A scholarship stopgap

There was obviously a variety of scholarship communications covered in this week’s readings. The combination seemed to create a full circle of topics covered this semester. Early on in the course we recognized that no matter how much we claim a collection or archive is open or comprehensive choices are made to frame the site. In that same vein, William Cronan described online scholarship, “To some degree every reader is his or her own aggregator and curator by selecting the sources they read regularly and the links that they follow.” By creating RSS feeds and the like, people hone in on their regularly visited resources. More and more institution’s are creating selective feeds to consolidate sources and propagate them in a one stop shop. I loved that the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis dedicates a section of their homepage to art news from around the world. The fact that the Walker pursues their website as a publication with a considerate number of dedicated staff is a great model for other larger museums but would be problematic for smaller institutions like the 9 person staff of the Naval Academy Museum.

The dissertation publication debate seems pretty convoluted. A mash-up of hard-charging open source advocates, antiquated tenure processors, and university libraries and presses lost in a sea of institutional mandates. When I began reading into the debate, I realized that part of the thesis completion/graduation process for my masters program was to upload my thesis into the library’s Creative Commons site. I understand there is a whole other level of considerations for dissertations – as AHA aptly pointed out, but I never even considered fighting it. I’m not sure if the University of Nebraska mandates dissertations be digitally uploaded to get your PhD or not.

I definitely think that if people are not required to upload their work then for the good of the field some portion of their scholarship should be posted. A post-publication review site seems like a good first opportunity (before reaches paid journals) to see new scholarship. Not only will they kind of stake some level of claim to their subject but be able to receive constructive criticism to help solidify the scholarship. If what AHA claims is true then there does seem to be a catch 22 for new PhDs. But the AHA statement is way too heavy handed – only thinking about the academic or scholarly writer side who wants or needs to publish eventually. I agree it should be a right to choose versus a requirement to post online, it is their intellectual property. That being said, I find it hard to believe that most new PhDs won’t fall in line with the ideals of open access and getting their scholarship out there.

The root of this argument is not publishing but the monograph laden confines of reaching tenure. Until academia can truly recognize online scholarship as congruent to a book deal, there will continue to be this argument. This sort of thinking, Cohen wrote last fall, is representative of “a collective failure by historians who believe — contrary to the lessons of our own research — that today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow like today.” Dr Jennifer Guiliano’s observance that despite AHA being the head honcho for the history field they did not cite any of their claims is something a lot of people latched onto in the comments section. It seems that the publishers that took issue were the exception rather than the rule. Besides, it makes sense that the data received from online dissertations would be extremely helpful in showing interest in your subject matter.

Planned Obsolescence really touched on a lot of the overarching themes of this semester. The multimodal idea for instance, is just another way to recognize what we’ve learned – that the relationship between text and images/multimedia is changing. When print is the primary mode everything must be translated into text, but digital space allows for new interpretations using many different modes – many closer to the original format being studied.

The breakdown of the University press’s mission to disseminate their institution’s scholarship and instead be a revenue source is just another part of the tenure track puzzle. A Report of the AAUP Task Force on Economic Models for Scholarly Publishing agrees that the business model is antiquated and needs to become more collaborative to survive. Everyone seems to agree that models such as University of Michigan’s press/library partnership Digital Culture Books are a possible solution.

Everything we read for this week recognizes that academia’s current institutional procedures are broken and that the digital tools (including publication) presented this semester offer a challenge. The only solid answer I can hope for is to not hurt the readers and seekers of knowledge with an access stopgap. There has to be another way to protect intellectual property, scholar’s careers, and the dissemination of knowledge.

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