Noting two recent items in digital publishing/open access

  1. Academic Presses Explore Open Access for Monographs by Seth Denbo of the AHA

The article notes that “evidence shows that providing free and unrestricted access to digital monographs increases their usage significantly,” which makes sense. I’m glad that the article notes that a move to pay-to-publish puts a burden on scholars who are not at well-funded institutions. I suppose this burden would be greater in the humanities then in the sciences, where research already requires institutional funding from the get-go.

2. Introducing Unpaywall from Impactstory

Just happened to run across this today. I haven’t tried it, but it’s an extension for Chrome and Firefox that links to articles behind paywalls. A cursory look at their FAQ suggests that they source their articles from open access databases and repositories to which the original authors themselves submitted the article – hence it is legal even as it dodges paywalls. It’s more a matter of connecting readers to sources that are already available, but not known.

As the creators write:

“We loathe paywalls. Now more than ever, humanity needs to access our collective knowledge, not hoard it. Lots of scholars feel the same; that’s why they upload their papers to free, legal servers online. We realized that the missing link is in getting these free resources to the people who want them, at the right time. By using a browser extension, we can do that, leveraging the toll-access distribution system to bring open access to the masses.”

Digitizing the OED

I recently picked up a copy of John Simpson’s memoir The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, largely because I like words and dictionaries and the OED in particular. A nice surprise, however, is that Simpson, the former chief editor of the OED, oversaw the digitization of the OED to CD-ROM, beginning in the early 1980s, as well as it’s later migration online. This is exciting stuff, not only for the description of transferring a  massive database from print to computer (~67 million characters), but also because Simpson nicely describes how digitization did not replace the original function of the OED, but rather added new dimensions to it.

One of the benefits of the OED was that it’s data was already structured; i.e. definitions, pronunciations, etymology, etc. are distinguishing by their formatting, “a change of typeface, size of print, special print characters, indentation, etc.,” consistently and repetitively.  The OED teamed up with International Computaprint Coporation, IBM, and the University of Waterloo (all in North America). The first two helped with digitizing the data, while Waterloo’s Computer Science Department helped construct the database. The typing took 150 people working for 18 months. After words, the 20,000 pages of type, each three columns of small print, had to by proofread, which was taken on by 50 freelancers.

Simpson’s descriptions of how this large project took shape and was organized are interesting, but he shines when describing the new possibilities that digitization would open for the OED. Up to this point, dictionaries were incredibly linear: you looked up the word you wanted, and there you were. But what if, as Simpson describes it, you were able “to search the entire content of the dictionary instantly for information relating to the language”? He gives the example of finding all the words in English that end in -ology (1,011 in the OED), followed by comparing them with all the words that end in -ography (508). Given how time-consuming doing this would be with the print dictionary, it wasn’t done, but digitization could make such a search feasible and quick.

“Hundreds of other questions which might have been asked about the language were not asked, or were only answered falteringly by considering just a sample of the data. What if you could dream up more or less any question you wanted about the language, ask it, and receive an answer seconds later?” Simpson writes. This seems to be the common-sense attraction of what is now collectively referred to as digital humanities: it opens up the possibility of new questions, new forms of analysis, and the ability to see patterns and meanings that would be impossible or extremely impractical to reach without digital tools. At the same time, the possibilities these new avenues offer do not mean we abandon other avenues of research and analysis. Just because we can search the entire corpus for all instances of -ology doesn’t mean that sometimes we just need or want to know the specific meaning(s) and history of amphibology or tropology – both of which are just two of the many words that Simpson explores in his fascinating memoir.


Article from The Independent on Alexandra Elbakyan and Sci-Hub:

Aaron Swartz’s recommended reading list via Verso:

Article from New Republic on Aaron Swartz and JSTOR:

Swartz’s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:

Lisbet Rausing’s “Towards A New Alexandria”:

Budapest Open Access Initiative:

Thinking about VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) which I’ve used mainly for accessing institutional resources and databases remotely (probably one of the most common uses among students and academics). Working list follows on sources I’ve been reading to understand them better, as well as other uses, mainly privacy and security.

  1. Why You Should Start Using a VPN
  2. How VPNs Work
  3. How to Make Your VPN More Secure
  4. How to Secure and Encrypt Your Web Browsing on Public Networks aka creating your own VPN with Hamachi and Privoxy
  5. Build Your Own VPN
  6. Which Are the Best Anonymous VPN Providers?

Online security/privacy working list:

How to Protect Your Digital Privacy in the Era of Public Shaming – a short guide from the folks over at ProPublica with nine tips on basic steps to protecting online privacy.

Security Tutorials – “a compilation of the various security tutorials that can be found on several different forums”.

Things To Know About Web Security: A Harm Reductionist Guide – a beginner’s guide, with a focus towards activists.

Secure Your Life Online the Easy Way – easy tips on passwords, HTTPS, password recovery/security questions, plug-ins, and using public wi-fi.

Roundup – February

Bach Digital

It’s become apparent that weekly updates on resources, projects, etc., has become untenable at the moment, so I’m scaling it up to monthly updates. I”m going to plan to post more often, though sporadically and of various short notes, links, and so forth.

  • Bach Digital – project from the University of Leipzig digitizing compositions, handwritten sources, and catalogues of Johann S. and other composers in the Bach family.
  • Histories of Digital Labor CFP – CFP for panel at MLA 2016.


DH, 1999

The fabled library of the past was the Library of Alexandria, founded at the behest of Alexander the Great. It was a museum, a school, and the center of scholarly research where the largest collection of Greek books were gathered and classified. To that library is owed not only the preservation of ancient texts but much of the learning required for their understanding. The library continued to exist under Roman rule until the third century of the Christian era. Will a modern Library of Alexandria now be assembled and available on any individual’s desktop? Enthusiasts already hail that possibility. Yet it is not entirely clear that such a “universal library” is possible in the near future. There are enormous problems to solve before we can efficiently search all the available text documents, let alone non-text information such as mathematical formulas and music and art, where there are large problems of creating indexes (how does one index a painting or a movie?). Developing abstracting programs that can summarize results in a manageable form is another awesome task. Yet various efforts are under way, the most important being the U.S. Digital Libraries Initiative, which has been trying to meld all the specialized libraries (from astronomy to zoology) into digitized form and make these available to users.

From “Foreword 1999” in Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973, foreword 1999), p. lix-lx.