Open Interoperability, Open Source and Open Access Opening our Doors; Open Philosophies Toward Positive Change

Scott Bernier, Senior Vice President of Marketing at EBSCO, looks at 'open' in libraries and the role that community plays in driving open initiatives.

Like Comment

If I told you that “my door is always open to you,” what would this mean to you?  When anyone has ever used this metaphor with me, I take it as a sign of good will.  In simple terms, to me it means that I can count on this person to be available to me should I need their help, their advice or just to talk. There are no conditions to this availability. In other words, an open door doesn’t mean “open sometimes” or “open depending on the topic”…it just means open. Period.    

Ah…if only it were that simple.

In the library world, we undoubtedly have a community of good people, each doing what we can to support the larger goals and ultimate success of the libraries that we work within and that we serve. But it can be complicated. There are situations that we have developed, technologies that are in place, resources that we use, budgets that we consider, businesses that we have built.  And these complexities take simple concepts and put conditions around them that more often than not make “open” less attainable due to business practices and technical barriers. But perhaps through greater dialog and gaining an understanding of the needs/goals/concerns of each of the parties involved, we can be more open as a general rule (in this case, open means being transparent or forthcoming). And with this transparency, perhaps we become more aware of the innate “conditions” that may apply in the various situations when we use the term open.

Let’s just consider the use of the word open for a moment.  When we talk Open Access, there are many forms of this, each which has conditions (gold, green, hybrid, etc.). But ultimately the underlying idea is a good one – greater access to information. But open is not free. There are costs for publishing, curating, indexing, platform maintenance, search and technology development among other variables that enable optimal access to content. So, while costs may shift and change, they don’t go away. We’re open to change here, open to supporting new models that may bring about greater value for all those involved. And we are in a better position when we understand the concerns and specific challenges that our publisher partners face, that our authors face, that our libraries face…and what all of this means in different countries, the ideas around peer review and maintaining quality, etc. Again, this community dialog is critical to forging a path forward – and reaching new grounds that will ultimately mean greater (equitable) access to information.

What about Open Source? In this case, open may mean “free code,” or code that is available to add to, adjust or leverage. But even Open Source may have different license models. And while the idea of Open Source is about removing barriers on the use of code and becoming less reliant on a single technology provider, there are some conditions here as well. For one, it is largely a community effort, reliant upon each of our involvement to contribute to the larger purpose, to add value and ensure sustainability. But Open Source also comes with it a need for larger community education that is directly tied to being open to change. For example, some people still consider Open Source as something that is only feasible in situations where technology staffing is abundant. But the reality is that the idea of the “service model” lets any library or organization use Open Source and experience the cost benefits and freedom of choice that it inherently provides. But are those who want change willing to stand together with others in the library community to innovate and create viable and sustainable options?  Why or why not?  One reason may be that just because something is Open Source doesn’t mean that other applications may be open to its integration.  

So, in this case, “closed” third-party technologies may create roadblocks to the ideal value sought through Open Source and curb the value of the larger ideal of an interoperable ecosystem that allows integration across disparate applications. This largely comes down to having open philosophies – as technology providers, thinking and acting larger than ourselves.  And while there may be costs associated with vendors supporting interoperability, there are business practices and needs that may loom larger. Technology (and APIs) are only one part of an open equation. The other is the practical side – or perhaps more specifically, the contractual side. In the end, if something is open, it may still have conditions. In this case, the open door to interoperability may have specific elements which are allowed to be integrated, and others that are not allowed (by contract). But again, with better community dialog and transparency, at least we can understand the details and specifics in advance, so we don’t walk into an “open” situation, only to realize that there are conditions to prevent an ideal application integration for a given library.

In the end, perhaps again the key is thinking bigger than ourselves. Thinking in a way that isn’t about maintaining what we have today. But instead, thinking about what we can have in a greater, more successful future. For libraries, perhaps that means taking some calculated risk. For publishers, perhaps it means being more open to how libraries may help drive down costs of peer review or other factors. For software vendors, perhaps it is the realization that a walled garden (i.e., closed infrastructure) actually restricts growth in the long run. In other words, a unilaterally open approach means more opportunities in all situations – regardless of what a library may choose for their ILS or other technology underpinning.    

Come join the conversation at EBSCO’s Open Community. Future contributions from EBSCO will focus on topics such as the evolution of open access: identifying how traditional value and new approaches evolve together, the impact of mandates and policies on scholarly publishing and much more. Our goal is to help facilitate positive change. Your input and involvement are both needed and appreciated. If you’d like to contribute to the community and submit articles or run a panel, please reach out to Meghan Tylec at mtylec@ebsco.com for more information. 

Photo: https://unsplash.com/@jarvisphoto

Scott Bernier

Senior Vice President, Marketing, EBSCO Information Services