Magazine article Information Today

No Stranger Times Than These

Magazine article Information Today

No Stranger Times Than These

Article excerpt

I serve on the faculty senate at Simmons College where we've been hearing about the bond market, the insidious relationship between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the structure of endowment funds over the past few months.

Since Simmons is in Boston, the academic gossip rages about the state of other, local institutions as well. Speaking in hushed tones, people here still chat about their disbelief that Harvard University, which reportedly lost $500 million of its endowment, stopped construction on its campus expansion across the Charles River from Cambridge in Alston. The conclusion of the work on the site essentially involved sealing up a giant hole for another day.

Once gossip ceases to revolve around the latest batch of news that makes the academics gasp, I often answer questions whether these economic woes will be good for open access (OA) or the open content movement. Given that foundation endowments reflect the same fate as academic endowments, the question is valid. According to the "Chronicle of Higher Education" (a new survey from the Commonfund Institute), endowments in educational institutions earned an average return of -24.1% in the 6 months ending Dec. 31, 2008. So making any predictions just isn't easy these days.

Turning the Tide

In 2008, we hit three key tipping points: Last year was an ecstatic year for OA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received a mandate from Congress, and Harvard received a mandate from its College of Arts and Sciences.

My students have grown up with access to so much information that it is difficult for them to grasp why access seems to be so complicated at times. Yet students are becoming active in the OA movements via groups such as Students for a Free Culture; they also care deeply about this topic. It has become clear to me that this seeming gulf between the generations has already begun to play a critical role.

For example, I have noticed that over the past year when I encouraged my students to be honest, they typically admitted that Wikipedia was often the starting place for their research. But faculty members and possibly librarians as well tell them that Wikipedia is bad, unreliable, and not usable as a good citation. I have heard this argument before, when the internet was young and still quite suspect. And while I do concur that Wikipedia has its good and bad sides, I would not rely on any single source for all of my research.

Still, if someone is looking for a bit of random information, such as whether the chefs who compete on Iron Chef America know beforehand what secret ingredient they will be using in the episode, where do you turn? …

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