Lightning Review: Open Access

Although the push for open access is decades old at this point, it remains one of the most important initiatives in the world of scholarly communication and publishing. Free of barriers like the continuously rising costs of subscription-based serials, open access publishing allows researchers to explore, learn, build upon, and create new knowledge without inhibition. As Peter Suber says, “[Open access] benefits literally everyone, for the same reasons that research itself benefits literally everyone.”

Picture of Suber's "Open Access"

Peter Suber is the Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication; Director of the Harvard Open Access Project; and, among many other titles, the “de facto leader of the worldwide open access movement.” In short, Suber is an expert when it comes to open access. Thankfully, he knows the rest of us might not have time to be.

Suber introduces his book Open Access (a part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series) by writing, “I want busy people to read this book. […] My honest belief from experience in the trenches is that the largest obstacle to OA is misunderstanding. The largest cause of misunderstanding is the lack of familiarity, and the largest cause of unfamiliarity is preoccupation. Everyone is busy.”

What follows is an informative yet concise read on the broad field of open access. Suber goes into the motivation for open access, the obstacles preventing it, and what the future may hold. In clear language, Suber breaks down jargon and explains how open access navigates complex issues concerning copyright and payment. This is a great introductory read to an issue so prominent in academia.

Open 24 Hours Neon Sign

Take the time to fit Open Access into your busy schedule. You can read it the Scholarly Commons during our regular hours or online through our catalog anytime.

And finally, if you have any questions about open access, feel free to reach out to or request a consultation with the library’s Scholarly Communication and Publishing unit!

Meet Dan Tracy, Information Sciences and Digital Humanities Librarian

This latest installment of our series of interviews with Scholarly Commons experts and affiliates features Dan Tracy, Information Sciences and Digital Humanities Librarian.


What is your background and work experience?

I originally come from a humanities background and completed a PhD in literature specializing in 20th century American literature, followed by teaching as a lecturer for two years. I had worked a lot with librarians during that time with my research and teaching. When you’re a PhD student in English, you teach a lot of rhetoric, and I also taught some literature classes. As a rhetoric instructor I worked closely with the Undergraduate Library’s instruction services, which exposed me to the work librarians do with instruction.

Then I did a Master’s in Library and Information Science here, knowing that I was interested in being an academic librarian, probably something in the area of being a subject librarian in the humanities. And then I began this job about five years ago. So I’ve been here about five years now in this role. And just began doing Digital Humanities over the summer. I had previously done some liaison work related to digital humanities, especially related to digital publishing, and I had been doing some research related to user experience and digital publishing as related to DH publishing tools.

What led you to this field?

A number of things. One was having known quite a number of people who went into librarianship who really liked it and talked about their work. Another was my experience working with librarians in terms of their instruction capacity. I was interested in working in an academic environment and I was interested in academic librarianship and teaching. And also, especially as things evolved, after I went back for the degree in library and information science, I also found a lot of other things to be interested in as well, including things like digital humanities and data issues.

What is your research agenda?

My research looks at user experience in digital publishing. Primarily in the context of both ebook formats and newer experimental forms of publication such as web and multi-modal publishing with tools like Scalar, especially from the reader side, but also from the creator side of these platforms.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

As I mentioned before, instruction was an initial draw to librarianship. I like anytime I can teach and work with students, or faculty for that matter, and help them learn new things. That would probably be a top thing. And I think increasingly the chances I get to work with digital collections issues as well. I think there’s a lot of exciting work to do there in terms of delivering our digital collections to scholars to complete both traditional and new forms of research projects.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think there’s a lot. I think researchers are already aware of digital primary sources in general, but I do think there’s a lot more for people to explore in terms of collections we’ve digitized and things we can do with those through our digital library, and through other digital library platforms, like DPLA (Digital Public Library of America).

I think that a lot of our digital image collections are especially underutilized. I think people are more aware that we have digitized text sources, but not aware of our digitized primary sources that are images that have value of research objects, including analyzed computational analysis. We also have more and more access to the text data behind our various vendor platforms, which is a resource various researchers on campus increasingly need but don’t always know is available.

If you could recommend one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

If you’re just getting started, I think a good place to look is at the Debates in the Digital Humanities books, which are collections of essays that touch on a variety of critical issues in digital humanities research and teaching. This is a good place to start if you want to get a taste of the ongoing debates and issues. There are open access copies of them available online, so they are easy to get to.

Dan Tracy can be reached at dtracy@illinois.edu.