## Thursday, March 6, 2014

### An Archive for Open Math Projects

As part of my talk in the JMM Baltimore session I raised the possibility of a central site for connecting Open Math initiatives. I'd like to expand on that.

I worked for a time on the Comprehensive $\TeX$ Archive Network (CTAN). If you write $\TeX$-related software that you want to offer to the community, then you send it to CTAN where users can find it and where the standard distributions MiKTeX and TeX Live (as well as commercial vendors) can also find it. I saw there the advantage of having an authoritative single source — think of the waste if every $\LaTeX$ user had to do their own search for the latest version of the package that makes hyperlinks.

There are sites that offer lists of open math books (the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) comes to mind but there are others such as the Open Textbook Library). These sites are great but have limitations. For instance, AIM requires that a work has been used by someone other than an author, which rules out some in-progress projects. Other sites are restricted to one subfield or another, or are simply restricted to what the site's owner has run across. I'd like to see a comprehensive archive with a mission of helping the community, including helping it grow.

• One stop shopping for users: Instructors and students alike can easily see the choices. This also includes one-stop shopping for aggregators.
• People could search by topic, level, license, etc.
• Opens the possibility of offering and collecting reviews, keeping a count of adoptions, as well as allowing upvotes and comments.
• Gives new initiatives the chance to get noticed. Established projects appear on the top of search engine results, naturally. New works could use a boost.
• Offers authoritative versions. I have a text that has been online since 1996-ish and when a person enters my information into a search engine, years-old versions are prominent.
• Links to other resources, such as mailing lists or events. For instance, the site could have been used to announce the Baltimore session on open-source texts.
A few words about technicalities. Such a site could point to the material, but does not have to hold that material. For instance, if a project is hosted on GitHub, then an archive could just point to the repository rather than taking on the technical burden of running a repository on its own. Indeed, this seems to me to be the technically correct approach, since holding the material in two places can be a problem.

As I mentioned, I have some experience in this area. The network traffic is not that great. When I ran the CTAN site there was traffic (particularly in late August), but it was not a major issue.

In addition there are now software systems well-adapted to writing such sites. I like Django (free, open-source), but there are a number of others. Such systems reduce the burden of development.

Such a site would be, I would think, a boost to the community. But in some ways the technicalities are not the hard part — the hard part is getting people to adopt the site. I wonder; are folks interested?

Jim Hefferon
Saint Michael's College

1. I really like this idea, especially for the community it would create. I don't know whether it would be worth building a new site from the ground up, or rather working with AIM or the Open Textbook Library or collegeopentextbooks.org or another site to better serve our needs. Would AIM consider having a "works in progress" page?

2. A site for one-stop shopping is, of course, a great idea. The answer to "where can I find out about open textbooks for subject X?" Trouble is, as we all know, a book is a big long project. It is a leap from one's own lecture notes to something somebody else can use. Too many half-baked projects and the serious projects get tarred with the same brush.

So I like AIM's approach of setting a minimum standard for viability. But I am also very sympathetic to giving exposure to new projects. Maybe somebody here has a solution, such as Oscar's comment?

Ben Crowell has run a review site for years: http://theassayer.org/. Ten years on and my book has one review. I think you may need to do like the Student PIRG's did and pay folks to write reviews.

3. > It is a leap from one's own lecture notes to something somebody else can use. Too many half-baked projects and the serious projects get tarred with the same brush.

Oh yes, I agree completely. (We see the same thing in software, where the repositories are filled with the half-baked.) But with a way to attract interest and possibly funding, perhaps more projects could get done. As Oscar says, you hope it creates a community center.

> Ben Crowell has run a review site for years: http://theassayer.org/. Ten years on and my book has one review. I think you may need to do like the Student PIRG's did and pay folks to write reviews.

Yes, the situation at Ben's site for my text is similar. I'm unfamiliar with the Student PIRG's; do they have grant money?

Another form of compensation is professional recognition. My college has been good enough to recognize my work with open texts and perhaps that would happen for others.

-Jim Hefferon

4. > Yes, the situation at Ben's site for my text is similar. I'm unfamiliar with the Student PIRG's; do they have grant money?

When Nicole Allen was in charge of the Affordable Textbook Campaign, they did have some kind of funding, which may have originated with grants. Their reviews seem to have disappeared with a move of their catalog to U of Minnesota.

> Another form of compensation is professional recognition. My college has been good enough to recognize my work with open texts and perhaps that would happen for others.

Yes, fame or cash. Similarly, I have been fortunate to be at a place where work writing open textbooks is recognized. I often wish that more publicly-funded universities would see the value in encouraging and promoting faculty who might be more inclined to make this sort of contribution rather than just always rewarding original research as the one true path.