Issue 8, 2009-11-23

Editorial Introduction — Openness

On openness and the Code4Lib Journal.

by Andrew Darby
Coordinating Editor, Issue 8

Openness is one of the defining concepts at the intersection of librarianship and programming, a neat ontological overlap that cries out for a Venn diagram. Libraries strive for openness in terms of physical space, operating hours, and access to information; many programmers seek to freely share their ideas, expertise, and code. Openness is an idea and an attitude that you can feel good about, and I think this good feeling is one reason why the Code4Lib community in its various incarnations (IRC, Listserv, Conference, Journal) continues to grow.

Openness means several things for the Code4Lib Journal. First, we are an open access publication, listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, and we require that our authors publish their articles under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. The CC-BY license “lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation” [1], which sounds like a scary proposition if you imagine all the terrible Frankenstein’s monsters people might generate from your work, but it also allows for the greatest utility, exposure, and value [2].

Open access, in turn, means that there are fewer barriers to people reading the Journal. It exists natively in the “light” web, happily mingling with all the other content—and being indexed by the same spiders and bots. You don’t have to be a “researcher,” with access to a university’s subscription resources, to find our articles. This allows for engagement with the world outside of our very specific domain—mighty Google acting as matchmaker—and hopefully a fruitful cross-pollination of ideas.

The Journal also has a toehold in the “dark” web—we are now indexed by EBSCO, so we are not invisible to the traditional academic researcher. From a corporate point of view, openness can seem like a lack of center. When an EBSCO representative wanted us to sign their “standard non-exclusive licensing agreement”—well, who should do that? The same person who will cash our (entirely hypothetical, I fear) royalty checks? And then, what’s the postal address of an entity made up of emails, spreadsheets, and web pages? Finally, considering our license, couldn’t EBSCO have just taken the contents of the Journal themselves, without asking? (Thanks for asking, though.)

There are numerous other ways the Journal is “open”: our publication platform (WordPress) is free and open source software; we encourage an immediate and open dialogue with readers through comments; our “closed” internal deliberations are nonetheless “open” (any editor can deliver their two cents on any article); and importantly, many of our articles include code with an open source license.

Openness can also mean transparency. At the Journal, only our editorial discussions are closed. On the Code4Lib Wiki, we post documents that expose our procedures for selecting articles, our internal deadlines, even our basic “thank you for your submission” email templates. It’s a practical matter: we need to store this information somewhere, and we could put it under virtual lock and key; but why? There is also a Google Group, c4lj-discuss, to hash out non-editorial issues with anyone who cares to join; and even this editorial is a stab at transparency.

One downside of openness is noise. We have all searched the Internet for a solution to a problem, found publicly-posted code, and come to the frustrating realization (sooner or later) that it was wrong—or maybe just wrong for our purposes. But at least something was there, and this wrong answer hopefully moved us closer to a solution by closing that particular door. Imagine instead that your search turned up only an abstract with the promise of an answer, perhaps a solicitation to pay just 99 cents for the full text (which might still be wrong)? We’d all be so much further behind if that were the winning paradigm. Better to accept some noise.

So, hurrah for openness, for open access journals, for people who index content, and for authors (of all sorts) who are willing to make their work freely available.

Notes

[1] http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/.

[2] CC-BY is a stricter standard than required by the DOAJ, but it is required for the SPARC Europe Seal, and we agree with the contention that “[i]n order for open access journals to be even more useful and thus receive more exposure and provide more value to the research community it is very important that open access journals offer standardized, easily retrievable information about what kinds of reuse are allowed” (http://www.doaj.org/doaj?func=loadTempl&templ=080423).

Leave a Reply