Search for Open Access Resources, Part I

I came across two interesting articles this week that got me thinking about digital content.

The first article, ‘A Mean Amount of Money,’ published by Inside Higher Ed, discusses State University of New York (SUNY) & City University of New York (CUNY) colleges becoming tuition free through the Excelsior Scholarship (I was just a few years too late!!).  Carey Hatch, associate provost for SUNY academic technologies and information services, points out that there are still additional costs involved in higher education, such as textbooks, which put a serious financial strain on students. The tuition free program, approved by Governor Cuomo and state legislators, includes $8 million to be split between CUNY & SUNY. Funds that the school systems plan to allocate to ” ‘provide open educational resources, including ebooks…to help defray the prohibitive cost of textbooks.’ ”

As a CUNY & SUNY alumna, I remember the panic of not being able to afford textbooks until my refund check came through.  Free tuition is an amazing gift, but textbooks are expensive and I’m glad to see that they are also being considered as an important factor. In addition to this fund, SUNY has created OER Services, “an open access textbook publishing initiative.”  Several textbooks are available to download, more information about the process can be found on OER’s website.  The partnership between the two well-respected NY public school systems, their commitment to mitigating the immense cost of higher education, while embracing open educational resources is promising. I’m hopeful that they are able to create a framework that can be followed by other states.

The second interesting article that I read this week, Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria, published in The Atlantic goes into great detail about Google’s book digitization project.  The article is lengthy but provides a good overview of the controversy behind Google Books, which a District Court dubbed “transformative” and the Second Circuit ruled within the realm of fair use.  Google’s initial goal was not to create a digital library but to allow people to search within books by looking at “snippets” of text.

Of course publishers and libraries saw this as a dangerous precedent, copyright exists for a reason: to protect intellectual property.  There is a web of stakeholders: authors are paid for their work by publishers, publishers make money by marketing and selling books/journals, libraries allocate some of their funding to pay publishers, thereby gaining the right to allow patrons to access the material. And then here comes the tech upstart (now giant) Google, devising a plan (called “Project Ocean”) designed to scan in every book in the world.  These stakeholders saw this as a dangerous precedent, one that ignores copyright and threatens the way information is created and sold. Several other examples of tech companies, “disregarding intellectual-property rights as they invent new ways to distribute content,” are also mentioned in The Atlantic article- records, radio, cable- all demonstrative of the struggle between innovation and IP law. In the end, despite the court victory the project seems to have stalled.

Both of these articles got me thinking about open access to digital materials, particularly the current resources that are not well known. I was able to find much more than just books and articles- maps, audio, games, software are also available online. I have compiled a list below of several eResources, some designed for students specifically, and others have no set audience, simply the goal of preserving the human record:

  • Bartleby – back in 1993, the company published the first classic novel on the web, Walt BartlebyWhitman’s Leaves of Grass. Now the site offers fiction, non-fiction, and reference materials to over a million users a month. Reference materials are a little out-dated, but you never know when you might want to consult Emily Post’s 1922 Etiquette.
  • CliffsNotes – book synopses and study guides on topics ranging from science to literature. Students looking for a study guide to Astronomy, can find it here.
  • E-Books – Pace University’s collection of ebooks. Not just a collection of materials, a treasure trove of links to digital content through public libraries and other eresources.
    • Project Gutenberg is one example, contains over 50k books and audiobooks courtesy of LibriVox (looking to volunteer? The site is looking for volunteer readers!).
  • Google Books – despite the lost momentum, there are still millions of books in the database. Google Books follows a format similar to Good Reads, where users can add materials to their personal library, group favorites, add books to read, and so on.  I searched textbooks and got over a million hits.
  • Hathi Trust Digital Library – a worldwide partnership of libraries and research institutions with nearly 15 million volumes of digitized materials. I tested by searching a random title, Anna Karenina and found the full text online.
  • HOLLIS – Harvard’s online catalog that contains images, maps, archival materials, and several journal articles previously only available through databases.
  • Internet Archive – a non-profit library with more than just booksthe-oregon-trail_3, but also free movies, music, software, videos, and concerts. Intrigued by the software option, I searched a classic from my youth: Oregon Trail and found the 1.0 1993 version.
  • Library of Congress – the national library of the United States and the largest library in the world (!) also has some of the most innovative digital collections.
    • American Memory is an invaluable historical resource for students of any age. It contains maps from the 1800s, primary sources, such as audio of slave narratives, jpgs of the Emancipation Proclamation, and so much more.
    • Global Gateway is LOC’s collection of international materials Here you can find 13th century Icelandic Law Code and a map of Vietnam from 1651.
  • Online Books – hosted by UPenn, the site has been maintained since the early 90s. Sometimes the content is linked out to sites like Bartleby, other times a zip file with the rough text of the material.
  • WorldCat – a global network of libraries sharing content and bibliographic information that, like the Internet Archive, also includes entertainment (music, games, sound recordings, etc.). I searched “Colorado” and narrowed to maps and found almost 40,000 items available at several local libraries, including some emaps.
    • Another OCLC tool is the OAIster database which holds over 50 million open access records.

The companies, libraries, universities, and non-profits that maintain the websites above are committed to “…collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.” Exploring all of these digital collections has shown me that there is even more digital content available than even I, an information professional, expected to find. Accessing this massive record of human existence is just a matter of knowing where to look.  Spread the word! Classic texts, historical artifacts and even The Oregon Trail are just a few clicks away.

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