Open Access, Across the Board: A Profile of “Public”

In 2003, a conference in Berlin hosted by the Max Planck Society yielded a document that has since come to be recognized as a key landmark in the development of the Open Access (OA) movement. The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities sought to “address the challenges of the Internet as an emerging functional medium for distributing knowledge [and] promote the Internet as a functional instrument for a global scientific knowledge base [. . .] and to specify measures which research policy makers, research institutions, funding agencies, libraries, archives and museums need to consider.” [1] This statement, drafted and signed by an international cohort of scholars, articulated the goals of OA, clear definitions of what constitutes examples of the paradigm in action, and a commitment regarding how the signatories would aid in the conversion to this novel standard. Nearly twenty years later, OA philosophy and practice has infused scores of platforms, archives, and publications, an exemplar of which is Public.

Produced by Syracuse University Libraries and Syracuse University Press, Public describes itself as “a peer-reviewed, multimedia e-journal focused on humanities, arts, and design in public life [that] aspires to connect what we can imagine with what we can do.” [2] The publication grew out of Imagining America (IA): Artists and Scholars in Public Life, which connects a broad array of thinkers, makers, and organizers–inside and outside of the academy–who apply knowledge-production to the revitalization of civic life. IA’s mission, vision, and values guide Public, as well. As an extension of the 21-year old organization, the journal advances IA’s goals to “imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory ‘America’ and world.” [3]

In what ways is Public open access? The journal fulfills the most widely-known and literal definition of OA, as articulated by one of the movement’s early thinkers, Peter Suber; the journal is “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” [4] This means that anyone with access to the Internet can explore Public’s diverse content. Beyond this, the journal integrates OA philosophy into virtually every facet of its enterprise. 

In form, Public is multimedia. Consequently, research products as varied as audio recordings, film, text, performance, and interactive digital experiences can be found peppered throughout each issue. By featuring such a rich amalgamation of media, Public fosters accessibility to knowledge for “readers” by engaging multiple modalities. This extends even to the table of contents. In addition to including a traditional list of pieces in sequential order, Public encourages readers to explore its archives through a trio of dynamic, data visualizations. It explains:

A print publication’s table of contents and index are conventionally understood visual orderings of the ‘data’ it contains. [. . .] The electronic archive’s equivalent to the table of contents is an interactive data visualization, facilitating multiple forms of relational indexing based on a participant’s interactions. Public offers two visualizations [. . .] to encourage alternative explorations of the implicit connections among the contributions. A third visualization maps external resources engaged with Imagining America’s Commission on Publicly Engaged Design. [. . .] As Public‘s body of published material grows, these visualizations will reveal increasingly deeper and differently inflected meanings among the diverse works in its archive. [5]

Syracuse Unbound. (n.d.). Visualizing Public. In Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Retrieved from

In specific terms, these visualizations take the forms of data clouds, “icicles,” and geographic maps. The first of these three can be organized by a variety of categories including keywords, contributors, and chronology. The “icicles” enable readers to see the full breadth of Public’s past issues, section-by-section, through a process of exploding/imploding animation. Not only is the web design impressive, I found exploring the visualizations to be inviting, illuminating, and fun to play around with. This combination of web development, aesthetics, and information sciences expands the definition of open access and rewards curiosity.

Just as the “front-end” experience of Public is accessible, the journal’s “back-end” design embodies OA. Open-source software provides the foundation for the journal’s infrastructure, allowing Public to benefit from the continual innovation of a global community of web developers. 

Lastly, readers can see open access philosophy at work in Public’s efforts to bridge diverse disciplines and dissolve the “town/gown” divide. The publication invites submissions that connect such disciplines as environmental studies, design, arts, and urban planning. Further, they aim to feature “more than one perspective on subjects addressed, and the crossing of traditional divisions of knowledge and professional sectors.” [6] I think this last bit is particularly notable for it illustrates Public’s commitment to interrogating the exclusionary history of knowledge-production in higher education and, more importantly, combatting it through radical inclusion. [7] They apply this thinking and practice to the peer-review process, as well. Reviewers hail from the academic and broader communities, where “people [. . .] come to their expertise through different experiences, including but not limited to formal education.” [8] I imagine that soliciting evaluations from informed reviewers outside of the academy presents a host of challenges not seen by traditional publications, but the effort seems worth it given the benefits it could yield: new relationships between thinkers within and without of higher education, integration of diverse epistemologies into public scholarship, and increased efficacy of applying new knowledge to address seemingly intractable social problems.

In closing, Public’s broad application of open access thinking across numerous elements of their publication–reader access, peer-review, web design, multimedia form, and content as evaluated through the lens of interdisciplinarity–positions the journal at the vanguard of today’s OA movement. In so doing, they create the conditions for more and richer reciprocal knowledge-building between universities and their respective communities. 


[1] Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities (2003, October 22). In Open Access. Retrieved from

[2] Syracuse Unbound. (n.d.). About Public. In Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Retrieved from

[3] Imagining America. (n.d.). In Imagining America. Retrieved from

[4] Suber, P. (2004, December 29). A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access. In Earlham College. Retrieved from

[5] Syracuse Unbound. (n.d.). Visualizing Public. In Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Retrieved from

[6] Syracuse Unbound. (n.d.). Editorial Policies. In Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Retrieved from

[7] Imagining America. (n.d.). We Believe. In Imagining America. Retrieved from

[8] Syracuse Unbound. (n.d.). Peer Review Process. In Public: A Journal of Imagining America. Retrieved from

6 Replies to “Open Access, Across the Board: A Profile of “Public””

  1. Hi Jon!

    I really enjoyed reading your post about “Public”. I have actually never heard of this journal until reading your post, and I wish I had known about it sooner! I like the philosophy that “Public” seems to have, not just in terms of being an open-access journal, but also in terms of how “Public” allows authors to upload their content. I love the fact that authors are able to utilize a multimedia workspace and upload a variety of videos, audio, photos, etc. along with their publications. I have seen things like this in journals that are not open access, but I think that it is important to include these elements in open access journals as well. Especially with the shift we have seen where we have moved everything online and print journals are slowly phasing out. Add multimedia to our articles can be important for many reasons, from making the content engaging to the reader to being able to demonstrate procedures and methods of research studies.

    I also enjoyed reading about the diversity of disciplines that “Public” offers in their open access journal. Correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe that this gives authors from a variety of fields to come together to share their research in one place. Which in turn makes it easier for readers, like lay, non-scientific individuals, to gather research and learn about topics to their interest. While I know that there can never be just one journal to encompass everything, I think “Public” has made strides in attempting to do so.

    Great post!



  2. Hi Jon,

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I didn’t know about “Public” before now, and I wish I had known about it earlier! It seems that “Public” is making important strides in ensuring that research can be made available to everyone who wishes to view it, and I really support this. I particularly liked learning about how “Public” includes research from different disciplines. I think that this is important, because it seems to me that this creates an open space for authors from different fields to share their research in an open access capacity. I know that there will never be one journal to encompass research from all fields that you can think of, but this is an excellent start and helps individuals who would not otherwise have access to peer-reviewed research to gain such.

    Also, I liked reading about how “Public” allows authors to include multimedia content with their research. I have seen this done in non-open access journals, but this is the first I’ve heard about such being done in an open-access journal (I am sure that there are more that do this, just none that I am aware of off the top of my head). I think that this is important, given that most publications are moving completely online and the hard copies of print journals are slowly phasing out. Adding multimedia to a publication can allow for a variety of things, from making the content more accessible and engaging to individuals to explaining and detailing procedures and methods that can be difficult to follow in research study papers. As I indicated, I have only seen this in non open access journals, so I enjoy the fact that it is becoming common in the open access area.

    Great post!



    1. Thank you so much for reading my piece and sharing these reflections! I’m glad you found Public to be innovative and inspiring, as well, in the widening field of open access journals.


  3. Hi Jon, I really enjoyed reading your post and learning about Public. I particularly liked their visualizations, the data cloud seem to be a helpful tool for the user to do the research and dig into a certain topic, I would like to see more of this in other fields such as engineering. These visualizations can potentially be powerful tools to help the user find content, I can see the “icicles” connected to an algorithm in the backend that shows the user recommendations based on what they previously clicked during the session.
    Thanks for your post.


    1. Hi Sam, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love your suggestion of integrating a recommendations function into the categorization and visualization of pieces in the journal. I wonder how that would impact the visibility of specific pieces, research domains, and authors. Glad you found Public to be inspiring as you consider journals in engineering, too! -Jon


  4. Hi Jon,

    Thank you for this lovely blog! It was interesting to hear about a journal that embraces all things that are open access. This journal sounds like they are truly keeping up with science and design and thus encourages new discoveries and connections to be made across the vast amount of topics covered in the journal. I also really enjoyed that they bing in nonacademic reviewers I think this truly adds a new division to the scientific journal community that is needed to bridge the ever-expanding gap between academia and applied world.



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