Understanding Open Access:
The Human Side of Machine Readability

Posted October 22, 2015

OA Guide Cover

In celebration of Open Access Week, we are offering sneak previews of our forthcoming guide, Understanding Open Access: When, Why, & How To Make Your Work Openly Accessible. This guide is the second volume in our series of educational handbooks, following on the success of Understanding Rights Reversion. Our goal is to encourage our members to consider open access publishing by addressing common questions and concerns and by providing real-life strategies and tools that authors can use to work with publishers, institutions, and funders to make their works more widely accessible to all. We will officially launch the guide on November 3 during our workshop on “Writing To Be Read” at the New York Public Library. In the meantime, here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 4 about the benefits of technical openness and machine readability.

Removing legal restrictions on use is a key component of making your work openly accessible. Authors may also want to consider additional factors that shape how available their works are for readers to fully access, share, and reuse. Making a work available in a machine-readable format can increase readers’ ability to access and use your work and maximize its reuse.

Cory Doctorow is a fiction writer, activist, blogger, and journalist and a member of Authors Alliance. After making his novel Little Brother openly accessible, Mr. Doctorow received a braille copy of the book from Patricia Smith, a Detroit public school teacher of visually impaired students. Although braille versions may be permissible under one or more copyright exceptions, creating a braille version often first requires painstakingly entering text into a digital format. This obstacle prevents many works from being translated into braille. However, because the text of Little Brother is openly available without technical limitations to prevent its copying, printing, and sharing, Ms. Smith was able to directly run the book’s digital file through a braille embosser and make the book available to her visually impaired students.

Ms. Smith also included a note, which stated: “What I could not enclose is the gratitude from my braille reading students. For various reasons, most books in braille are aimed at younger children. My students are all between the ages of 12 and 15 and have no real interest in reading a Kindergarten level book. I was finally able to give them something interesting, compelling, and, most importantly at their grade level.”

Machine-readable formats enable search engines to index the entire text of a work, in turn making it easier for readers to search for and find works. Making metadata about your work available in standardized formats also enhances your work’s machine-readability and helps readers find it. Metadata includes information such as the author’s name, institutional affiliation, the title of the work, an abstract, and open access license terms. Open access repositories commonly include this metadata when a work is uploaded to the repository.

We will post excerpts from Understanding Open Access throughout the week. If you have questions or comments, or wish to share your own experiences with open access publishing, get in touch and let us know!