Open Everything

One thing I like to do when I travel is to visit libraries. (I realize that such a statement will never make me popular on dating sites, but there it is.) I value the openness of libraries. For the most part, you just go in and make use of what they have to offer. Last week I was in Vancouver at a conference, and one day I had a few hours to myself and a lot of work to do. So I walked over to the Vancouver Public Library on West Georgia Street, got a guest pass (in under a minute!) to use their wifi, and spent three pleasant hours in the library’s comfortable surroundings. It was a good feeling, knowing that a public institution could be so welcoming.

Photo by Katerina Pavlyuchkova via Unsplash

Libraries are built on openness: they collect knowledge that they want to share openly with those who can benefit from that knowledge. It should come as no surprise, then, that academic and research libraries are the primary supporters of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. As you can read on the SPARC website, they are “a global coalition committed to making Open the default for research and education.” 

It should also come as no surprise that SPARC is the engine that powers International Open Access Week, an annual event promoting open access research. The week is designed as a way of framing the conversation about open research at the local level of campuses and communities.

Open Access Week is on right now as I type these words, and this year’s theme is “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge.” At first, I was a bit surprised by this statement. How can open be anything but equitable? But as Nick Shockey, SPARC Director of Programs and Engagement explains, the theme “highlights the importance of asking the tough questions, staying critical, and actively engaging in an ongoing conversation to learn from diverse perspectives about how to make scholarship more equitable and inclusive as it becomes more open.”

This was brought home to me at the University of Waterloo’s Open Access Day when Chantel Ridsdale from the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network, which is housed at the university, spoke about their Polar Data initiative and the implications it has for Indigenous knowledge. They make use of the FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) in the collecting and cataloguing of their information. Yet they also know that some of their ideas about what knowledge should be open can bump up against different practices of the Inuit communities in and near which they work. In their view, open access is not a license to ignore expectations derived from different ways of knowing.

I also spoke at the Open Access Day event (here’s a Padlet outlining my talk), and I made a strong pitch for the good work of eCampusOntario in bringing a province-wide spotlight to open educational practices. Although my German cultural history hackles get all stiff and pointy when I hear open education spoken of as a “movement” (Nazism was also a movement, people!), I understand full well this desire for openness in teaching. Restricting access to knowledge for reasons of excessive financial gain or selfish benefit is just simply anathema to me, especially in an age of immediate and universal access afforded by the new media technologies. While some knowledge may be restricted for cultural or other reasons, I would hope that as educators we can see that the adoption of open educational practices brings more benefits to more people than would otherwise be the case.

But perhaps the thing I like the most about this year’s Open Access Week theme is the emphasis on “knowledge.” In higher education we have got into the regrettable habit of splitting knowledge into “research” and “teaching.” As the characters in Clueless would say: As if! As if teaching isn’t a form of generating knowledge, just like research. As if research doesn’t rely on teaching for disseminating knowledge. Research and teaching are united in the pursuit of knowledge because they both revolve around learning. Perhaps we can put our open practices at the service of working against this ridiculous bifurcation. 

This is the fourth of my nine contributions to the eCampusOntario 9x9x25 challenge.