Daily Archives: May 7, 2008

The Song of the Open Access Road

Great news from ACRL (via LJ’s Academic Newswire)! The members-only preview of forthcoming articles in CR&L will now be available to everyone, not just members. This means you can not only read them yourself, you can blog about them, link to them, send them to people who you think may be interested – in short, they can be read and circulated, and that’s good for the field. About time, too, given we’ve urged this on other disciplines.

Also, in the Chron, Jennifer Howard reports on a high-powered initiative to bring humanities scholarship into the open. According to the story,

Scholars in the sciences have been light-years ahead of their peers in the humanities in exploring the possibilities of open-access publishing. But a new venture with prominent academic backers, the Open Humanities Press, wants to help humanists close the gap.

The nonprofit operation—described by those involved…

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Whoops, sorry. I’ll gloss it for you. The Open Humanities Press will use ibiblio – a publishing platform based at UNC Chapel Hill that sees itself as a “conservancy” of quality texts online – and the leverage of prestige. It has enlisted the old guard (formerly known as the Young Turks) – including philosopher Alan Badiou, theorists Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and J. Hillis Miller; even Stephen Greenblatt, a Shakespeare scholar who, as president of MLA, nudged his colleagues to stop seeing the book as the one and only acceptable merit badge for tenure. With these big names behind it, who can be against it? Oh, and Peter Suber is also on the board, so at least one of them will know how to frame the argument in plain English. It will start by pulling together seven open access journals and plans to build from there.

Why has it taken humanities longer to get on the bandwagon? Partly, it’s cultural. Humanists (and I’m one of them) value printed texts and their special affordances. Partly, we’re not quite the practical nerds that scientists are. Largely, the sense of authorship in the humanities is simply more individualistic. Intertextuality notwithstanding, humanists seem far less inclined than scientist to see themselves as part of a shared, massive effort to collectively move us closer to the truth. We’re more inclined to stop in our tracks and parse what “truth” means, if anything. Humanists take pride in developing their own voice, and tend to view their ideas and their expression as unique, whereas scientists are more inclined to subsume their individuality of voice into a recognizable and predictable pattern. You know exactly where to find the methods and the results, and there are no puns in the title.

But all differences aside, humanists want to be read. They want their ideas to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the world. They want to connect. Developments like these will help – at a time when sustaining our old way of doing things is growing more and more challenging.

We have much in common. Academics have a core commitment to sharing that not only helps share their work, but their methods of inquiry. As John Ziman has said in an essay about science (“Is Science Losing its Objectivity?” Nature 382 (29 August 1996): 751-754) a communal norm requires that “the fruits of research should be regarded as ‘public knowledge.’ It covers all the practices involved in the communication of research results to other scientists, to students and to society at large. But this has philosophical implications. By insisting on the pooling of personal knowledge gained from individual experience, it stresses the role of observation and experiment in science and underpins scientific realism and empiricism” (751).

Though empirical “observation and experiment” may not be exactly how the humanities works, the methods scholars use to get at truth are not haphazard or self-interested. By making scholarship public knowledge, humanists can foster knowledge beyond our narrow institutional and individual perspectives. We can do better than address our work to a tiny cadre of specialists.

This seems as good a time as any to point out that the Sparky Awards (co-sponsored by SPARC and ACRL) invite students to create a short video on the value of sharing information. You can view last year’s winners or find shareable materials here.

Sparky Awards

The Chronicles of Academia

I had the great honor recently to be invited to speak to a class at my alma mater (the LEEP Program at the University of Illinois). The Instruction class, taught by Melissa Wong, was finishing up their work and had myself and Chad Kahl of Illinois State University dialed in for a little Q & A on the realities of instruction in academic libraries. I was definitely filling the “new guy” role, as Chad’s program at ISU has already reached the kinds of goals we’re still trying to aim for here at Norwich. But I’m fine playing the rookie, since I’m not too far removed from library school myself, and it has caused me (like Brett Bonfield recently) to marvel at what a long, strange year of transition it’s been.

The discussion varied from Chad and I each describing the kind of instruction we do and the programs at our schools, to the things we’ve learned along the way and our humorous anecdotes/war stories. We had questions on how we found ourselves in the profession, how we stay active and involved, and also what we enjoyed best about library school. The best question we received was asking the opposite, however: what was found to be missing from our library school experience as we moved into professional jobs?

The various thorny issues regarding the academic environment kept coming up as Chad and I each outlined our experiences in providing information literacy instruction at our separate institutions, but this question gave us the opportunity to speak directly to the fact that neither of us had a class that helped provide some kind of general academic library overview. We then got talking about what that class would look like, and about what aspects of working in academic libraries aren’t really covered in most library school classes. The scholarly publishing and research aspect should be covered a little by just being in a graduate-level program, and I personally learned a lot about how academic libraries work by just having a non-professional job at one while in school, so we returned to one main issue: working with faculty. We agreed that trying to make inroads with faculty regarding your instructional services and resources was one of the hardest parts of our jobs, and the part we were the least prepared for coming out of school. I remarked that when I started last fall I had assumed that I would be announced as the new Humanities Department Liaison, and then friendly faculty from the department would drop by the library to introduce themselves and chat about what kind of research help they and their students would need, possibly even taking me out to lunch after we’d been talking too long in my office. LOL, indeed.

Chad and I agreed that just having a few champions of library services can go a long way, but that being an effective academic librarian requires a lot of hard work in making your case with faculty again and again. I’ve learned, as simple as it sounds, that you really have to think about where they’re coming from and what’s important to them, and these are things that I’ve had to learn on the job and in the moment. I’m not certain that a library school class could be as effective as work experience, but it would be very valuable to incoming academic librarians to have more of a background in how the university environment functions (administration issues, inter- and intra-departmental issues, research versus teaching, budgets, faculty assumptions, campus hierarchy, etc.), as well as how librarians fit into the picture. Admittedly, the environment isn’t the same everywhere, but it’s a strange world that you will be thrust into at a whole new level (I worked in an academic library for almost four years but have a completely new perspective now that I’m a full capital-L Librarian) very quickly after graduation.

So, yes, it’s been a very fast and full first year for me. I wished the class good luck on their job searches, thankful that I’m through that uncertain phase and facing other challenges, including now serving on a search committee myself. And, I’ve got some faculty I need to sit down with before they disappear for the summer. I may get in a few more cracks before next fall’s crop of new academic librarian bloggers starts in, but thanks for reading if this is my final post.