I just read a thoughtful piece on John Wilbanks’ blog del-fi entitled Open Access Is Infrastructure, Not Religion. Given my propensity for plays on words, I was attracted to engage with his post to clarify that what I am aiming to accomplish with Omega Alpha | Open Access is something very practical. I am an open access advocate, not an open access zealot. This site is about promoting open access in Religion, not open access as religion.
Much like the patterns of development observed in the Internet and the World Wide Web over the last 18+ years, Wilbanks tracks a “transformative shift to Open Access from something that was political to something which is functional – from religion to strategic infrastructure” (emphasis added).
Though it’s easy to forget now, the internet used to be something of a religion, that zealots said would change the world, increase democracy, and create entire new industries. The world yawned, or at best, mocked. …
But a funny thing happened…. There was a move from religion to trend, and from trend to infrastructure. And those who sat around attacking the religion angle tended to miss the transitions the worst, whereas those who got in early on the infrastructure got the best of the situation: they got to be part of changing the system entirely, and many of them became extremely wealthy.
It’s the “changing the system” part that I am focusing on. Though presumably if there is money to be made (if not enough to become extremely wealthy) there is also money to be saved for the likes of scholars, libraries, and their supporting institutions.
That’s the transition that’s happening now in open access. It was a movement. Then it became a trend…. But it’s already undergoing the shift to infrastructure. Funders are starting to get that paying for permanent access is smarter than paying, over and over, for subscriptions. Universities are starting to get that asserting distribution rights increases impact. And businesses built on open models are popping up, inside big companies like Springer and Nature Publishing Group as well as in small companies like Mendeley.
If this kind of communications infrastructure can be built in other disciplines of scholarly research, why not also in Religion and Theology? The infrastructure is the focus of the advocacy I envision on this site. Actually, the transition is underway, if still largely piecemeal. I just checked over on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) site. There are now 82 journals in the Religion listing.
Wilbanks correctly reminds us that the there is much accumulated knowledge in traditional publishing, the likes of which only the most rabid iconoclast would foolishly ignore. But we also need to apply new thinking and new creativity to the situation, because much has also changed.
It’s not about religion on the OA side, or stodginess on the traditional publisher side. It’s about totally missing the transition from movement to trend, and from trend to infrastructure. … There is tremendous knowledge inside the traditional publishing industry that we don’t want to lose. And we don’t win by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What’s wrong with the old model isn’t wrong because of bad people, or people who don’t know things. What’s wrong with the old model is simply that it’s analog, and we live in a digital world (emphasis added).