accessibility


Henk Moed had a look at the methodologies underlying the often-quoted Open Access (OA) impact studies available so far: “Does open access publishing increase citation or download rates?” (in Research Trends, 28, May 2012). He points out two limitations:

  1. “based on citation analyses carried out in a citation index with a selective coverage of the good, international journals in the fields” only;
  2. “not all publication archives provide reliable download statistics” and “results are not always directly comparable across archives.”

They “limit the degree to which outcomes from case studies can be generalized and provide a simple, unambiguous answer to the question whether Open Access does – or does not – lead to higher citation or download rates.”

Quick update
A related but more lengthy and scholarly article is “Scientific Utopia: I. Opening scientific communication” by Brian A. Nosek and Yoav Bar-Anan (in ArXiv.org):

Existing norms for scientific communication are rooted in anachronistic practices of bygone eras, making them needlessly inefficient. We outline a path that moves away from the existing model of scientific communication to improve the efficiency in meeting the purpose of public science – knowledge accumulation. We call for six changes: (1) full embrace of digital communication, (2) open access to all published research, (3) disentangling publication from evaluation, (4) breaking the “one article, one journal” model with a grading system for evaluation and diversified dissemination outlets, (5) publishing peer review, and, (6) allowing open, continuous peer review. We address conceptual and practical barriers to change, and provide examples showing how the suggested practices are being used already. The critical barriers to change are not technical or financial; they are social. While scientists guard the status quo, they also have the power to change it.

Yesterday was Archaeology Day organized by the AIA. (BTW. In case you didn’t notice, despite some prophetic warnings, the world apparently did not end to ruin Archaeology Day).

It’s also Archaeology Month here in California. “Archaeology Months” are sponsored by various state historical societies and various state and federal government agencies. They help spotlight local archaeology and archaeologists, and offer a focus for organizing, reaching out to a larger community and highlighting accomplishments and challenges. The Society for California Archaeology runs an annual great poster competition that helps encapsulate some of the activities of an Archaeology Month.

Which brings us to the last alignment of the calendar that I’ll note. Next week is Open Access Week! Which brings us to a fortuitous alignment in the calendar, especially with respect to the themes long explored by this blog, namely, archaeology and open access.

I see open access (and open data) as an important aspect of making archaeology broadly relevant and a more integral part of scientific, policy, and cultural debates. Open access is a necessary precondition to making archaeology part of larger conversations. It’s also an important issue when so many of our colleagues work outside of university settings and have to live, work, and make their research contributions without access to JSTOR or subscriptions to other publishers. While there’s been lots of discussion about how “grey literature” (that is, research content that’s hard to discover and sees very limited circulation) is bad for the discipline, few in archaeology have noted that many mainstream archaeological journals are “grey literature” to people outside the academy.

Of course, most people, including most archaeologists, are outside of the academy. If we want our publicly supported (through direct funding and grants, or through regulatory mandates) research to have any positive impact to our peers inside and outside of our discipline, we need to consider access issues. At the same time, we need to consider access issues when thinking about how archaeology relates to many different communities in the larger public. From the outset, it’s clear open access is not sufficient in itself to make archaeology intelligible to the public.  It often takes lots of work to help guide non-archaeologists through often very technical archaeological findings.  But at the very least, open access to archaeological literature can make it easier for outside communities to learn, even through simple Google searches, that archaeology has something (though probably very technical) to say on many different issues and many different places.

So, I’m glad these chance calendar alignments help put some focus on these issues.

BTW: In keeping with these themes, the e-journal Internet Archaeology (an essential resource for some of the best in digital archaeology) is going fully open access this week! So fire up Zotero and go get some great papers while you can!

… that is, according to the [San Jose, CA] Mercury News:

But how did the hundreds of lesser-known Victorian writers regard the world around them? This question and many others in fields like literature, philosophy and history may finally find an answer in the vast database of more than 12 million digital books that Google has scanned and archived. Google, scholars say, could boost the new and emerging field of digital humanities, …

Google recently named a dozen winners of its first-ever “Digital Humanities Awards,” setting aside about $1 million over two years to help teams of English professors, historians, bibliographers and other humanities scholars harness the Mountain View search giant’s algorithms and its unique database of digital books. Among the winners was Dan Cohen, a professor of history and new media at George Mason University, who hopes to come up with a much broader insight into the Victorian mind, overcoming what he calls “this problem of anecdotal history.” ”What’s incredible about the Google database is that they are really approaching a complete database of Victorian books,” Cohen said. “So we have the possibility, for the first time, of going to something that’s less anecdotal, less based on a chosen few authors; to saying, ‘Does that jibe with what the majority of authors were saying at that time?’”

Besides the Victorian study, the winning teams include a partnership between UC Riverside and Eastern Connecticut State University to improve the identification of books published before 1801 in Google’s digital archive, and a team including UC Berkeley and two British universities to develop a “Google Ancient Places” index. It would allow anyone to query Google Books to find titles related to a geographic location and time period, and then visualize the results on digital maps. ”We have the ability to harness vast amounts of information collected from different places,” said Eric Kansa, a UC Berkeley researcher working on the ancient places project, “and put them together to get a whole new picture of ancient cultures.”

Maybe our own Eric Kansa can explain a bit more about the Google Ancient Places project? The announcement stated: “Elton Barker, The Open University, Eric C. Kansa, University of California-Berkeley, Leif Isaksen, University of Southampton, United Kingdom. Google Ancient Places (GAP): Discovering historic geographical entities in the Google Books corpus.” They further wrote:

Google’s Digital Humanities Research Awards will support 12 university research groups with unrestricted grants for one year, with the possibility of renewal for an additional year. The recipients will receive some access to Google tools, technologies and expertise. Over the next year, we’ll provide selected subsets of the Google Books corpus—scans, text and derived data such as word histograms—to both the researchers and the rest of the world as laws permit. (Our collection of ancient Greek and Latin books is a taste of corpora to come.)

At the occasion of the spat between Google and the Chinese government, Reuters reports: “More than three-quarters of scientists in China use the search engine Google as a primary research tool and say their work would be significantly hampered if they were to lose it, a survey showed on Wednesday.” Just in case anyone still doubted how much today’s scholars rely on Google and the cornucopia of research and information available on the web, esp. in developing countries. “… asked by the Nature journal how much they rely on Google said it was vital for finding academic papers, information about discoveries or other research programs and finding scholarly literature.” “… science in China would not come to a halt without Google, but the search engine had ‘has transformed information-seeking behaviors in academic communities.’”

google.cn

February 11-13, 2009, Annenberg Presidential Conference Center, Texas A&M University, College Station

The papers presented at this conference are now available online: text and even some video. Worth a look! A few titles of papers: “Archives, Online Edition-Making, and the Future of Scholarly Communication in the Humanities”; “The Harvard Open Access Policy”; “The Future of University Presses and Other Institutional Publishers.”

I recently returned from Athens Greece and a facinating meeting hosted by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. The meeting (“Digital Heritage in the New Knowledge Environment: Shared Spaces & Open Paths to Cultural Content“) explored how the Greek cultural heritage sector is embracing and is challenged by the explosion of digital technologies and content that is currently reshaping the globe.

The meeting highlighted important tensions in the adoption of digital dissemination frameworks. For many of us who have been working with digital technologies for the past several years, the tensions are familiar, and at the risk of putting them into a characture form, I can summarize them below:

 


Opportunity

Threat
Nearly free access to the full richness of the documented record of Greece’s cultural heritage Resistance to abandoning traditional models of “cost recovery” (subscription charges). Continued attempts to charge for content, even though the justifications for such charges seem poorly articulated.
The possibility to use digital dissemination technologies to enhance the comprehensiveness, scope, and transparency in cultural heritage documentation and research. The social realities of micro-politics, personal rivalries, and established norms of professional practice which inhibit transparency and create incentives for data-hording. As in many other parts of the world (US archaeology included!) paper publication is still has more prestige than digital dissemination. A fetish for paper seems to be a common affliction in the humanities and social sciences.
The capability of digital content to be easily and endlessly duplicated, adapted, and incorporated into new scholarly, educational, or artistic works. Long standing national copyright claims over Greek cultural patrimony. It seems that the Greek state has legislated ownership over it’s past. Releasing the documentary record of Greece’s past into a digital commons may pose some legal challenges. (See these discussions: one and two of intellectual property claims over national heritage)

 

The whole “copyrighting the past” argument is interesting. Though I have no formal legal training, I’ve picked up some expectations from living within the Anglo-American legal tradition. At least traditionally, we’ve got a very economic / practical view of copyright, and typically regard copyright as a convenient legal fiction to incentivize creative production. “Copyrighting” a work that is 2500 years-old obviously flies in the face of this tradition. However, parts of Continental Europe have different legal traditions. Copyright over the works of Classical Antiquity seem to be somehow in line with “moral rights” types of perspectives, where the goal of copyright is not only to protect commercial incentives, but it is also to protect, in perpetuity, the dignity and honor of the creator of works. That seemed to be some of the argument given in comments made at this conference.

Given Greece’s recent history of resistence to Ottoman imperialism, exploitation by Western powers, and transition out of “developing world” to “developed” status, attempts to guard national honor and dignity of a past that is so important to Greece’s national identity makes some sense. However, this perspective doesn’t seem to work so well in the new digital environment, where everything is global, remixable, and seemingly uncontrollable. Legislative mandates to protect “dignity” seem difficult if not impossible to enforce.

Oddly enough, the current situation may have the perverse effect of making it difficult for members of the public to use Greek cultural heritage for mainstream academic or instructional purposes. People who would be more likely to use Greek antiquity in obnoxious ways are probably precisely those people who would tend to ignore legislative restrictions.

It’ll be fascinating to watch how Greece will adapt its cultural heritage policies in this new world. 

Other conference participants have blogged about the meeting. Check out Leif Isaksen’s post,  and Stefano Costa’s post.

[UPDATED]: Mary Saunders also posted about her experiences at the conference, and she has some additional useful links to related content. 

I’ll update with even more links of blog reactions as I find them.

 

Final Note:

I want to thank the Hellenic Ministry of Culture for their invitation for me to attend this meeting. I deeply appeciated the opportunity to participate in this discussion.

I’ve been in the midst of preparing grant proposals for enhancing Open Context by enabling users to create custom templates for the user interface (UI) and presentation of content. Thus far, most development effort has gone into making it work (data integration, management, etc.) and it is woefully lacking in standards compliance and flexibility on the UI-end.

One of the most important considerations in UI should be a close hard look and implementation of the recommendations of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. This really is an essential guide to making web resources accessible to the disabled community. Again, my own efforts with Open Context really fail in this regard, and I’m very eager to rectify this situation (hint: yes! collaboration help is desired!). The need to make sure our tools and resources meet the needs of the disabled community was drilled home by comments made at the recent Hewlett Open Educational Resources conference. Open Context won’t deserve “Open Access” status without it!

We’re working on a plant to support custom style-sheets for presentation and interface tools. One of the neglected advantages of working toward disabled access, is that it improves web-design more generally (reducing sloppiness, adhering to web-standards). It also means developing systems that can be more easily tailored to meet the needs of other communities (such as portals for sub-discipline communities, language / cultural localization, etc.).

As a parent of two small children, I’m often struck at how the Americans with Disabilities Act has made my life easier. Getting into buildings while pushing a baby-stroller is so much easier because of ramps intended for wheelchairs. So, I’m (belatedly) trying to internalize these lessens and revise my own work accordingly. In doing so, it really opens many doors for building a far more robust and flexible system.

While, I know these issues are widely known among web designers and university staff, they may not be that widely known among individual researchers. So, it is definitely worth discussion for the DDIG community, as many of our members have much more experience with archaeology, data sets, and technology, and less knowledge of the accessibility issues. I hope that other members of the DDIG community working on digital dissemination projects take these important considerations into their design decisions.