I – and what felt like everyone and their mother – have read the Ithaka S & R Report about historians. After reading it, I had some back and forth with librarians and archivists on Twitter as well as a few face to face conversations. The findings were not controversial or surprising to me; I think Sharon Leon put it best when she wrote on her blog that “The report characterizes history as a discipline in transition, and it is-both in human and institutional senses. Historians, graduate students, archivists, and librarians are each in their own way coping with the “problem of abundance” created by the digital turn.” I think that is fair for all parties. Historians are trying to make sense of how to best utilize a wealth of new digital materials, and librarians and archivists are trying to make sense of how to make those assets more accessible and what they need to do to provide effective outreach and research support. I am no longer a practicing historian, so I won’t comment on that aspect of the report, but as a librarian who supports historians and as a trained archivist, there are some things I want to say.
- Librarians and archivists need to better articulate what types of services they offer. Librarians and archivists have tremendous value far beyond ‘I have access to this cool stuff, come find me.’ Last week, I went to a NISO webinar on Libraries and Start-Up culture. The biggest takeaway for me is that libraries and librarians need to stop thinking about themselves as content collectors, but as agents of content creation and publication. This report is a call to arms to librarians and archivists to move from the model of ‘we have those documents and these books’ to ‘I want to partner with you to publish this open access article’ or ‘Let me circle the wagons so we can create this digital project’ or ‘yeah, I can help you work up a data management plan.’ We understand the research process and we can be really helpful sherpas to our faculty as well as our students. In order to do that, we must shift how we conduct outreach and position ourselves as collaborators as opposed to just support people. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s possible. I live that reality.
- Scholarly Communication is changing. This report reinforced to me that librarians are poised to help faculty get from monograph publishing to a new place where digital projects and new types of output reign. Of course, this is easier said than done since the tenure and promotion process is not to the point where DH and alternative forms of publishing reap the same rewards as traditional monograph publication. But as research sherpas, we can help guide the process; librarians can create a new publishing environment, for instance by using collection development money to support open access publishing or creating collaborative creation/hacker/maker spaces in our libraries can push the issue forward.
- If we [librarians, archivists] can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be! Cathy Davidson’s blog post frames much of how I think about my work these days. If the work I do can be replaced by a computer, then it should be. It can free me up to do other, new things in my practice to the benefit of my students, colleagues, and faculty. It’s creative destruction, but in 2013, our year of community engagement in libraries, we need to be mindful about how we allocate our valuable human capital in libraries. If we can automate aspects of our work that is better left to computers, then we should. For me, automation frees me up to teach more classes, develop meaningful content for our research education program, provide better service to my school, do technology, and have the headspace to think about what is on the horizon in libraries, archives, and higher education. Not only will this help ensure the survival of academic libraries and librarians, but it also makes us more accountable to our students who pay increasingly steep tuition and fees to attend college in the United States. By leading with the idea that we are going to do more, make decisions to meet our users’ needs then we can be more sure of our success.
Naysayers might suggest that I want to kill off some of the artisanal aspects of librarianship, that my goal is to rise in the ranks to shut the lights off in my colleagues’ offices and usher them out the door. That is not the case. If higher education is going to continue to be meaningful, if we want to see a profession of smart, dedicated librarians in the future, we have to make sure that the work we are doing resonates with the academic curriculums we support. We want to prepare today’s students to earn living wages and hopefully to foster their lifelong learning. My call to my fellow librarians and archivists is not to take everything the Ithaka report suggests and implement it to the letter, but to think of it as a call to action. Let’s make ourselves relevant by working with faculty and researchers to become valuable collaborators in the research process and guides them through a rapidly changing technology environment. Let’s work towards educating our users about data management, open access, and copyright so they can create new types work, as the report advises us to do. Let’s use this opportunity forge a new path for libraries and archives for the twenty-first century. While many people would point to the contrary, I believe our future is bright, if we are courageous enough to carve a new path to get us there.
As the semester wraps up, I am beginning to organize and prioritize my summer projects. Foremost among them is planning outreach activities around open access and scholarly communication with our faculty at Hampshire. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a quick talk at the School of Critical Social Inquiry’s weekly meeting about these issues. Using my new favorite tool, Storify, I narrated my talking points. The faculty were really engaged and I had some follow up about articles and interest in exploring these issues in more depth. To that end, I am brainstorming about ways to engage faculty and students about these issues come fall.
In a recent edition of edSurge, there’s a topical posting about Harvard’s stand against the unsustainable pricing structure of academic journals:
“TOO DEAR FOR HARVARD: Last year Harvard spent $3.75 million in subscription fees for scholarly journals–including at least one with fees above $40k and others in the “tens of thousands,” complains the Harvard Faculty Advisory Council. “Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years,” says the note. Faculty are advised to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs.” Estimated cost for an undergrad year at Harvard (including room & board): $52,652.”
True, it’s ridiculous that Harvard is crying poor over acquisitions prices when many other instituions, including mine, have far fewer resources, but I am impressed with Harvard’s support of open access. One of the giants needs to stand up to publishers, needs to lead on the charge to re-imagine scholarly communication for the 21st century that provides space for open access publishing and sustainable practices among commercial ones as well. This is all in contrast to Yale’s silence on the issue, best captured in this article from the Atlantic. While I have faith in the grassroots effort to reform scholarly communication, it’s helpful that one of the big libraries in in the fight with us.
More food for thought as I make plans for the fall.
I rarely look at the top journals these days. I canceled my subscriptions to all but the most relevant—Foreign Policy, for example, is one I will continue to read. Why? I read it because it comes out every month, and it’s timely and interesting. When I want to read what my esteemed colleagues have to say about theory or current events, I turn to the Foreign Policy website, which includes some of the best blogs by the top names in my field. They are talking to each other, and others are leaving important and interesting comments—in effect, “peer reviewing” is happening in real time, and in a transparent way. Intellectual discourse is moving forward at a rapid pace, not in the glacial quarterly publishing of journals.
This post hits at the many reasons why I teach the spectrum of scholarly sources as opposed to focusing on the age old binary of SCHOLARLY AND NOT SCHOLARLY. There’s so much good stuff on the blogosphere, in the twitterverse and in working papers that are relevant for students AND faculty. #breakthemonographmodel
“[C]ollectively the top two or maybe three publishers take out of the academic world enough profits to pay for every research article in every discipline to be made freely available online for everyone to access using PLoS’s publishing fee approach.”
“In this I join two friends and colleagues who’ve made related calls. Siva Vaidhyanathan has coined the phrase “Critical Information Studies” to describe an emerging “transfield” concerned with (among other things) “the rights and abilities of users (or consumers or citizens) to alter the means and techniques through which cultural texts and information are rendered, displayed, and distributed.” Similarly, Eszter Hargittai has pointed to the inadequacy of the notion of the “digital divide” and has suggested that people instead talk about the uneven distribution of competencies in digital environments.”
via The Late Age of Print: http://www.thelateageofprint.org/