Daily Archives: August 23, 2006

Collaboration, copyright, and reclusive math geniuses

In a recent post, Barbara pulled out this quote from Paul Courant’s article “Scholarship and Academic Libraries (and their kin) in the World of Google,”

Collaboration, across time and space, is the fundamental method of scholarship, and without it we can do nothing of value.

Hmm, what about the solitary researcher who works tirelessly but alone on some arcane, intractable problem? Take for example the mathematician Grigory Perelman, who spent 8 years not publishing but who recently won a Fields Medal (and did not accept it).

Apparently, the lone researcher method is not uncommon in mathematics:

Dr. Perelman’s personal story has parallels to that of Dr. Wiles, who, without confiding in his colleagues, worked alone in his attic on Fermat’s Last Theorem. Though his early work has earned him a reputation as a brilliant mathematician, Dr. Perelman spent the last eight years sequestered in Russia, not publishing. From The New York Times

Now Courant seems to have a very wide notion of collaboration, in which publication in a peer-reviewed venue counts as collaboration. But Courant also says,

Collaboration takes wildly different forms in different disciplines, and how it is done and can be done is affected in different ways by the new information technologies. But a positive (and disruptive) element of the new IT is that almost everywhere it makes collaboration easier, provided we can get at the material.

Here the Perelman story illustrates this point well, as none of the papers he won the Fields for where published in traditional peer-reviewed journals, but rather in arXiv, an open access repository. Perelman did not feel the need or obligation to participate in the traditional peer-review process, believing instead that anyone who wanted to look at his work could do so. For whatever reason, Perelman has decided to opt out of most of the social rituals of his profession, yet open access publishing has enabled him to at least share his work with the world.

Collaboration is a buzzword of the moment and has become a kind of sacred cow in academe. But let’s not define it so broadly that everything becomes collaboration, and let’s not forget that there is much of value in academia done by individuals sitting alone and thinking. That’s why our libraries have quiet nooks as well as group study rooms.

As for new models of publishing, there are few simple generalizations to be made. With Perelman, the highest quality work done in a field has been done in a non-traditional venue, an open access repository. If your ideas are important enough and you get them out, people will pay attention to them, whether you publish in a high prestige peer-reviewed journal or not.

The Thrill Of Victory…The Agony Of Defeat

Well, those of us who submitted proposals for papers and panel sessions for the ACRL 13th National Conference in Baltimore (Mar. 31, 2007 – April 1, 2007) learned the fate of our proposals last Friday. I had previously reported on the number of proposals submitted for the number of slots available – and the odds of getting accepted were as slim as ever. So while there were a number of elated academic librarians who received the good news on Friday, there were far more feeling rejected and puzzled as to why their proposals didn’t make the cut. I would encourage those whose proposals were rejected to avoid dwelling on it too much. Instead, take some solace in knowing that you gave it your best effort. As the rejection e-mail said, it isn’t a reflection of the quality of your proposal but one of the sheer number of proposals received.

Based on my own experience of getting rejected more than a few times, here are just a few suggestions for losing those ACRL conference rejection blues:

  • Re-tool the proposal for another conference. You’ve put a good amount of thought into it so why let it go to waste. State library conferences offer a good second chance opportunity for either a paper or panel proposal. Twice now, I’ve had rejected ACRL proposals accepted at EDUCAUSE conferences, an especially good place for proposals that might be too techy or ahead of their time for ACRL.
  • Turn your proposal into an article for publication. You’ve thought your idea through and perhaps some of the research is already completed. It will take more effort, but seeing your article in print will more than erase any memory of getting turned down for the conference.
  • There are still opportunities for poster sessions and roundtables. Both present great ways to get your message out there, share your ideas, and meet others with similar challenges and interests. I never thought I was a poster person until I tried it for an ALA conference and found that it was actually a really good experience(see page 5). I’ve also done roundtables at least three times now, and it’s always rewarding.
  • Hang on to it. Perhaps the proposal was ahead of its time or just not quite right for the conference theme. If it’s a good idea, it will hold up well over time. With some tweaking it might work better for the next ACRL conference. Persistence may pay off.
  • Yes, it will be hard when the conference brochure comes out, and one is left wondering why certain proposals were accepted while your own was rejected. It makes the proposal decision process seem all that more mysterious. But bear in mind that you’ve got plenty of company. Just do what I do. Start planning now for 2009. If you can come up with a few good ideas it increases your chance of getting one of them accepted. You are bound to have quite a few between now and then.

    Finally, no matter how you are feeling this week, don’t write off going to the conference. Presentation or not, your presence there does count. There are going to be great keynoters, an unbeatable social event at the Baltimore Aquarium, and – if you are really looking for something to do at the conference – ACRLog will be looking for conference bloggers. Get in touch if you’d like to be a part of our conference coverage team. I hope to see you there.