Daily Archives: January 4, 2007

Hostages

In a Chronicle article, publishers at university presses weigh in on the MLA report we talked about earlier – the one that says maybe English professors shouldn’t be required to have published books with university presses in order to get tenure. (To which my immediate personal response was “no duh!”)

What’s troubling, though, is that the blame keeps being passed around. Professors blamed presses for not publishing their work. Presses blamed professors for using book publication as the filter for tenure, rather than actually assessing the work of their colleagues themselves. But turns out it’s librarians that are to blame. Sanford Thatcher, director of the Penn State UP and soon-to-be president of the American Association of University Presses told the Chron –

the report fails to address fully just how much power those libraries wield over presses and scholars. “It all goes back to librarians and their preferences,” he says. “We’re all held hostage to the way those librarians operate.”

I don’t know what that means. That quote comes on the heels of a critique by another publisher that, when universities require that dissertations be put online, its hard to sell books based on those dissertations. So is the problem that libraries tend to support open access? (Which, by the way, means we support scholarly communication that doesn’t make us gatekeepers or powerful brokers.) Admittedly, the editorial process dissertations go through on the way to becoming books can make them better – tighter, more focused, more accessible. But in most cases is it really worth it to sell copies of the improved book to a few hundred libraries – or to make the rougher version available to all?

Or is “the way those librarians operate” simply that, as journal subscriptions and electronic databases eat our flattened budgets, we buy fewer books? That’s not our preference. Sure, we have more demands on our budget and our space than before, but we’re not anti-book. (Are we?) It’s just that we don’t have enough budget and it’s much harder to get faculty on board to cancel journal or database subscriptions than to simply not buy as many books.

So it seems we have a hostage situation. But which of us is hostage to which? And when is a negotiator going to show up?

posted by Barbara Fister