpose of scholarly attribution - provenance vs acknowledgement

I intend to present further work at a later date on how the issues surrounding these topics inform the decisions we could make about the technology we develop to support our scholarly pursuits, but in the meantime, I would like further feedback on these topics. If you would like to get involved in this, please take part in my survey and provide your own perspective on these issues, and help to inform our community perspective on what (open) scholarship is. Please feel free to complete the survey now, or wait until the end of the week if you would prefer to read my detailed posts about each topic first.