Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations/Librarians are critical

"I remember, in the first days of the Revolution, I passed a thin, hunched-over figure in uniform warming itself by a fire near the Winter Palace. The figure called out to me. It was Blok. We walked together. . . . I said, ‘How do you like it?’ ‘It’s good,’ said Blok, and then added: ‘They burned down my library.'" (Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1921.)

In the past we had libraries


The following is an opinion piece written by Leigh Blackall (2010).

In the past, we had libraries. They were impressive places. They housed all manner of books, audio, slides, video, and archive materials and collections. Anyone could walk into a library and enjoy largely unrestricted access to any of the collection – for free, so long as they respected the house rules of seriousness, quietness and respect for the items. Some universities would even extend that type of access to empty seats in their lecture theatres. It was a social good – or a way of sustaining a level of society.

eLearning spawned from the Internet about the same time as the dot com investment boom started to take hold. University managers found themselves caught up in the dot com rhetoric, and at the conferences they frequented people started talking about ways to leverage this boom. Everywhere people started to think money could be made from information and content, and everywhere people started to invest in the developments of systems that would restrict access to portions of the Internet. The term Intellectual Property started to become popular in universities! It was a dark time indeed.

The Internet started to split. On one side was the open, distributed, and networked (The Web) area. On the other side was the closed, centralised, and delivered (Darknet) area. Universities went along the Darknet route, on the hunt for more money with the dream of thousands more students, all paying to study, at their own [in]convenience and expense.

Many software developers directed their attention to projects around Content Management Systems (CMS) – largely to serve an inflated dot com market. Developers inside universities modified the CMS to make Learning Management Systems (LMS). The universities accessed and spent millions of dollars of public money, developing content for their new LMS systems. They used this money to create the equivalent of whole new text books, activities, student handbooks, and fancy new media. But instead of housing these shiny new resources in their open access libraries, they housed them in their Learning Management Systems, which were designed to restrict access. Access was restricted to those who would pay. To access these wonderful new collections, people would have to be enrolled students – society as a whole would have to miss out. Libraries said nothing because they knew nothing.

The libraries by and large, never saw much of the money that was poured into eLearning. It was swallowed up by new and powerful IT departments. How these departments could be seen as anything but the core responsibility of a library is just another strange thing in this story. As a result of this passing over, libraries are what they are today – broken and disconnected, struggling to find relevance. They had a few sporadic attempts to scan and digitise the older collections, but they never really had access to the same amounts of money that was made available for eLearning in the education sector. Digitising library collections was seen as too expensive, especially if the libraries were going to continue to allow anyone to walk in and browse or borrow.

MIT's Open Courseware was a first step in a return to the traditional social values and responsibilities of the university. It was a first step with a clear head, and now with a few more steps – largely around getting copyright and formats right, we might imagine a university very relevant to its global society. Not universities that design technology for restricting access to information and learning, but universities that leverage existing technology to give greater access for many more, at very little extra cost (relative to eLearning), and evidently no loss.

The dot com era has passed, the managers are slowly learning about their mistakes, and a new motivation is taking hold. One of social sustainability through unrestricted access to information and learning. But there’s a new threat on the horizon already. Cloud computing where the centralisation of information could lead to restrictions once again. Cloud computing could be a great thing, used to further that social brief, but we’ll need to keep reminding ourselves of how easy it is to lose our way.

In the next section, is an example of some of the issues surrounding decisions about whether it was best to set up a library of images in a restricted access organisational database, or on an open and existing web-based database, e.g., Wikimedia Commons.

Otago Polytechnic’s image database project


Otago Polytechnic's School of Art worked on a project to create an image database. Ideally, that project needed to eventually scale to other departments as well. Apart from the technicalities of meta data, resources such as storage, and sustainability such as who maintained and backed it up – copyright was a problem. The Art School had thousands of slides they wanted to scan and make available to their staff and students digitally, and questions arose on the effects a closed or open database would have on the copyrights of third party images.

One solution proposed was to not create the image data base, but to use an already existing database such as Wikimedia Commons. At first glance, up to half of the images the School might need to use were already available on Wikimedia Commons under various free licenses, and the InstantCommons project looks set to make those resources easily available. Interestingly, it seems that Wikipedia is accepting copyrighted works under USA legislation of Fair Use – which could help make such works easier to use educationally than if the images were stored locally at Otago Polytechnic, affected by NZ copyright legislation.

Case studies:

Based on a statement included with a copyrighted image on Wikipedia, it is felt that if the copy is low enough in resolution to not warrant a faithfully replicable copy, or if a copy that could not effectively reproduce in original scale and in detail, or a copy that could not be used commercially to any great degree, it is potentially okay to exist on a Wikimedia project based on the USA fair use legislation.

Also of interest is the Bridgeman vs Corel case. In this case, a US court was in favour of a corporation that made copies of a museum’s images of Public Domain works. The Museum claimed that they had put a lot of work into their scans to ensure accuracy, but that claim worked against them because their scans therefore lacked originality, and so they couldn’t claim copyright. How would this play out in New Zealand or Australia? Does it need to play out in New Zealand if the image is hosted on Wikimedia Commons? Could this extend to copyrighted images?

Stewart Cheifet at, in a conversation with Leigh Blackall in 2007, put it down to this: low resolution, not making money, all reasonable steps, and no worries = fair use.

Otago Polytechnic would perhaps worry more if they had their own database to maintain, but perhaps Wikimedia Commons is based in San Franscisco, answerable to US law, and demonstratively a fair use case. Wikimedia Commons accepts contributions from anyone in the world, and would probably even celebrate a large database contribution from Otago Polytechnic.

So, what of the Otago Polytechnic database project? They should consider this proposal more seriously, and work towards the bigger projects like Wikimedia Commons, helping to improve that particular open and very usable database that is much larger than anything Otago Polytechnic could do on its own. They can load high resolution images to the Commons for works they have copyrights for, and they are likely to find that a large percentage of the images they need are already there! As for images that they don’t have clearance on, it seems that being an educational institution they can claim fair use under US law if they load low resolution versions to US servers, partnered with US projects like Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons uses a MediaWiki platform which has an excellent range of metadata fields not to mention a proven ability to maintain itself through collaborative editing. Otago Polytechnic's use of Wikimedia Commons would dramatically reduce the costs of installing, running and maintaining their own system. But does this stack up?

Of course they would still need to set up a basic internal system for original scans etc.. Like a library back up in case they lose access to Wikimedia Commons. To do this they should use a MediaWiki internally, so the database remains compatible with the Commons, and so the database can be mirrored locally. Ideally, flexibility in whatever database is primarily used is advisable. They might want to use in the future if the archive manages to get a good image database search engine up and running. However, the openness of the Commons gives them flexibility in the meantime.

So in this instance, it seems to make more sense to work in with existing projects rather than “reinvent the wheel” as the saying goes. However, although the concept of collaboration and sharing, with regard to the development of resources, has changed considerably in New Zealand since the e-learning Collaborative Development Funded (eCDF) projects in education between 2004 and 2007, there is more work to be done to progress the OER concept on a national or international scale.

Further reading


Shirky (2005). Ontology is Overrated -- Categories, Links, and Tags.

Today I want to talk about categorization, and I want to convince you that a lot of what we think we know about categorization is wrong. In particular, I want to convince you that many of the ways we're attempting to apply categorization to the electronic world are actually a bad fit, because we've adopted habits of mind that are left over from earlier strategies.

Dempsey, L. (2009). Always on: libraries in a world of permanent connectivity.

Think here of how to socialize and personalize services; how to adapt to collection and service use which spans personal, institutional, and cloud environments; how to position and promote the library ‘brand’ as services become atomized and less ‘visible’ on the network; and more complex questions about what best to do locally and what to source with collaborative arrangements or third parties. First Monday, 14(1).

The “Learn More” series « LibraryStream.

“Learn More” is a series of self-paced discovery entries for library staff interested in venturing out on the social web. Each post is meant as a short introduction to a different social website, tool, or concept.

Farkas, M. (2007). Social Software in Libraries. USA: Information Today Inc.

"This book is a great guide to social software in libraries. It's part social software history and part implementation guide. This book is bound to give you great ideas about creating digital spaces!"

Guistini, D. (2010). Top Ten (10) Social Media Competencies for Librarians. The Search Principle blog.

This list is an early draft of top competencies needed to become a social media-literate librarian. Murphy & Moulaison (2009) have written a fine document on this topic, and related the framework back to the ACRL information literacy competencies.

Farkas, M. (2010). Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki.

Welcome to Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. This wiki was created to be a one-stop shop for great ideas and information for all types of librarians. All over the world, librarians are developing successful programs and doing innovative things with technology that no one outside of their library knows about. There are lots of great blogs out there sharing information about the profession, but there is no one place where all of this information is collected and organized. That's what we're trying to do.

Open Library

If you love books, why not help build a library?

The Editors. (2010). n+1 magazine. The Internet as Social Movement.

“ I remember, in the first days of the Revolution, I passed a thin, hunched-over figure in uniform warming itself by a fire near the Winter Palace. The figure called out to me. It was Blok. We walked together.... I said, "How do you like it?" "It’s good," said Blok, and then added: They burned down my library.” (Vladimir, Mayakovsky, 1921.)