There’s a Whole World Out There

The effect of finding out that there’s a wealth of information that is openly available:

To me, this was a little like the first human sighting of the Antarctic land mass in 1820: proof that a huge terra incognita existed just over the horizon, awaiting exploration.(Peter Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, 11/2/06
)

This is an important feeling (and an important issue). As the Gershwins had it:

I know how Columbus felt

Finding another world

The first time I recall feeling this way was at the end of the year, in elementary school. We had been using this math textbook with exercises for every chapter. It’s only during the last week of classes that I noticed that answers to the exercises could be found at the end of the book. Finding those answers was a revelation to me and I seek this discovery feeling. It’s one that I get from fiction (books, television shows, etc.). You find the key and everything falls into place.

What’s the connection, here?

Well, maybe I’m going on a limb. But I see a connection between Open Access, textbooks, and discovery. In fact, it runs through what I was trying to present this past week at the Spirit of Inquiry conference.

Sure, we all know about information overload and many of us would like authoritative filters for information. But the real point is about getting awestruck by the amount of work that has already been done. Sure, it’s intimidating when you take a look at the dusty shelves of a good size library. But we can also focus on doing something with all this information. Sure, the Encyclopedia of Life is bigger than any library, as many people keep reminding us, these days. But we can still start from access to published texts, can’t we?

Newton’s “shoulders of giants” and all that. The opposite of the forbidden library in Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Regardless of opposing views about what should be done with information, most people agree that there’s something empowering about anybody getting access to valuable information.

Some academics are “immunized” to the awe-inspiration from seeing the amount of information available. Some of them simply focus on a tiny parcel of knowledge-land they can call their own. Others insist that most information is completely relevant. Yet others think about knowledge in less of an information-processing model.

That’s why I think that making resources openly and publicly available is more important for students than for tenured professors.

Yes, I do care about students.

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

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