Free the Knowledge

The Editorial Board

Finally, open access has come to Oberlin. The General Faculty has made a smart move to spread the wealth of scholarship produced here to anyone with a computer — for free. This decision comes as many other institutions of higher education around the country adopt similar policies.

Giving a wider public access to the scholarship that takes place at Oberlin is a move toward democratizing knowledge; scholarship and academic accomplishments should not be limited to colleges that can pay the increasingly high price of traditionally published scholarly journals. And yet, much work remains to be realized. The systems of publishing and dissemination of scholarly writing and research have only recently begun to catch up to the technological and cultural shift spurred by the advent of ubiquitous personal computers and the Internet. It seems that only recently has there been enough collective enthusiasm across the field of higher education to spur such a change.

We applaud the General Faculty’s decision to adopt an institution-wide open access policy, and we hope that the faculty will use this new system to its fullest, not only submitting their peer-reviewed articles for inclusion in the OhioLINK database but their other publications as well. And yet, this is only a first step. The Internet has begun to transform the way educational and instructional texts are written and distributed as well, and we encourge the faculty to seek out free and open course materials for their classes and to consider creating such materials too. Some of the same institutions that have open access policies regarding their faculties’ research also publish freely accessible educational materials through such organizations as the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Imagine how textbook shopping might look in the near future: your required physics book — or e-book, as it were — might cost a few bucks or be free, not $200.

This movement toward increased open access is not, however, without its own share of enemies. Publishers and other content providers, often set in their ways as institutions that have traditionally been able to control every aspect of the production and distribution of texts, consistently seek to limit the sharing and collaboration that are at the heart of this current movement. We encourage the General Faculty to consider not only the new ways in which peer-reviewed articles and academic papers may be shared but also the deeper impact that increased openness and collaboration can have on learning in general.

Knowledge has one thing in common with both speech and beer: it should be free.