The Perils of Open Information


These days in the Information Sciences community, we hear a lot of buzz surrounding the phrases open source, open information, and open access.

So, what exactly is… open… about these things?

Using the word open helps us to avoid using the word free. Though some people might use this word to describe open access, the word free is a misnomer because, as we learn in life, nothing is truly free of cost, free of connection, free of history. Accessing a piece of information using open source resources may technically seem free because users don’t incur a monetary charge. Access to the most recent public data on the Census Bureau’s website may feel free because it is relatively easy for us to get, provided we have a computer and the knowledge to use it.

The website promoting International Open Access Week, an event in October, describes “Open Access” to information as “the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need – has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole.”

However, providing these resources free to the user does come at a cost – the cost of the technology equipment, the codehours it takes to program applications, and the endless costs associated with creating, collecting, managing, and harvesting data and information. Public tax dollars also provide funding for much of the research that is available through open access. Even when the information is accessed via a public library terminal or at another technology point that is free to the user, there are costs associated with maintaining that space and providing transportation to that location. Thus, open becomes a better way to describe the way we access the data. It’s open because it doesn’t require money or special knowledge to acquire the information, for example a subscription or special password or passphrase.

Open source refers to the practice of providing the code behind a product or application at no cost. The website for the Open Source Initiative describes the importance of non-proprietary software.

While the potential for collaboration is highly increased by open access and open source, opportunities for misuse and misunderstanding is also increased.

And so enter the Library & Information Professionals of the world! As Neil Gaiman has been quoted as saying, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

The reason we professionals exist here at the Indiana State Library and around the world is to help you navigate current and historical resources that, though they may be at your fingertips, may be confusing or difficult to use. We are here 24/7, via email, phone, and online to assist you while you access this new wealth of open information. We are your safety net. You’ll never Google alone!

Below are a few resources for accessing government information and historic content:

Indiana State Library

Indiana Historical Bureau

Indiana State Data Center

This blog post was written by State Data Center Coordinator Katie Springer. For more information, contact the Reference and Government Services at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at