Open Everything

If Information has a Price, Who’s Paying?

Is information really free?

Is knowledge power for some or for all?

Does information belong to everyone?

What does open mean?

How much did you pay for textbooks?

Why do others have access to information and I don’t?

Information is a commodity.

Just like any other commodity, it can be bought and sold. Quality information costs time and money to produce, and those who produce it often limit access to recover costs and make a profit.

Information is also a public good.

Producing information will always come at a price, but limiting access to it can impede the advancement of knowledge, slow down innovation, and stunt scientific and social progress.

Open information can change this.

Open information is any information—journals, books, data, software—that is free to use, re-use, and share with attribution. Open information is disseminated faster and to a wider audience and is used and re-used more often. It encourages global participation in the pursuit of new knowledge.

Here in the library we’re particularly passionate about Open Access—unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly content. But we're also really excited about the wider open movement.

Open Everything encourages you to explore the power of Open Access, Open Data, Open Textbooks, and Open Software, and to contemplate the tension between information as a commodity and information as a public good.


Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.

Aaron Swartz

Open Access

Open Access is the free, online availability of research articles and the rights to use them.

Imagine you recently lost a family friend to a very common cancer that is difficult to detect. Because of this experience, you decide you'd like to investigate early diagnostic tools for an upcoming science fair project. You scour the Internet looking for relevant medical research. Some studies are freely available but others cost as much as $40 per article to access.

Your Choices

With what money you have, purchase the other articles.

With the additional information, you are able to get a deeper understanding of the science and, as a result, strengthen your project.

True Story

When he was just a sophomore in high school, Jack Andraka used his science fair project as an opportunity to investigate a new diagnostic tool for pancreatic cancer, a hard-to-detect cancer that recently claimed the life of a close family friend. Andraka relied heavily on freely available, open access medical research. But he also found that many other important research articles cost upwards of $40 to access. After many hours in the lab, his research paid off. Andraka developed an innovative and affordable method for detecting pancreatic cancer. The same method is now being used to develop diagnostic tools for ovarian and lung cancer.

Next Topic

Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.

William Pollard

Open Software

Open source software is available for modification or enhancement by anyone.

Imagine you are an undergraduate student majoring in computer science. You’re frustrated by the limitations of the software that your professor is having you use in class, so you decide to create your own program that is better than what’s currently available.

Your Choices

Charge users a small fee to download and use your software.

A small group of users adopt your program, but after 5 years it is no longer in use.

Share the software freely and allow others to modify it to meet their needs.

Your software is still in use today and many variations have been created for different uses. Plus, a large community exists to support the software.

True Story

Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki in 1991 when he became frustrated by the expense and limitations of the operating systems at the time. So he decided to create his own operating system. He chose to make the software available for free so he could incorporate the work of other programmers, who required open sharing. That software, Linux, now runs everything from your Android smartphone to the International Space Station to 95% of the world’s 500 fastest super computers. There are many versions of Linux available because his open license allows users to modify it to meet their needs.

Next Topic

This information movement, left to its own devices, will increase the gap between rich and poor people and rich and poor nations.

Michael L. Dertouzos

Open Textbooks

Open textbooks—and other open education resources—are teaching and learning materials freely available online for everyone to use.

Imagine you are a professor who has developed a new method of teaching calculus. You believe this ground-breaking method really has the potential to change the way that calculus classes are taught across the country and even the world. The problem is how to get this information out there to teachers and students.

Your Choices

Work with a big time publisher who assists with editing, printing, and selling your method in a textbook within a matter of months and gives you a share of the profits.

Your textbook earns you some money. It reaches an audience who can afford it, but it doesn’t gain the worldwide acceptance you were hoping for.

Take a year off from work to create an online textbook on your own that would be available to anyone, free of charge.

Your open access textbook is downloaded 3 million times by users globally. Teachers from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa are now using your method to teach calculus.

True Story

Charles Lowe, a GVSU Writing professor, wanted to create a textbook that could be used and adapted freely by instructors and students anywhere. He and his collaborators created "Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing (vol. 1)" and made it an open education resource. This textbook has been posted online in several venues for users to download for free, including our library’s ScholarWorks@GVSU collection from where it has been downloaded over 12,000 times!

Next Topic

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.

Stewart Brand

Open Data

Open Data is data that can be freely used and shared by anyone.

Imagine you are a biologist studying the human genome. You get asked to join the Human Genome Project, an attempt to map all the genes of the human genome. It sounds intriguing, but you’re worried about intellectual property. The publicly funded HGP would require that all data collected be made freely available. That’s privileged information you were hoping to patent—it could lead to some extra money for you and your lab!

Your Choices

Say yes, and join the Human Genome Project.

Due to the collective efforts of all the scientists, the project is completed ahead of schedule. The publicly available data has a positive impact in the scientific sphere and beyond, including genetic tests for the general public that can show a predisposition to a variety of diseases.

Say no, and continue to work independently.

You continue to work independently. You get some money for your lab and gain some recognition in a small circle of biologists. However, your patent applications are rejected when the government announces that the human genome sequence cannot be patented.

True Story

The publicly funded Human Genome Project, whose goal was to determine the sequence of chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, and to identify and map all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint, was declared complete in 2003. It remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project, with participants from universities and research centers in China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The data generated by this project is available online for free, and has been used to create genetic tests that can show a predisposition to illnesses like breast cancer, hemostasis disorders, cystic fibrosis, and liver disease, among others.

What Do You Think?

All information belongs to everybody all the time. It should be available. It should be accessible to the child, to the woman, to the man, to the old person, to the semi-literate, to the presidents of universities, to everyone. It should be open.

Maya Angelou

What do you think?

Click any that apply.

Learn More

Control over the use of one’s ideas really constitutes control over other people’s lives; and it is usually used to make their lives more difficult.

Richard M. Stallman

More Resources

Right to Research Coalition

Open Access

Open Source Initiative

Open Education Resources

Open Data

Open Access Explained

About the Exhibit


Open Everything

Panoramic view of the Open Everything Exhibit at the Grand Valley State University Libraries

The Open Everything exhibit was created to introduce the concept of information as a commodity and to begin a conversation about access to information. The exhibit encourages students to explore Open Access, Open Data, Open Education Resources, and Open Source Software. It is an interactive exhibit developed with the intent of making you want to learn more about the ways information is created and distributed.

The physical exhibit opened at the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons on August 8 and ran until September 18, 2014.

More Images

Host Your Own

If you are interested in hosting your own Open Everything exhibit, you can download high-resolution PDFs of all of the materials.

Download the files (1.2Mb .pdf)

Since the content is all available under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY), you can use and modify the materials for your own purposes. If need the files in Illustrator format, or are interested in borrowing our materials to stage your own exhibit, get in touch with Erin Fisher, Library Program Manager at GVSU Libraries. She's happy to help!