How Oregon State’s library is leading the digital revolution.

Michael Boock
Michael Boock

When Oregon State became the first university to join Flickr Commons, a public domain photo archive, word traveled fast on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. And the buzz was positive. Likewise, the library faculty is the world’s first to pass an open-access mandate for their own scholarly work. And its open-source search tool, LibraryFind, is the first of its kind in the nation.

Clearly, Oregon State University is right out in front of the digital information revolution.

“The driving idea at OSU Libraries is to make information retrievable wherever people are searching,” says Michael Boock, head of Digital Access Services for OSU Libraries. “Our goal is to make all of our collections findable through the Internet.”

The idea that everyone from an OSU student working on a term paper to a cattle rancher in Central Oregon to a schoolgirl in central Africa can access its collections via the Internet is something Oregon State wants to celebrate. And that zeal for open access — especially universal access to taxpayer-funded research — will be visible all over campus. During Open Access Week, experts from OSU Libraries will be staffing “traveling tables” to answer questions about implications for author rights, peer review and traditional academic publishing models. Mid-week, a panel of experts from OSU and University of Oregon will talk about each of their groundbreaking efforts to make an entire unit’s research output freely available online upon publication.

Capping off the week’s events is a presentation by nationally known public-domain advocate Carl Malamud. As the founder of, Malamud is an impassioned champion of making all publicly funded information — including databases, court decisions and research findings — free and easily accessed by anyone.

“Research is the raw material of innovation, creating a wealth of business opportunities,” says Malamud, noting that government information is a form of essential infrastructure, right along with highways and electrical grids. What he terms the “Internet wave of transformation” will, he insists, help ensure the health of a democracy that is indeed of, by and for the people.

Oregon State is embodying that idea. Another innovation is that all OSU master’s theses and doctoral dissertations are submitted electronically to the university’s own ScholarsArchive. Last year, the online graduate papers were downloaded 100 times each, on average. In contrast, paper versions typically are checked out from the library rarely, if ever. In just three years, grad-student studies that would otherwise have languished on library shelves have been downloaded nearly a half-million times.

OSU also joined 17 other U.S. research universities in a letter to Congress earlier this month, encouraging passage of bipartisan federal legislation (the Federal Research Public Access Act) to guarantee speedy public access to research findings funded by agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The National Institutes of Health already requires public access to its funded research projects.

Boock sums up the push this way: “We want to put the content where the people are.”