Envisioning the Academy’s Digital Future

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic symposium: The Digital University: Power Relations, Publishing, Authority and Community in the 21st Century Academy, held at the CUNY Graduate Center here in New York City. The day was chock full of presentations and conversations on the implications of digital technologies on teaching, learning, research, and scholarship. Academic and research libraries featured prominently in discussions throughout the conference.

The day began with four small workshops each organized around a specific theme relevant to digital scholarship. Deciding which workshop to attend was a tough choice, one that, judging from the Twitter stream (hashtag #du10), many of us were torn over; I chose the Academic Publishing workshop. There was a diverse group of academic publishers, faculty, librarians, and graduate students which made for an interesting and lively conversation.

Not surprisingly, we spent most of our workshop discussing the crisis in scholarly publishing (both journals and monographs). While there’s an enormous amount of money in the academy allocated towards scholarly publishing, it’s primarily spent on scholarly journals published by commercial publishers rather than academic presses (which are under extreme economic pressure) or open access journals. Workshop participants agreed that the entire community of stakeholders must come together to address these issues, including academic administrators, who often seem absent from these discussions. On a positive note, while scholarly publishing has been slow to adapt to digital technologies, many suggested that the current economic situation may begin to speed collaboration and change.

Academic authority was another recurring theme of the conference, and especially the implications of digital scholarship for the tenure and promotion process. Faculty participants in the two afternoon panels discussed their own efforts in pushing for change in “what counts” for tenure, though that may be perceived as risky for junior scholars. Of course the scholarly publishing crisis and academic authority issues are intimately related, and as they evolve will likely continue to influence each other. Many also pointed out that the more open and accessible our scholarship is, the more widely it can be seen and read, which has ethical and moral implications as well, especially for federally-funded research.

It was great to see academic and research libraries so well-represented at this symposium. There was a lot of love for what we do and how important we are to the future of the academy, which for me was a nice counterpoint to the recent Ithaka Faculty Study. I sometimes feel that while librarians talk a lot about open access and related issues, it can be hard to gauge how much they resonate with faculty in other departments. While the symposium attendees were a self-selected group of academics interested in digital technology, it’s heartening to see so many faculty and graduate students who do embrace open access to research and scholarship, and who are interested in pushing these boundaries in their own scholarly work.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

3 thoughts on “Envisioning the Academy’s Digital Future”

  1. Thanks for the report, Maura – it sounds like it was a wonderful conference. I just got back from the Iowa Library Association ACRL conference, and one thing a presenter said that struck me: the phrase we tend to use–“scholarly communication”–often just confuses faculty. They are more likely to get it if you say “scholarly publishing” – even though the idea should embrace more than the forms of traditional publishing. I also heard about doing an environmental scan – finding out where our faculty are, because each discipline has such different assumptions about how it works and what it takes. I’m going to take some faculty out for coffee and a quiz soon as I’m back at work.

  2. Good idea, Barbara. I may try to incorporate something of this when I do my videotaping of faculty project (just back from the CLIR workshop with Nancy Foster — FANTASTIC!). I did ask the (3) faculty on our strategic planning committee if they’d heard anyone in their disciplines discussing author’s rights or open access and received a polite silence. WAY too small a sampling for quantitative research; a sobering but not surprising response from our own qualitative cohort.

    I was wondering, Maura, if anyone mentioned blogs at all during the conference. I see them carrying more weight of late, and am wondering why I’m not hearing more conversations from librarians about how we’re going to preserve that particular scholarly stream. For many fields, the best new scholarship may be on a blog. Did that ever come up in any discussions you were a part of?

  3. An environmental scan is a great idea — I wonder if it’s something we can turn into an Open Access week event/program this year? Like Marilyn, I’m also trying more lately to mention author’s rights and other OA issues in conversations with faculty when I can.

    Interesting question about blogs, Marilyn. They weren’t mentioned specifically at the conference, though there was much discussion about alternatives to the traditional peer reviewed article or scholarly book in the tenure/promotion package. Cheryl Ball from Illinois State U discussed her electronic tenure portfolio (which you can take a gander at here: http://www.ceball.com/). But there was no mention made at all about preservation of blogs and other non-traditional scholarly publications. I wonder if that issue will pick up steam as tenure/promotion guidelines (presumably) evolve?

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