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Open Educational Resources holds lessons for documents users

While not squarely on the topic of government information, I think this new article on Open Educational Resources will be of interest to FGI readers and government policymakers:

Authors: Smith, Marshall S. and Casserly, Catherine M.
Source: Change; Sep/Oct2006, Vol. 38 Issue 5, p8-17, 10p
If you have a subscription to the service, you can access the completed article on EBSCOhost.

If you don’t have a subscription to EBSCOhost, you can read a Creative Commons licensed preprint produced by the authors. All quotes from the article will be from the preprint.

The main thing that struck me about this article was its discussion of the market for educational materials (lectures, syllabyi, etc) and how similar it sounded to the situation for government information:

Many prestigious American universities originally applied a capitalist model to the Web,
imagining that they would make a great deal of money by selling some part of their knowledge
through Internet-based delivery systems. By 2001 this idea had foundered in the face of market realities. With the specter of riches growing dim, there emerged substantial support among academics for using the Web to provide open access to educational materials. After all, most published professors know that they are not going to become rich on their royalties, that their books and articles will probably be out of print within five years, and that academic progress is nourished by the free flow of information. And most faculty, proud of their work and wanting to share it, provide links to their scholarship on their own Websites. So MIT boldly changed the model: in late 2001, it announced its OpenCourseWare initiative, an ambitious project to share with the world the content of its courses.

Access to knowledge and the capacity to use it are critical to both individual and collective
prosperity in a world of knowledge economies and global interdependence. In The Future of
Ideas Larry Lessig argues that if some have access to the wealth of information on the Web
while others do not, creativity will be constrained and inequalities heightened. And that
argument does not simply apply to the widening economic gap between the developing and
developed world. We only have to compare the resources of the libraries and laboratories of the top twenty universities in the United States with the thousands of colleges and universities that are among them to see such inequalities here at home.

Doesn’t the first paragraph remind you of the Government Printing Office’s first attempt to sell electronic information back in the early 1990s? And perhaps the second paragraph reminds of the differing levels of access that people have to information produced by their government?

The article also contains examples of the benefits of full open access. In its most dramatic example:

Finally, we hear stories about people and organizations that are in the business of selling content but who also place their content on the Web for open access. Then, instead of destroying their market, the free access increases their sales and revenue. In one example, after the South African Human Sciences Research Council Press (HRSC) embraced open content publishing and made many product freely available online, print sales increased over 300 percent. Other less dramatic examples abound.

This article is a good example of what we document librarians can learn by seeing what people in other fields are doing. Its something we should do more often. It is also an example of how progress isn’t always served by a strictly free-market model. That is something that GPO and Congress should consider in providing future access to government information.

People wishing to know more about Open Educational Resources in general should visit the researcher’s web site.

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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