Building Open Knowledge

My writing space in D.H. Hill Library, North Carolina State University

There is a sense of a thing that is building. It has a pillar in the OpenCon community, a foundation in the digital humanities, a keystone in higher education policy, and a truss in librarianship. In the various roles I’ve played between all those worlds, I’ve tried to name some essential characteristics that provide a foothold for my work, interests, and future-orientation. How should we define digital scholarship? In what ways is any of this different than the work we’ve always done in the academy, save for the ease and efficacy of doing more with technology? Thankfully, I’m a puzzler so I puzzle over these kinds of things, hoping to make sense of the state of things, and what is important about it.

Joining the library at NCSU recently, I have a lot to be excited about. Too much to list. But there is one thing I feel particularly responsible to deliver on; the job title of Open Knowledge Librarian feels like a mandate and a mantle. I know titles are a dime a dozen, but I do take seriously the opportunity to use this elbow room to advance a broad idea of what we mean when we say “open knowledge.” I believe that we are at or reaching a saturation point where the open agenda encompasses more than it doesn’t, and there are many folks working in the aforementioned areas that will be the vanguard of redefining that agenda, and producing some influence and impact that the world will notice.

In the brief month I’ve walked the halls of D.H. Hill library, thinking deeply about who I am as a professional and how that fits here, asking big questions about a library whose defining value is “innovation”, I am narrowing down a direction that feels really great, for me, for this moment, and for establishing a foundation from which to build. I intend to work strategically in three directions at once: community-building, infrastructure, and policy. This shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone that has been around me lately. I think that the echoes and confluence of these three spheres of influence are apparent in the academy, but also in the broader culture. And taking advantage of that Venn diagram will (hopefully) culminate in a open knowledge economy where core values are king, not content.

I tend to work best in pithy statements and mottos. Here’s where I am at for now:

Open knowledge is creating a new academic value system for/as a public good. That value system will layer on top of everything we do (content, process, infrastructure) and inform every corner of the academy regardless of discipline, administrative position, or seniority.

This “coherence of open initiatives in higher education and research” will necessarily be political, cultural, economic, and technological. I firmly believe this is a necessary and unavoidable evolution. So, lets stop worrying about how to achieve 100% open access and start deep dives into affecting information policy, shifting economic power, evolving the scholarly record, and coordinating an infrastructural strategy.

I’m humbled that I get to kick-start some of my own exploration into this topic with the generous support of a Fulbright-Schuman fellowship this winter. My hosts at Maastricht University and the Royal Danish Library are providing a space and time for me to learn about the investments the EU is making in an open research future, and how librarians play a role therein. My goal is to bring back a policy-to-praxis model for advancing “open knowledge”, and to continue to refine how that aligns with my colleagues here at NCSU, and across the globe.