I seriously encountered the question of open access knowledge in 2006 while teaching a graduate course. As my course was focused on the postcolonial novel, all students were required to give a country presentation about their assigned novel.
During these presentations some of my students used Wikipedia as one of their sources. At the end of that semester, one of the graduate students, who is also a friend, asked me as to why did I allow the students to use Wikipedia as a scholarly source.
My answer simply was that for me, within the context of the assignment, Wikipedia was a “reliable” source. But I also understood the nature of the question. The question arose form a deeply held, and maybe unacknowledged, prejudice against open knowledge, After all, how could a freely available source, edited by nameless people from around the world be considered a reliable source for scholarly work.What shaped my answer, of course, was also the question of availability of knowledge and a slightly better understanding of Wikipedia’s editing policies. For me, Wikipedia was a useful resource because I knew its value to so many Pakistanis who, having no access to expensive controlled databases, used it for heir research. I also knew that pretty much all Wikipedia articles are monitored and edited by a global web of volunteers and that since it is an openly edited content, as soon as someone adds anything irrelevant to a topic, someone else flags it.Tobe sure, just try adding something irrelevant to a Wikipedia article.
I saw this global and democratic process in practice when someone edited the Wikipedia entry to Pakistaniaat, my open access academic journal. Here is a record of edits:
On April 22, someone flagged the article on the journal as follows:
19:54, 22 April 2012 AsadUK200 (talk | contribs) . . (3,286 bytes) (+15) . . (i dont believe this is really a notable journal?)
What this means is that this editor added a publicly visible note questioning the validity of the journal as a worthy Wikipedia article.
But another editor did not agree to this label and removed it under the following justification:
21:48, 22 April 2012 Guillaume2303 (talk | contribs) . . (3,259 bytes) (-43) . . (indexed by MLA: meets WP:NJournals)
Note the timeframe: The objection was raised at 19:54 April 22. But in less than four hours, the responding editor had researched the journal and Wikipedia rules of “notability” and taken the note down because indexing by MLA met the notability requirement for my journal.
This is just one example of how editing collectives on the inetrnet can produce and maintain vast amounts of free content. With these assumptions about open access and communal editing, it was a no brainer for me to launch my first journal as open access. Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies is now in its fifth year of publication. When I decided to launch the journal, I wanted it to be open access simply because I wanted the people of Pakistan, in whose name the journal is established, to be able to afford it. But the advantages have been well beyond my imagination: not only is our content freely available, but this availability has also given us increased exposure, and people cite our published content more often than articles about Pakistan published in controlled journals.
So far, I must admit, this journey toward open access has been quite a trip. In the next phase of this journey, I hope to make it a point to start publishing most of my scholarly work in open access journals.