Thinking Differently, Thinking the Same

Two interesting takes on the future of scholarly communications this morning:

In the New York Times, Columbia University’s Mark C. Taylor urges us to “end the university as we know it.” His suggestions include completely re-thinking our approach to the curriculum, the organization of the university into academic departments, and the place of tenure (spoiler alert: he is not a fan). Librarians may be especially interested in his comments on the doctoral dissertation, the traditional first step on a future faculty member’s road toward involvement in the scholarly communication cycle:

“Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce ‘theses’ in alternative formats.”

In one paragraph, Taylor enters into ongoing discussions of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), the future of the university press, and the place of gaming and game collections in academic libraries! He is thinking outside the box!

Back inside the box (and with good reason) is “Laurie the Librarian,” who has come to conclusion that it is in her best interests as a young professional to “publish in the more established LIS journals out there.” Why? Because, unlike Taylor, who is already established as Chair of the Columbia University Religion Department, Laurie is still coming up:

“If we assume that the majority of the people on application review committees are long-standing faculty members, it could also be assumed that they are older members of the faculty and may prefer older journals that fit the traditional model of scholarly publishing. In other words, I’m not doing myself much good right now to publish in a web-only, new journal. I need to be more strategic in publishing, particularly because the peer review process is so lengthy and I need to start applying to programs in 6 months. I need to identify a set of criteria to determine those journals with the highest impact of what I assume an application review committee is looking for and work from that.”

Assuming she is correct (and perhaps she is not), Laurie tells us in one paragraph what’s wrong with academic library leadership of scholarly communications discussions. ACRL took a big step forward in 2005 when it provided open access to the archives of College & Research Libraries (which now also provides access to pre-prints), but Laurie suggests that we, as a field, are among those still tightly bound to traditional markers of scholarly communication. How many of us whose libraries provide tenure-track positions for librarians have taken the stand that Oregon State did in terms of open access? How many provide guidelines for tenure and promotion that reward non-traditional forms of publication (or other forms of scholarship beyond those reported in journals)? As my ACRLog colleague Barbara Fister asked just last month, “why can’t we walk the walk?”

We know that it will take academic leadership from people like Taylor and from scholarly associations to provide the structures that will allow future faculty to take full advantage of the positive changes now possible in the scholarly communication process. The same might be said of academic librarians; what more can ACRL do to provide support for our colleagues making decisions about appointment, promotion, and tenure for academic librarians wishing to make different choices about how and where they publish? “Right now,” Laurie writes, “I have to work within the system.”

It’s our system, and it’s high time we change it.

9 thoughts on “Thinking Differently, Thinking the Same

  1. I remember well the effort it took to get guidelines for tenure and promotion the rewarded not traditional publications through when Scott and I worked at Washington State University. I expect that they are still the exception rather than the rule.

    As a profession we should really model the new environment for scholarly communication for the rest of the academy rather than just talking about it.

  2. Thank you for commenting on this issue!!

    I’ve been rather shocked to discover how many academics in library schools have old-fashioned, limited viewpoints of the publishing industry. What happened to the role that academics were supposed to play in pushing the envelope of what’s possible?

    Trying to get into a PhD program has taught me a great deal about what academics think constitutes “valuable” scholarship and it was a great disappointment.

    One unnamed professor went so far as to tell me in no uncertain terms that blogging was juvenile and a sign that I was not prepared for advanced scholarship. She said that I had to stop blogging altogether to be taken seriously.

    Yes, that’s how traditional the establishment can be!

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we need to change the framework! We need to see the value in open access publishing, different ways to communicate ideas, and alternative forms of publishing.

    What ACRL can do to promote these new ways of thinking is publish a position paper on this issue explaining the role these new media play. Re-assure the establishment that the old ways are not being abandoned, it’s that new possibilities are being added.

    After all, no one is saying that publishing forums like blogs replace peer-reviewed, print-based publications. But they can be seen as evidence of ongoing reflection, for example, which has just as much value for ‘thinking professionals’ as the traditional publishing forums.

    This position paper should 1) outline what these formats look like, 2) discuss what role they play in academic scholarship, and 3) explain how they can be evaluated since older approaches, such as Impact Factor, have no meaning for these new forums.

    I think a publication like this would go a long way in guiding people on the way forward.

  3. Like I’m sure many do, I agree with Laurie: participation in newer forms of publication shouldn’t replace traditional outlets, but supplement them. It’s not an example from a library department, but earlier this month the New Media Department at the University of Maine published a set of tenure and promotion guidelines that includes contributions to blogs, wikis, listservs, etc. Here’s hoping that this is the start of a trend.

  4. I’m all for thinking outside the box about tenure and promotion and the future of scholarly discourse – but the idea of abolishing academic departments in favor of constantly changing interest groups seemed bananas to me. That (coupled with abolishing both the responsibilities and the protection of tenure) suggest to me that a new class of administrators would have to be developed to do the work of departments – evaluating junior faculty, creating class schedules, monitoring budgets, overseeing majors, advising students etc. etc. For me the whole package as he presented it was not at all compelling.

  5. In re blogs, I think we need a “big name” blogger with respect across disciplines to demonstrate the usefulness of blogs as one component of a scholarly life. The big-name journals for tenure problem is just that: a problem. I also think that it will be a long time changing, since tenure is so variable even between departments on the same campus (we all have our horror stories on that, I’m sure!).

    This may shift as the generational shift occurs. I also think that it varies between the disciplines; my impression is that the sciences are ahead of the social sciences and particularly of the humanities because the sciences are much more comfortable with a collaborative model for work, whereas the humanities in particular emphasizes the “solo scholar” model (or so it was explained recently by humanities faculty at a discussion about college initiatives which were favoring sciences/social sciences and disadvantaging the humanities).

  6. There have been a good number of reactions to Taylor’s NYT op-ed on higher education. I think one of the better ones was written by Dean Dad at Inside Higher Ed. He raises some of the same issues that Barbara does. I recommend it to you
    http://tinyurl.com/czhkbd

  7. Taylor’s whole article is pretty bananas. It’s also pretty easy to critique a system that has already rewarded you. (Taylor is a tenured department-chair with some twenty-three books to his name.) Also, if you want to provide a proper manifesto for change, it needs to be something a bit more than an op-ed.

    As for traditional pubs, again: you’ve got to play by the rules before you can break them. Not to mention the old standby of, “Not gonna happen unless Harvard does it first.”

    My very cynical $0.02.

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