Open Scholarly Communities on the Web

Dr. Paolo D’Iorio recently invited me to attend the first meeting of an EU funded Working Group “devoted to analyzing the current debate on the legal, economic and social conditions for setting-up open scholarly communities on the web”. The meeting was part of COST:

COST – European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research – is one of the longest-running European instruments supporting cooperation among scientists and researchers across Europe. COST is also the first and widest European intergovernmental network for coordination of nationally funded research activities.

Action 32, of which Dr. D’Iorio is Chair, is called “Open Scholarly Communities on the Web” and has two aims:

  • to create a digital infrastructure for collaborative humanities research on the Web; and
  • to establish and foster the growth of Scholarly Communities that will provide feedback to the IT developers regarding the needs and expectations of humanities researchers and will serve as a core group of early adopters.

Talks included:

  • Paolo D’Iorio (CNRS-ITEM, Paris), How to build a Scholarly Community on the Web
  • Maria Chiara Pievatolo (University of Pisa), Copyright in Europe. History and perspectives
  • Thomas Margoni (University of Trento), How to access primary sources in Europe. The legal framework
  • Annaïg Mahé (URFIST, Paris), The market for SSH Journals in Europe
  • Jennie Grimshaw (British Library), Negotiating spaghetti junction: legal constraints on archiving government e-documents in the UK
  • Christine Madsen (OII, Oxford), The significance of “marketing” digital collections: the case of Harvard
  • Yann Moulier Boutang (Professeur de sciences Economiques – Université de Technologie de Compiègne, Directeur adjoint de Laboratoire de l’Unité de Recherche EA 22 23), Economic model(s) of Scholarly Communities: Open Source or Creative commons?
  • Francesca Di Donato (University of Pisa), The evaluation of science. From peer review to open peer review
  • Eric Meyer and Ralph Schroeder (OII, Oxford), Open Access and Online Visibility in the Age of e-Research

Notes and comments

  • For many humanities subjects, having something like the public domain calculators would help to facilitate the growth of open resources for scholarly communities built on works in which the copyright has expired.
  • Paolo’s presentation of Nietzsche Source and the Discovery project gave a compelling vision of how communities might grow around a resource for corpus based scholarship – with users having their own virtual workspace with annotations and notes that could be shared with other users. The ‘Scholarsource’ system would have stable URLs to support accurate citation, and robust ontologies to facilitate exploration of the material. Licensing that permits re-distribution is also a good preservation strategy.
  • The term ‘open’ was often not used in the sense of the Open Knowledge Definition. Several projects used licenses with non-commercial restrictions. While some participants assumed that scholars and institutions would often prefer that their work was not exploited commercially – it would be great if public domain sources such as documents, images and records, could be published under an open license. An approach which recommended open licensing for material that had not been enhanced (scans, text files …) could help to stimulate the growth of a commons that would encourage greater experimentation and collaboration than one which restricted certain kinds of re-use (cf. 7. and 8. in the OKD).
  • The importance of a close working relationship between scholarly communities and technologists. It is crucial that technical development is informed by the needs and working practices of researchers. This is something we’ve been thinking about in relation to Open Shakespeare and Open Milton. Open licensing allows developers to experiment with scholarly material to develop new tools and applications that could be of unanticipated value (e.g. semantic approaches, text analysis or visualisation).
  • Legal, technological and social obstacles to building open scholarly communities. We have various legal mechanisms and emerging technologies to facilitate such communities. Sometime the most hard parts are social – in growing user base, increasing participation and so on. Value and limits of ‘build it and they will come’ approach.

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