The Public Knowledge Project: Open Source Tools for Open Access to Scholarly Communication

James MacGregor, Kevin Stranack and John Willinsky

Abstract This chapter describes how the Public Knowledge Project, a collective of academics, librarians, and technical genies, has been, since 1998, building open source software (free) publishing platforms that create an alternative path to commercial and subscription-based routes to scholarly communication. It sets out how its various website platforms, including Open Journal Systems, Open Conference Systems, and, recently, Open Monograph Press, provide a guided path through the editorial workflow of submission, review, editing, publishing and indexing. Thousands of faculty members around the world are now using the software to publish independent journals on a peer-reviewed and Open Access basis, greatly increasing the public and global contribution of research and scholarship.


The digital transformation of scholarly communication has given rise to a wealth of new publishing strategies, models, ands tool over the last two decades. Many of these developments revolve around this new technology's seeming promise to increase the extent and reach of knowledge dissemination on a more equitable and global scale (cf. Benkler 2006). At first reluctantly, but now with increasing levels of interest, scholarly publishing is turning to the Internet as the preferred method of dissemination. This poses a set of core challenges: How can scholars, regardless of geographic location or institutional resources, participate in, learn from, and contribute to the global exchange of knowledge? How can those involved in publishing scholarly work maintain high standards of quality for this work, while further advancing the long-standing research goals of openness and increased access to knowledge?

The responses to such challenges are prolific and growing, proving to be source of exciting research and development for scholarly communication. The whole arena is complicated by the mix of, on the one hand, large corporate publishing entities, seeking to preserve some of the highest profit margins in publishing, and, on the other, small independent scholar-publishers who see their work as a service to their colleagues and a commitment to the pursuit of learning, while in the middle are scholarly associations that have grown dependent over the years on publishing revenues for their survival (cf. Willinsky 2009).

Within this larger picture, the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) represents a modest instance of research and experimentation in a new generation of publishing tools that would lower the barriers among scholars and scientists interested in playing a more active role in publishing and in seeing this work reaching a much wider audience. What success the project has achieved over the years in developing software that is used by journals in many different parts of the world can be attributed to the collective wisdom, as well as trial and error, of the team involved in this project. This wisdom has found its expression in, for example, the early adoption of open source and community development models; the active development of the international PKP community; and the feedback of users in guiding software and workflow design decisions that reflected principles of simplicity, interoperability, accessibility, and openness, without sacrificing capability.

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