Allen Lane died in 1970. Shortly before his death, as the founder of Penguin Books, he met with some of Britain’s leading academics to propose that a consortium of British universities acquire Penguin Books. Penguin published everything from crime thrillers to Penguin Classics, including Pelican (non-fiction), Peregrine (first editions), Puffin (children’s books) and the hardback Allen Lane imprint. By 1970 Penguin was as popular a national institution as the BBC.
Lane's was an early attempt to link two different types of knowledge institution: popular but serious publishing and learned but modernising universities. It came to nothing. The university sector at that time was incapable of making use of the popular reach, industrial resources and global reputation of the firm that had so astoundingly democratised the reading public. The idea of a great publishing venture as a university did not accord with universities' self-conception. Indeed, the day after Lane’s death, Penguin was sold to another media giant, Pearson; it would later be internationalised as part of Penguin Random House.
The opportunity was lost for universities to lead the transformation of knowledge institutions from closed cloisters to open and globally-networked competitors in knowledge services. It took another generation and the emergence of digital and internet technologies to force that change; eventually making universities an integrated (if specially protected) part of creative, knowledge and service economies, in which environment they are by no means the dominant players.
In 2012, Pearson withdrew from trade publishing and began the divestiture of Penguin that would be completed by 2017. In January 2018, a distressed Pearson announced yet another cost-cutting venture, including a near-terminal retreat from the field of content production.
So, has Allen Lane's dying initiative now come full circle? Might universities lift the pace in rethinking their embrace of a more open and competitive knowledge role? Could they even be major players in the creative, knowledge and service economies?
In April 2018, thirteen of us from around Australia and the world gathered, with only the local kangaroos for company, in a secluded venue deep in the Moondyne Valley, an hour or so east of Perth, to think about the future of the university as an open knowledge institution. This book is the product of that thinking. It represents a consensus view from some distinct perspectives – research professors, open knowledge advocates, science communicators, economists, publishers, high-level university administrators, librarians and others – towards a diagnosis of what the problem is, and what we might do to fix it.
This book advocates for universities to become Open Knowledge Institutions which institutionalise our world's creative diversity in order to contribute to the stock of common knowledge.
Universities operating as open knowledge institutions act with principles of openness at their centre. We advocate for universities to work with the broader community to generate shared knowledge resources that work for the broader benefit of all of humanity. We advocate that universities adopt transparent protocols for the creation, use and governance of these shared resources.