PeerLibrary: Why openness is key

Being Open

The PeerLibrary project is open primarily for idealogical reasons. Historically, publishing of scholarly literature has been a practice that exploits the research community while creating lucrative profits for publishing companies. An article that appeared in The Guardian last week describes the status quo:

Journals pay the authors of an article nothing. They pay the editor of a journal nothing. They pay the three or more reviewers of articles nothing. Some journals incur expenses associated with typesetting and related activities. And of course those that publish on paper have costs associated with printing and distribution.

Publishers then sell the journals to – you've guessed it – universities. They sell them to the very institutions that have given so much to the publisher already: research papers and the costs behind them as the time of researchers, editors and reviewers. All this – and the copyright to the article – are freely donated to the publisher.

Even though the costs are limited, the price of journals has exploded. Harvard, the richest university in the world, says it can't keep up and has started cutting subscriptions. This is happening everywhere. The publishers respond by packaging journals in massive bundles and no longer allowing universities to take only the ones they want. It's become ugly.

Concern about this broken system is certainly building, while researchers are still adjusting to the notion of sharing ideas and data with the public before those innovations are published safely under their names. In today's world of sequestration compounded with the recent government shutdown, it isn't hard to see where the apprehension is coming from.

For PeerLibrary, "openness" is the most central value of all, and one that is blatantly absent in many ways from the current atmosphere of research science. PeerLibrary's new landing page sums up our stance in a nutshell:

Open knowledge. Open access. Open source.

It is not enough to allow articles to be openly accessed, but there must also be a space to openly exchange knowledge, feedback, and insights about the conducted research. PeerLibrary recognizes that researchers need access to intuitive collaboration tools in order to get used to being in this open mindset. Maybe somewhere down the road, this approach will help build a more open, sustainable, and high quality peer review system. The tool itself being open source communicates a commitment to collaboration, transparency, and iterative input. Building a proprietary commercial platform that supports open science and knowledge would be inconsistent with the solution that the tool brings to the table.


The core PeerLibrary community consists of just a few UC Berkeley students who meet frequently on campus at a space in BiD (the Berkeley Institute of Design).

PeerLibrary is a free software product whose source code is licensed under the GNU General Public License and other additional content is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

In terms of infrastructure, group uses github as its VCS as well as to track feature requests and bug tickets. Though there exist separate bug tracking systems, it is very convenient to have this in the same place as source code is stored. Comments on tickets, code, and pull requests also provides transparency to interested potential developers and users to see what we are working on with more context. We also have an active development mailing list that is starting to be used more often, as well as an IRC channel on freenode for when we aren't able to meet in person.