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Creating Connections in and through Knowledge Commons

Published onJan 14, 2023
Creating Connections in and through Knowledge Commons

This annotated bibliography gathers and synthesizes scholarship on the digital spaces, tools, and technologies that have increasingly facilitated open communication among researchers, organizations, and the public in the last few decades. In particular, it examines the possibilities and problems associated with “digital knowledge commons” or “digital research commons”—that is, digital spaces for publishing, sharing, and accessing information. Examples of digital knowledge commons include Wikipedia as well as academic social networking sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate, which have now enabled millions of researchers to share information and connect with others online. Indeed, this latter form of knowledge commons has helped researchers share their work within and beyond their existing academic networks using sharing features that are familiar to users of Facebook, Twitter, and other popular commercial social networking sites. Although many of the works compiled in this bibliography compellingly outline the problems associated with academic social networking sites, and with social media more generally, the cumulative and overwhelming message of this body of work is nevertheless clear: it is difficult to overstate the impact of such platforms—and the rapidly changing technologies that enable them—on the present shape and future possibilities of academic research. As Peter Suber (2006), Caroline Winter et al. (2020), and other authors represented below suggest, to realign the modern academic enterprise in relation to digital knowledge commons and to the open, social scholarly practices that these spaces can foster is to begin to forge meaningful new connections between scholars, librarians, administrators, stakeholders, and the various publics they serve.

This Open Scholarship Press Connection research scan gathers recent writing and resources on these topics and others. While far from exhaustive, it speaks to many of the research objectives of the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership’s Connection cluster and collaboratively developed Canadian Humanities and Social Sciences Commons (hsscommons.ca).1 The intent of this project is to develop a scan of how the knowledge commons has been conceived historically, how the digital knowledge commons has evolved in recent years, and how scholars are thinking about its implementation now. Taken together, the bibliography’s selected writings work toward an increasingly feasible manifestation of this concept: the digital knowledge commons or digital research commons. Its authors gesture to the many affordances—but also the many extant challenges—of adopting commons-based platforms and practices.

The research scan consists of approximately 240 individual annotations, which are organized into three core themes: Knowledge Commons as Sites of Connection; Forms of Connection and Collaboration in Digital Knowledge Commons; and Maintaining Connections and Fostering Care in Digital Knowledge Commons. These core themes are further divided into sub-sections. Some resources are relevant to more than one sub-section, in which case the citations for these resources appear in duplicate and are accompanied by the symbol Φ as well as information indicating in which previous sub-section the full annotation may be found. Many annotations represent original research, formally published in this scan for the first time. Other annotations are drawn from previous annotated bibliographies and research scans compiled by members of the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL). Annotations published concurrently in the Open Scholarship Press Community Collection and written by Alyssa Arbuckle are signalled by ¤. Entries drawn from “Open Social Scholarship Annotated Bibliography” (El Khatib et al. 2019) are marked with +.2 Entries drawn from “An Annotated Bibliography of Social Knowledge Creation” (Arbuckle et al. 2017) are identified with †.3 Unpublished annotations originally developed by Vitor Yano or Anna Honcharova through Mitacs Globalink internships in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (2018–2019) are marked by *; unpublished annotations originally developed by Tyler Fontenot during his 2019 Graduate Research Assistantship in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab are indicated by ▲; unpublished annotations developed by Alan Colín-Arce during his 2021 Mitacs Globalink internship in the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab are noted with Δ; and unpublished annotations by Caroline Winter are marked by Θ.

Acknowledging the rich intellectual histories that inform discussions of knowledge commons in our own digital, global age, the Knowledge Commons as Sites of Connection section begins with scholarship on the centuries-old concept of a “commons,” grouped under the sub-section “Historical and Theoretical Approaches to Knowledge Commons.” This concept, which receives substantial treatment in this first sub-section, serves as a touchstone for subsequent entries. The idea of a commons has various historical roots that shed important light on ongoing debates about scholarly communication, access to information, and the stewardship of digital resources. For instance, in the European tradition, today’s knowledge commons have pre-digital origins in the English medieval practice of designating certain lands for shared use. Over time, most of these commons were gradually parcelled out and privatized (Boyle 2008; Winter et al. 2020). Similar trends in the enclosure of shared spaces and privatization of shared resources proceed apace in the twenty-first century; enclosure has resulted in the cordoning off of scholarly research behind paywalls (Bollier 2002; De Angelis and Harvie 2013), as well as the commercialization of mass media (Benkler 2006) and academic social networking sites (see “Commercialization, Commodification, and the Common Good,” below). As the bibliography seeks to show, then, and as media accounts of the Open Access movement in the past decade or so demonstrate, the knowledge commons is in some respects simply a new instantiation of previous attempts to provide public access to information. John Willinsky (2006) notes that this new knowledge commons draws inspiration from libraries used by scholars in the past, including the fabled collections of Alexandria in Egypt, the Sankore Mosque in Mali, or the many public libraries that sprang up in more recent centuries (see also Winter 2020). Detailing the developments of this historical idea made possible by digital technology, Yochai Benkler (2006) argues that Internet-facilitated access to the process of producing and circulating texts is potentially revolutionary for every aspect of the social life of texts. Other critics modulate their excitement about such developments vis-à-vis calls for greater attention to issues such as Indigenous ways of knowing (Joranson 2008), resource management (Bollier 2006; Madison et al. 2019), and market pressures (Bollier 2002; De Angelis and Harvie 2013; Marin 2019).

Platforms such as digital knowledge commons facilitate previously unimaginable ways of sharing information and connecting with others. Many of the resources contained in the “(Academic) Social Networking Sites as Knowledge Commons” sub-section reflect on the positive repercussions of this transformation for academics and non-academics alike—though many of the resources on academic social networking sites, in particular, also provide extensive commentary on the challenges and potential pitfalls associated with this shift. Of note, these academic platforms are the primary focus of this bibliography, given its intended scope and objectives. Countless studies of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been published in recent years; the relatively few resources on these non-academic social networking sites included here were chosen not because they give an exhaustive overview of current developments in social media studies writ large, but because they address issues pertinent to digital knowledge commons or the conception of the Internet itself as a commons—including the effect of design on user participation and interaction (Hart et al. 2008; Liu 2011; Veletsianos 2016) and knowledge exchange (Manca and Ranieri 2016). Yet there is significant overlap in terms of the issues faced by non-academic and academic knowledge commons. Many of the publications in Really, We’re Helping To Build This . . . Business: The Academia.edu Files (Adema et al. 2015) and throughout this sub-section offer trenchant critiques of the ways market pressures have directly and indirectly shaped academic social networking sites and their stewardship of research data, among other practices (see, for example, Adema 2016; Duffy and Pooley 2017; Eve 2015; Fitzpatrick 2015; Fortney and Gonder 2015; Geltner 2015; Hall 2015; Pooley 2018; Rushforth 2015; Tennant 2017; Winter et al. 2020). Additionally, some of the authors call for improvements to existing academic commons—both for-profit (Bhardwaj 2017) and not-for-profit (Joy 2019)—while others highlight tensions between the functionality and stated priorities of academic social networking sites and the ways in which academics actually use them (Meishar-Tal and Pieterse 2017; Jordan 2019; Nández and Borrego 2013). Finally, several of the resources advocate explicitly for the adoption of open knowledge commons (see, for example, Fitzpatrick 2015; Gold and Otte 2011; Joy 2015; Winter et al. 2020), noting the transformative potential of open, digital scholarship and scholarly platforms.

The “Noteworthy Examples of Digital Knowledge Commons” sub-section represents a snapshot of digital knowledge commons. Both for-profit and not-for-profit platforms are represented. Moreover, while it is far from exhaustive, this partial list nevertheless covers many different forms of commons, including general knowledge commons geared toward public as well as academic audiences (Creative Commons; Wikipedia Commons); digital commons intended to facilitate the preservation and sharing of research data of various kinds (Mendeley; Zotero); and the sub-set of digital knowledge commons covered in the previous sub-section, academic social networking sites (Academia.edu; the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Commons; the City University of New York [CUNY] Academic Commons; Humanities Commons; ResearchGate)—some of which attempt to harness both the reliability and rigour of institutional repositories and the interactive features of popular social networking sites. Even so, many other sites—such as Archive.org, arXiv, Commons In A Box, Dataverse Project, Digital Commons Network, Figshare, HUBzero, MediaCommons, SocArXiv, and Zenodo—also warrant consideration as noteworthy examples of digital knowledge commons.

The second section, Forms of Connection and Collaboration in Digital Knowledge Commons, is grounded in the two interrelated concepts that give the first sub-section its name: “Open Social Scholarship and Social Knowledge Creation.” The INKE Partnership defines open social scholarship as “academic practice that enables the creation, dissemination, and engagement of open research by specialists and non-specialists in accessible and significant ways.”4 Emphasizing the interpersonal aspects of this kind of academic practice, the authors of “Overview of the Annotated Bibliography of Social Knowledge Creation” define social knowledge creation as “acts of collaboration in order to engage in or produce shared cultural data and/or knowledge products” (2017). While these terms are linked through their framing of scholarly and cultural production as social endeavours, the forms of engagement and collaboration subtending both also rely on a certain degree of openness—a concept at the heart of many critics’ conception of the knowledge commons vis-à-vis the Open Access movement and related policies (see, for example, Suber 2011). Indeed, the kinds of historical knowledge commons that prefigure the modern Open Access movement were radically open, social spaces (Anderson 1998). As several of the critics gathered in this deliberately wide-ranging sub-section suggest, digital knowledge commons carry on the legacy of earlier commons and the pre-digital forms of open, social scholarship and knowledge creation activities that they strove to support (Borgman 2007; Martin 2019; Willinsky 2006). Many approach these issues via discussions of open access (Ahmed 2007; Ayris et al. 2014; Björk 2004; Canadian Association of Research Libraries n.d.; Chan 2004; Chang 2015; Coonin and Younce 2009; Eve 2014; Guédon 2008; Heath et al. 2008; Kitchin et al. 2015; Lorimer 2014; Maxwell 2015; Meadows 2015; Rath 2015; Rodriguez 2014; Snijder 2015; Suber 2015; Zheng and Li 2015), open science (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2015), or open data and open source software (Bauer and Kaltenböck 2012; Bonaccorsi and Rossi 2003; Bruns 2008; Feller and Fitzgerald 2002; International Council for Science 2015; Kelty 2008; Kogut and Metiu 2001; Molloy 2011; Piwowar and Vision 2013; Von Krogh and Von Hippel 2006; Weber 2004). Others present case studies of collaborative scholarly projects organized around digital knowledge commons or socially minded approaches to contemporary knowledge production and sharing (Hiebert et al. 2015; Lane 2014; Saklofske 2016; Siemens 2012a, 2012b, 2013, 2014, 2016; Siemens et al. 2012). Speculating on the potential future directions of academia or even specific academic fields, still others embrace new as well as old forms of open social scholarship and social knowledge creation in order to contribute to the common good or simply advance the causes of their respective scholarly communities (Arbuckle et al. 2016; Brown 2016; Burdick et al. 2012; Jones 2013; Siemens 2002).

In Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2019) stresses the importance of social bonds and knowledge creation today, particularly in the context of academia’s relationship to the public. She consistently urges academics to listen to and commune with the public, which she sees as a critical step toward developing consensus in an era of divided knowledges. The entries in the “Community Engagement” sub-section attempt to bridge this academic-public divide in a variety of ways, with reference either to digital knowledge commons in particular or to the commons of the Internet in general. For example, some authors foreground the increasingly vital role of academic social networking sites and other digital tools in facilitating collaborative partnerships and research projects (Arbuckle et al. 2016; Gold 2011). Others document the historical and present ties between libraries, universities, and the communities they serve (Ang 2004; Glass and Fitzgerald 2010; Jordan 2015; McGrath 2020; Peters et al. 2012), or the role of technology in helping instructors from a variety of backgrounds educate and connect with interested members of the public—including youth and adult learners (Bennett 2006; Bowdon and Carpenter 2011; Gold 2011). Taking a more general approach, a number of the authors also discuss the challenges associated with community engagement, as well as what it means to be a “public” scholar or “public-facing” field (Brennan 2016; Burg 2020; Cuthill 2012; Ellison 2013; Hsu 2016; Jay 2010; Morrison 2018; Ross 2012; Woodward 2009). In addition, this section also includes specific case studies of platforms that support community engagement (Gold 2011; Hiebert et al. 2015; Lane 2014; Saklofske 2016).

As the resources collected in the “Commons-based Approaches to Teaching and Research” sub-section attest, digital knowledge commons and commons-based tools can support a variety of effective teaching and research practices. In the case of Commons In A Box, for example, open-source software has been used to create the CUNY Academic Commons, Humanities Commons, and other open, collaborative spaces. Other blogging, content management, and academic social networking tools such as WordPress or BuddyPress have also been productively employed as part of larger pedagogical and open scholarship strategies (Gold 2011; Gold and Otte 2011); and massive open online courses (or MOOCs) have emerged as a particularly popular and effective commons-based method of sharing open educational resources (OERs), including in and with the Global South (Israel 2015; Keskin et al. 2018; King et al. 2018; Raposo-Rivas et al. 2015; Ruipérez-Valiente et al. 2020; Shen and Kuo 2015; Toven-Lindsey et al. 2015; Weinhardt and Sitzmann 2019; Zhang et al. 2019). Across the globe, OERs published and shared through digital knowledge commons or institutional repositories have been invaluable for faculty and other individuals lacking institutional or other means of access and support (Veletsianos 2015). For this reason, perhaps, some critics argue that researchers are ethically obligated to engage with communities and share their work with the public whenever possible (see, for example, Cuthill 2012, as well as many of the entries in the previous sub-section, “Community Engagement”). Sounding a similar note, others underscore the value of open, participatory platforms as tools for collaborative international partnerships (Broekman et al. 2014), or for librarian-librarian and librarian-scholar partnerships and knowledge-creation projects (Chang 2015; Glass 2018). How commons-based knowledge creation plays out in different institutional and disciplinary—not to mention governmental, professional, and social—contexts can vary tremendously (Brown 2016; Kondratova and Goldfarb 2004); however, as Hensher et al. (2020) assert in a recent intelligence briefing, open knowledge commons have tremendous value beyond each of these individual domains, insofar as they can help contribute to the resolution of global pandemics and other large-scale crises.

The growth of digital knowledge commons and widespread adoption of academic social networking sites in a variety of scholarly, geographical, and political contexts raises important questions about data management, the privatization of previously open platforms, community governance, and who is excluded from virtual spaces. Many of the authors in the Maintaining Connections and Fostering Care in Digital Knowledge Commons section and especially its first sub-section, “Commercialization, Commodification, and the Common Good,” share the belief that the enclosure of knowledge commons poses a threat to scholarly production on multiple fronts, offering commentary on the tension between open, public knowledge systems and closed, corporate ones (see, for example, Chan 2019; De Angelis and Harvie 2013; Hensher et al. 2020; Levine 2002; Ossewaarde and Reijers 2017). Some explain, for instance, how Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Mendeley—which have enjoyed success as open research-sharing sites because of their social media-style interfaces—are run by multinational corporations that will eventually have to turn a profit for their venture-capitalist investors (Fitzpatrick 2015; Geltner 2015; Hall 2015; Tennant 2017). Opposing this process of enclosure, Gary Hall (2015) and others contend that, as it unfolds, platforms will either move drastically away from an open access model, sell the massive amounts of user data they have collected to third parties, or shut down; the fact that researchers have populated a digital database that corporations can profit from without funding researchers’ intellectual labour has led swaths of users to feel exploited and to abandon these sites. A slightly different angle of the critique is that the analytics-focused nature of research commons with monetized “premium” features fosters paranoia among academics about who is reading and citing their work (Duffy and Pooley 2017; Pooley 2018). In a similar vein, some critics argue that these sites promote harmful social stratification and academic class politics (Fortney and Gondner 2015), referencing Academia.edu’s experimental offer for users to pay an additional fee to have their articles reviewed and potentially recommended to other users (Adema 2016; Eve 2015). Setting aside this example of the commodification of knowledge and scholarly communication in a realm that many believe should remain neutral, other scholars concede that there are nevertheless benefits to increased metrics transparency, since certain data can be useful to scholars who want to know where and how their work is circulating.

As recent studies of social networking sites and other shared digital spaces indicate, the mechanisms that enable open sharing and discourse among academics, or between academics and the public, can also make researchers and their work vulnerable to being misunderstood or—worse yet—attacked. The entries in the “Governance and Conduct in Digital Knowledge Commons” sub-section examine these kinds of interactions—and the platforms where they occur—with reference to the intersecting fields of information and communication studies, design studies, and digital sociology, among others. As the results of several recent studies highlight, there is a significant need for further intervention into these kinds of harmful activities and the concomitant failure of governance policies and other safeguards—not only in academia, but in political, legal, law-enforcement, and consumer-protection circles as well (Digital Citizens Alliance 2017). The inevitability of negative interactions within social networks is implied in Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom’s (2006) influential collection, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: they define knowledge as “a commons—a resource shared by a group of people that is subject to social dilemmas” (3; emphasis added); that is, sooner or later, digital research commons will need to grapple with the “tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums” that George Veletsianos (2016) associates with networked scholarship in general and shared virtual spaces in particular (53). Other critics outline frameworks or strategies for analyzing and maintaining knowledge commons in the face of such conflicts (Ossewaarde and Reijers 2017). Significantly, these frameworks or theoretical approaches can be applied in the case of emergent technologies and social spaces, including digital instances of commons (such as the academic social networking sites and institutional repositories discussed in earlier sections). Additionally, thoughtful interface design can be leveraged as part of larger governance strategies to encourage positive forms of interaction and neutralize the threat of bad actors (Dyer 2017). Where such preventative measures have failed, however, community-based initiatives such as Geek Feminism Wiki (n.d.) have stepped in to offer practical advice regarding identity theft, personal safety, mental health, and other topics relevant to considerations of digital (mis)conduct. Finally, several of the authors in this sub-section and the next also draw on their own experiences as academics who use social media platforms and who have had to deal with sexual harassment, racism, and other forms of abuse (McMillan Cottom 2015; Morrison 2018).

Although academic and non-academic social networking sites have been adopted across the globe, many conversations taking place in and around knowledge commons continue to foreground Anglophone, Global North perspectives and scholarship. In an attempt to correct this bias, some scholars have called for greater emphasis on—and sensitivity to—Indigenous and other marginalized information ecosystems (Albornoz et al. 2020; Chan 2019; Joranson 2008; Okune et al. 2019). Other resources included here in the “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Digital Spaces” sub-section stress the need for scholars to embrace bibliodiversity and continue the work of addressing issues of injustice and inequity as they relate to recent developments in open access publishing and scholarly communication (Chan 2019). Along these lines, critics in digital humanities and digital scholarship more generally have also taken steps to address the field’s historical lack of social, cultural, and intersectional critique (Liu 2012; McPherson 2012). Still others point out that open access tools and platforms are not neutral—nor are they necessarily agents of positive social change, despite their transformative potential in this and other areas. Indeed, the imbricated technologies and infrastructures upon which digital knowledge commons are built can just as easily re-create as help resolve the systemic issues of inequality and injustice that routinely affect the experiences of marginalized communities (Morrison 2018; Okune et al. 2019). While acknowledging the disproportionate social risks affecting scholars who have been, and continue to be, racialized and marginalized online (McMillan Cottom 2015; Morrison 2018), the resources in this sub-section move beyond mere diagnosis; they also outline a variety of possible solutions to the problems that prevent meaningful, respectful, and inclusive forms of connection and communication.

The entries in the “Ethical and Responsible Data Management” sub-section comment on the intersection of ethics, care, and academic rigour in relation to data management—holistically and broadly conceived here as a suite of interconnected practices encompassing curation, preservation, policy development, the implementation of cultural protocols, and much more. Such practices are highly relevant in discussions of knowledge commons, which are organized around shared information. On the one hand, scholars such as Katie Fortney and Justin Gonder (2015) and Gary Hall (2015) compare the popular academic social networking site Academia.edu with institutional repositories in terms of their data management practices, which are dictated in part by their for-profit business model. Fortney and Gonder register their concerns with the ways that Academia.edu and ResearchGate differ from institutional repositories in terms of their access, use, and exploitation of member data—including through partnerships with Facebook. Hall (2015) also details several additional concerns about the sometimes-questionable ethics of commercially interested companies and their data management practices. On the other hand, certain open access social networking platforms and tools deployed by college and university instructors make a point of protecting students and their data (Gold 2011). Moving away from the question of for-profit versus not-for-profit digital tools and knowledge commons, resources in this sub-section also address questions regarding the ethical and responsible management of research data in a variety of international contexts, including in Canada (Research Data Canada 2013), Australia (Henty et al. 2008), the United Kingdom (Wilson et al. 2011), and the United States (Akers and Doty 2013; Fear 2011). Meanwhile, others discuss how to deal ethically and responsibly with Indigenous knowledges and cultural materials that may or may not map neatly onto Eurocentric conceptions of the commons, intellectual property, or research data management best practices (Joranson 2008; Local Contexts n.d.; Research Data Alliance International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group 2019). Overall, the authors collected in this sub-section stress the importance of careful and respectful data management regardless of one’s disciplinary training, profession, or even the specific type of knowledge commons in question.

The final sub-section, “Relevant Policies and Guidelines,” provides a brief sampling of policies and guidelines that are frequently cited in larger discussions about digital knowledge commons and data management. As digital research infrastructure and scholarly practices continue to evolve in the coming years, this partial and provisional list will necessarily need to be expanded, updated, and revised. Significantly, unlike the entries included in the previous sub-section—which takes a more theoretical approach to the question of policy as it relates to data management—the entries listed below are almost exclusively primary sources (that is, actual policies or guidelines). Notable exceptions to this rule include documents urging open access and open licensing policy changes (Ahmed 2007; Ayris et al. 2014; Green 2017; Morrison et al. 2010; Shearer 2011); the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge Network’s reports and executive policy briefs (2016); and Josephine Asmah’s report for the Canadian-based Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (2014), which provides comparative analyses of various global policies on open access and their impact on monograph publication and use.

While this research scan reflects the breadth of recent work in digital humanities, scholarly communication, library and information studies, digital sociology, and many other academic fields, it also speaks directly to the need for ongoing academic and non-academic inquiry into knowledge commons as sites of social connection, scholarly and university-community collaboration, and ethical engagement with researchers and research data. In the process, it provokes as many questions as it answers—about how these spaces can build community and support academic research, for example, but also about how they can benefit an engaged public and contribute to the common good. Ultimately, then, it does not mark the end of the INKE Partnership Connection cluster’s exploration into the history and present-day applications of digital knowledge commons; rather, it serves as an open-ended invitation to continue these conversations in the many shared spaces we inhabit.

This annotated bibliography is an output of the Open Scholarship Press. For related work, please see the Community, Policy, and Training bibliographies.

Symbol

Meaning

Φ

Annotations appearing in more than one sub-section

¤

Annotations developed by Alyssa Arbuckle for the 'Community' Annotated Bibliography

+

Annotations drawn from “Open Social Scholarship Annotated Bibliography” (El Khatib et al. 2019)

Annotations drawn from “An Annotated Bibliography of Social Knowledge Creation” (Arbuckle et al. 2017)

*

Annotations developed by Vitor Yano or Anna Honcharova

Δ

Annotations developed by Alan Colín-Arce

Annotations developed by Tyler Fontenot

Θ

Annotations developed by Caroline Winter

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