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The Intersection of Education, Technology, and Open Content

In a couple of recent posts, Lev Gonick, who is the CIO at Case Western Reserve University, has noted that we have “an educational economy that makes information abundant confronting an educational delivery system built for a time in which information was scarce.”

His description of the educational economy and the educational delivery system struck me as analogous to the situation we face with government information. We live in an environment where government information is abundant and gains value by being distributed and reusable. In this environment it is incredibly inexpensive to distribute information, yet governments too often treat it as if it were scarce and expensive to deliver.

It is ironic, for example, that GPO refuses to deposit ninety percent or more of government information in FDLP libraries because it is digital (SOD 301, Superintendent Of Documents Policy Statement, “Dissemination/Distribution Policy for the Federal Depository Library Program” Effective Date: June 1, 2006) and then wonders why libraries find it hard to justify being a depository library.

Imagine a system closer to what Gonick describes. Imagine a system that recognizes that digital information is different from paper and ink information: both more valuable (because it is more easily used and re-used) and less expensive to distribute. Imagine an approach that is a more modern, more appropriate response to digital information than what we have now. Go further and imagine what the depository system would look like if it adopted the vision that Carl Malamud proposes.

Carl says all government information should be available in three ways (all for free):

  1. as bulk data for downloading and repurposing;
  2. through an API for querying, retrieving, embedding in other web sites;
  3. as better official web sites aimed at end users.

(Carl outlines these in his interview with Timothy M. O’Brien February 24, 2009, and in his Rebooting the Federal Register document):

Lev Gonick expands on what truly open information could mean to communities. He contrasts “the largely proprietary learning economy that exists now” with the new environment of “more and more open educational resources.” He sees these open resources as creating new opportunities that were not available when we could only rely on proprietary, closed, scarce information resources.

Goncik’s specific ideas actually sound a lot like the kind of collaborative, civic-centered services that John Shuler has long advocated and is describing here. Specifically Goncik describes a “a university-led ‘connected cities’ project” in which “we could invite different communities within our cities (children, schools, professionals, unions, educators, artists, elected officials, and so forth) to communicate with others in this new connected Web.” He continues:

They might share oral histories and multimedia presentations about their communities with one another. Or they might participate in formal educational and research exchanges. Scientists could discuss research on sustainability, for instance, in ways that connect to high-school students seeking to learn about ecology and the economics of recycling. We can and we should leverage our universities’ ability to create powerful networks of technology and learners to create binding partnerships that matter.

The oceans that once separated us are now made smaller by the technology that we have helped invent and deploy. Deepening the linkages within and between our communities and across our cities is a 21st challenge worthy of great universities.

But this is not just about technology enabling sharing. It is also about having something to share. In order to do this, of course, we will need to guarantee free access to robust, preservable, re-usable collections of information. We could do that by hoping that GPO will always get the funding to do it for us and that it will do it right and meet all the needs of all communities equally well forever. We could hope that the government (GPO, OMB, Congress, etc.) will never privatize information or withdraw information, or alter information. Or, we could take on the task ourselves as depository libraries in the FDLP by demanding digital deposit. Then we could begin building digital collections for different communities-of-interest, world-wide. Libraries could then not only do interesting things with the information that they manage for their communities, but they could also facilitate others re-using the information.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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