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Digital access as a win-win situation for knowledge generators and knowledge consumers

Alan Schoenfeld, professor of education and of mathematics | November 17, 2009

More isn’t necessarily better in general, but more sure is better when it comes to access to information. High quality scholarship depends on being able to find and evaluate ideas and information. I want as much access to such published information as possible. And I want my ideas disseminated as widely as possible (for critical examination, of course), even if that dissemination costs me money.

Here’s a case in point. Many years ago I wrote a book on problem solving that has been called a “classic” and is still widely cited today. The book was written for an academic audience and never had a very large market; it’s in some libraries but when it went out of print it wasn’t worth it to the publisher to print another run. Thanks to the used book market on the web, some copies are sometimes available – but if knowledge dissemination depended on original hardcopy being available, the impact of the book would diminish with its decreased availability.  For some years the book existed through the dissemination of bootleg Xerox copies; now PDFs of chapters get distributed. Of course I don’t get royalties when someone copies or scans the book. Who cares? I’m not interested in the royalties, I’m interested in the ideas getting out.  If the book’s up on the web, in its entirety, that’s better for everyone.

So I see digital access as a win-win situation for knowledge generators and knowledge consumers. As a producer, I want my stuff to be accessible. And as a consumer/researcher, I know my work will be better if I have access to things I might not otherwise be able to get my hands on.