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.