Chris Bourg on the Compelling Vision for an Open Digital Commons

Chris Bourg, by L. Barry Hetherington, available under a CC-BY license

MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg is one of the most salient voices in the library community for open access, diversity and inclusion, ethics in scholarly publishing, and social justice. As a keynote speaker for this year’s CC Global Summit, she’ll be discussing the nuances of the Open movement as an advocate for the digital commons and director of a major open access initiative.

Chris’s tweets and blog are must-follows – her dog, Jiffy, is an adorable and frequent guest star. In this interview, she discusses tech optimism, storytelling, diversity, and the fallacy of neutrality. Join Chris and more than 400 open advocates at the CC Global Summit in Toronto from April 13-15.

As an open movement, it’s become difficult to live our values as the web’s content Commons have become increasingly enclosed and the halcyon days of internet utopianism seem long over. As a prominent figure in the movement and a crusader for open, how can we do better? What are tangible and intangible steps we can take as a movement to move the needle? How can libraries play a role? I think that generally speaking, I’m an optimist, but not a tech utopian. So I think we keep focusing on the ultimate goal and reasons for promoting an open digital commons. There are compelling stories to be told about the harms of information scarcity and knowledge monopolies, and there are equally compelling stories about ways in which open access to knowledge and culture helps us solve big (and small) challenges across the globe. We have to unearth and tell those stories, and bring more people and communities in to the cause. In some ways, the increasing commercialization of not just scholarship, but of our own personal, social, and behavioral data may be the wake-up call that leads to the next wave of organizing around creating a truly open, non-commercial, digital commons. I think libraries can play a role by acting as the trusted facilitators of information creation, exchange, and preservation that we have always been. A digital commons that combines the values of openness and sharing with the values of privacy and informed choice sounds an awful lot like a library to me – or at least the kind of network of libraries that many of us aspire to create and maintain.

In your position as Director of MIT Libraries, you are an outspoken advocate for open access and knowledge resources. The question of why libraries need to stand up for open access has been answered in a variety of places, but why are the MIT libraries central to this fight? A big part of what drew me to this job at MIT is the fact that MIT, and the MIT libraries in particular, combine a strong cultural commitment to openness with an equally strong commitment to building the infrastructure needed to openly share knowledge resources. MIT has led before in making the fruits of its research and teaching open to the world; with Harvard in 2008 and 2009 on passing Faculty Open Access Policies, and before by launching Open CourseWare in 2000, with the mission of sharing all of MIT’s course content online, for free. When the MIT Faculty passed the OA policy in 2009, they turned to the libraries to implement the policy. The libraries at MIT have long been seen as a key player in facilitating the dissemination of MIT research to the world, and frankly, we’ve been pretty good at it. Nearly 50% of MIT faculty journal articles written since 2009 are openly available to the world – that’s nearly 27,000 articles, downloaded nearly 9.5 million times.

We are in a great position in the MIT libraries to be able to partner with leading scholars across the Institute, in Engineering, Sciences, Business, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Architecture and Planning, to strategize on what’s next for open access. Through the work of the recently launched Ad hoc Task force on Open Access to MIT’s Research, which I am co-chairing with Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor and founding director of Creative Commons, Hal Abelson, we are basically asking what’s next? How can we push the needle further, and how can MIT continue to lead? Creating a more open scholarly record will require changes at the technological, legal/regulatory, political, and social levels; so our task force has experts from all those perspectives represented. We are also reaching out to experts across the globe to inform our recommendations.

We talk a lot in libraryland about whether the open access movement and/or institutional repositories have been successful, but/and I think what MIT has been able to do in getting nearly 50% of the journal articles of our faculty in our open repository is a compelling success story. And that success story is an MIT Libraries story, so I feel some obligation to build on that success and to leverage it for the broader community of libraries and other organizations who share the goal of opening up our cultural and scholarly heritage to a global audience.

In his ALA talk this year, Junot Diaz pulled no punches when it came to the issues of diversity in libraries. “I wish that libraries would finally have a reckoning and know that [staffs that are] 88% white means 5000% percent agony for people of color, no matter how liberal and enlightened you think you are,” he said. You cited this quote in a recent talk as well. In your opinion, how can we do better as a movement for free and open knowledge? As librarians, researchers, scientists, and artists? How can we, in his words, “decolonize libraries,” or in the parlance of this conference, “decolonize open?” I think we always have to ask who and what is missing, and continue to work to not just be more inclusive, but also to decenter white, western knowledge; and center the knowledge of marginalized communities.

But/and, instead of doing it ourselves we need to look to the people who are doing this work in and with those communities. Two examples I love are the work being done by Anasuya Sengupta and her colleagues at whoseknowledge.org, and P. Sanaith’s work creating and maintaining the People’s Archive of Rural India.

Decolonizing scholarship and decolonizing the web will require radical collaboration across many social, geographical, and political divides; and will have to be based on mutual exchanges of knowledge and skills. All of that requires trust, which is something that takes time to build and is based on relationships and authentic human connection. So if we want to decolonize open, then maybe we need to decolonize our social networks first.

One of the longest running and most frustrating conversations within libraries is whether they are “neutral.” (As you write, you are strongly on the “hell no” side.) Can you speak to the politics of neutrality within the open movement, and particularly as it regards seemingly “neutral” actors like CC licenses and libraries? How does the conversation about “neutrality” relate to issues of diversity and inclusion within the free knowledge movement? I don’t think of CC licenses or libraries as neutral. They are both predicated on the idea that people ought to have the ability to freely create, share, and access knowledge and cultural materials. That’s actually a pretty radical idea. Even if CC licenses and libraries can be and are used to provide access to a huge range of ideas and viewpoints, that doesn’t make them neutral. One of the arguments I make is that you can’t be neutral if one side argues that certain ideas should not be available in libraries (whether those ideas are contained in books representing LGBTQ families, or in gatherings of neo-Nazis) and another side argues that you have to include all ideas and viewpoints. You can’t satisfy both sides – you can’t keep the LGBTQ book and not keep the LGBTQ book at the same time. I may start calling this the Schrodinger’s Library argument against neutrality.

The fact that libraryland continues to have these debates about neutrality is really frustrating, and is very much related to issues of diversity and inclusion. So many of the library debates about neutrality are theoretical and academic and detached, and I think that reflects the stark lack of diversity in our profession. Too often the argument that it is a moral imperative for libraries to represent all sides of an issue, and to serve all patrons regardless of beliefs, come from a position of privilege and relative safety. For marginalized folks, it can feel like these debates about neutrality are really debates about whether we have to honor and engage with people who deny our very humanity and seek our destruction. Many of us would argue that allowing those who deny the humanity and basic dignity of others to coopt the legitimacy of our libraries and our profession to spread their hatred and intimidation is not in any way a neutral choice.

What is the need for Creative Commons today and why are you coming to keynote the Summit? What I love about Creative Commons and the CC community is that it is driven by a compelling vision of an open digital commons, and that it provides the tools for people across the globe to choose how they want to participate in that commons. That combination of an abiding belief that openly accessible culture and knowledge are good for society, with a commitment to honoring individual choice is powerful; and it resonates with what I think is needed to advance the perpetual project of decolonizing and opening up the internet.

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Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Data Management for Biomedical Big Data

The Countway Library of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School has received funding from the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Initiative for Research Education, to develop a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Data Management for Biomedical Big Data. This MOOC is is built upon and expands the training materials of the New England Collaborative Data Management Curriculum (NECDMC), developed by several libraries in the New England region. 

The Best Practices for Biomedical Research Data Management course is hosted by the Canvas Network and provides training to librarians, biomedical researchers, undergraduate and graduate biomedical students, and other individuals interested on best practices for discoverability, access, integrity, reuse value, privacy, security, and long term preservation of biomedical research data. The course is free and self-paced….”

Best Practices for Biomedical Research Data Management – Canvas Network | Free online courses | MOOCs

“Biomedical research today is not only rigorous, innovative and insightful, it also has to be organized and reproducible. With more capacity to create and store data, there is the challenge of making data discoverable, understandable, and reusable. Many funding agencies and journal publishers are requiring publication of relevant data to promote open science and reproducibility of research.

In order to meet to these requirements and evolving trends, researchers and information professionals will need the data management and curation knowledge and skills to support the access, reuse and preservation of data.

This course is designed to address present and future data management needs….”

Harvard’s Popular Free Online Architecture Course Returns for 2018 | ArchDaily

“The Harvard Graduate School of Design’s popular free online course, The Architectural Imagination, has returned for 2018, again offering anyone across the globe the opportunity to study the fundamentals of architecture from one of the world’s foremost design schools at absolutely no cost. Led by professors Erika Naginski, Antoine Picon, and K. Michael Hays, alongside PhD student Lisa Haber-Thomson, the 10-week course will begin on February 28th, and will cover topics ranging from learning to “read” buildings as cultural expression to technical drawing and modeling exercises….”

 

OER math curriculum from Open Up Resources aces a big test

“When EdReports reviews curricula, educators take notice. So Open Up Resources and Illustrative Mathematics — partners in developing an integrated math curriculum of open educational resources (OER) for grades 6-8 — were thrilled with the results of a review released Wednesday.”

Queen announces launch of Edraak’s free online platform for school learners in Davos | Jordan Times

“Her Majesty Queen Rania on Wednesday announced the launch of a new learning platform catering to school-aged children across the Arab world, according to a statement from Her Majesty’s Office. …”

AIU’s Open Access Initiative: Open Courses / Free Courses

“Sharing knowledge is a vital component in the growth and advancement of our society in a sustainable and responsible way. In order to contribute, Atlantic International University is implementing an “Open Access” Initiative with academic work, select courses, scientific research, projects, and other scholarly work by students, faculty, and other contributors seeking increased access to Higher Education by making learning materials and research Publicly Accessible. The primary goal of this page is to present AIU’s open courses to the world. All courses on this page are free and open to the public without any requirements for registration or payment. These online courses are intended to be easily taken independently, without supervision or guidance at a pace defined by the user. Each open course includes all necessary video conferences, lectures, course materials, and even tests. Tests are offered as a tool for the user at the end of each lesson to verify that learning, retention and comprehension of the material presented have occurred. However, the tests are optional and the full online course content and lessons are available at once to users.

 

Through Open Access, AIU and other leading institutions through out the world are tearing down the barriers to access and use research literature and academic materials. Our organization is interested in the dissemination of advances in scientific research fundamental to the proper operation of a modern society, in terms of community awareness, empowerment, health and wellness, sustainable development, economic advancement, and optimal functioning of health, education and other vital services. AIU’s Mission and Vision is consistent with the vision expressed in the Budapest Open Access Initiative and Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Some selected Student Publications are also available for this purpose:  Student Publications….

Therefore, to fulfill the intent of this initiative, Atlantic International University will make progress by:

 

encouraging our students, faculty, researchers, grant recipients to publish their work according to the principles of the open access paradigm.

make course content, lectures, assignments and other course materials available to the public.

encouraging the holders of cultural heritage to support open access by providing their resources on the Internet.

advocating that open access publication be recognized in promotion and tenure evaluation.

advocating the intrinsic merit of contributions to an open access infrastructure by software tool development, content provision, metadata creation, or the publication of individual articles.

provide open courses / free courses in the Spanish language to further expand their usability around the world. …”

Harvard DART – Digital Assets for Reuse in Teaching

“Since 2012, HarvardX has developed over 35,000 learning assets for the edX platform, yet the use of these resources on-campus has been limited to small specialized experiments. A contributing factor to this limited use is that edX educational assets are only accessible behind the firewall of an edX registration page. MOOC learners, course staff, and faculty leads must all register for a course in order to even simply browse resources. Allen & Seaman (2016) indicate that two of the most cited obstacles to adoption of open educational resources by university faculty in the U.S. are the difficulty of finding high quality resources and the lack of comprehensive catalogue of resources….”

‘Inclusive access’ takes off as model for college textbook sales

Major education publishers — including Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education — report that the number of colleges offering “inclusive-access” programs has grown rapidly in recent years. Where previously students might have been assigned textbooks individually, now many institutions are signing up whole classes of students to automatically receive digital course materials at a discounted rate, rather than purchasing individually. The “inclusive” aspect of the model means that every student has the same materials on the first day of class, with the charge included as part of their tuition. For publishers with struggling print businesses, the inclusive-access model is a lifeline. Tim Peyton, vice president of strategic partnerships at Pearson, said it was no secret that publishers like Pearson had made textbooks too expensive and had seen sales drop as a result. “The print model is really a broken business model for us,” he said, adding, “we’re thinking about how to move away from print, and move towards digital.”