OSCE Choudhury Paper

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(Position paper at the Open Source Critical Editions workshop, September 2016. Saved here for archival purposes. Please do not delete.)

Position Paper on Licensing/Legal Matters

Sayeed Choudhury
Library Digital Programs, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

In their position paper, Stuart Dunn and Tobias Blanke raise an interesting and relevant question regarding digital texts: "How can such texts fit in existing library and information (infra)structures? Will these need to be rethought?" Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins, has stated that libraries are built upon three pillars - collections, services and infrastructure. Arguably, collections have represented the most important element in the print world, with services and infrastructure supporting the collections. In the digital world, these elements are becoming blurred. It may be appropriate to assert that the ~~principles~~ by which libraries (and archives and museums) have operated remain valid, but the ~~practices~~ need to be reconsidered. Not surprisingly, libraries are facing new challenges, and opportunities, with the development of infrastructure to support digital collections and services.

At the heart of this infrastructure development effort is the repository. There are many defintions for repository, but for the purpose of this discussion, the most useful one is offered by Cliff Lynch who stated a "repository is a set of services that a university offers to the members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members. It is most essentially an organizational commitment to the stewardship of these digital materials, including long-term preservation where appropriate, as well as organization and access or distribution." (http://www.arl.org/newsltr/226/ir.html)

The emphasis on both services and preservation is particularly noteworthy. From a preservation perspective, it is important to note that both open standards and open source augment our abiilty to support digital preservation. (http://www.ils.unc.edu/callee/oss_preservation.htm). From the service perspective, other position papers have raised several interesting (potential) needs or uses for digital texts. One theme becomes patently clear in reading these papers: scholars will not only need access to view digital texts, but will also need the ability to download (en masse), manipulate, transform and repurpose digital texts. The collaborative editing envsiaged by Ross Scaife and Dot Porter would be difficult without fully open access to digital texts. The type of markup described by Gabriel Bodard almost certainly requires complete access to digital texts. Greg Crane has often discussed the possibilities for machine translation, language modeling and document analysis with large corpora of digitized texts (http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march06/crane/03crane.html).

These ideas raise very important questions. Are the libraries involved with Google Book Search (http://books.google.com/) providing only part of the solution? Even more disconcerting is the idea that these libraries, though well-intentioned, may even inhibit the ability of scholars to work with digital texts in a manner that supports new scholarship. Will Google work with the scholarly community to build tools and services, or only consider commercial opportunities? Understandably, libraries, including those working with the Open Content Alliance (http://www.opencontentalliance.org/), consider whether to digitize books already available through Google Book Search in an effort to avoid duplicative efforts. However, it's important to consider both the collections and services aspects.

Repository development obviously entails a high degree of technology work, but repositories, particularly institutional respositories should respond to a policy and legal framework. From a technological perspective, it is optimal to develop an unconstrained, open system that can be constrained or modified according to local policy or legal frameworks; it is difficult, if not impossible, to move in the other direction. The e-Science community has noted that it is important to consider openness even in terms of the data. The SPARC Open Data (http://www.arl.org/sparc/opendata/) states: "Many advocates of Open Data believe that, although there are substantial potential benefits from sharing and reusing digital data upon which scientific advances are built, today much of it is being lost or underutilized because of legal, technological and other barriers." That is, even the most open system may not support preservation or scholarly needs if the data is constrained through proprietary formats or legal restrictions.

With these observation in mind, it seems obvious that the scholarly community should adopt, even push, for completely open standards and open access for digital texts. Such openness offers the greatest potential for the type of digital environment envisaged through the other position papers.

However, it is important to note that the inter-relationships between technology, policy and organizational roles that has been defined in the print world is also becoming blurred. When a monograph was published, there was a reasonable degree of understanding regarding how a scholar would send this monograph to a publisher, which would seek revenue through sales, but also agree that libraries could offer the book without cost - under certain conditions - to the scholarly community. With digital publications, this process and role definition is being established, sometimes with controversy. The US National Endowment for the Humaniites has announced new guidelines for their Scholarly Editions Grants (http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/editions.html) that states a preference for projects that offer digitized works online throgh open access. This announcement has raised some concerns among scholars and University Presses regarding business models and rights clearance (http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/09/18/documents).

Finally, what implications arise from open data in terms of the reward structure for scholars? Will freely available online digital texts be viewed with the same level of rigor or reputation as those "validated" through publishers, peer review, or other means for assessment? Libraries are eager to serve scholarly needs in the digital age, ideally with an open policy and legal framework. It is important, however, to address the corresponding implications of such arrangements in terms of organization roles, business models, and reward structures.

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