Academic Commons [Updated]
Via Blogging Brande, I discovered Nick Montfort’s post on Grand Text Auto concerning open access and academic journals.
Let me start with a sober and analytic reaction: “Yippee!”
That out of the way, the battle between those of us who believe that the “commons” benefits everyone (in part, through what I call “the Grateful Dead effect,” from the impact of the band’s decision to encourage taping of shows and the trading of tapes—Steve Gimbel expands on this a bit on his blog) and those who believe the same about “ownership” extends well beyond academia. It has a particularly pressing and important connection to education, however, for decisions about ownership have an immediate and fundamental impact on what we can do in the classroom. And on the place of our research in the wider society (Montfort’s immediate concern).
I think there must be a few things that those of us who are part of the scholarly publishing process can do to foster an open-access future. The easiest thing that I’m able to think of is simply not volunteering our labor to lock academic writing away from the public.
It’s ironic: We who most need unfettered access to knowledge are sometimes the most protective of it. Or, as Montfort describes, allow ourselves to be used by a process that results in what he calls “anti-publication”:
It may serve some credentialing purposes and help universities assess tenure and promotion cases, but it ends up restricting access to scholarly work rather than helping to publish that work, that is, helping to make it available to the public.
Yet many of us, even proponents of what Brad DeLong calls ”The Invisible College”, continue to support this process through continued writing and reviewing. With that in mind, Montfort sent this email to one journal requesting he act as a reviewer:
With regard to your request, I cannot agree to review for your journal right now. If [it] becomes an open access journal, I will be very glad to review articles for the journal.
“Bowerr” of Blogging Brande extends Montfort’s call a little bit:
I’ve grown more and more irritated by big journals, and I will be making subscription changes this year.
Montfort ends with this:
I was also thinking that those of us who are academics dealing with digital media have the chance now to determine whether we’re going to become one of those public-irrelevant fields where anti-publication is the norm and we speak only to ourselves, or whether we want to speak to and learn from those creating and encountering poems, games, art, drama, writing, and other sorts of digital work outside the university.
For us to speak effectively outside the narrow confines of educational institutions, we in academia need to start moving publication of our work online and into venues we create ourselves (without institutional backing), developing a web of reference and insistence that evaluation for promotion no longer rest on the “quality” of the publication venue but on the work itself. We can even help establish the value of particular works through our links and comments. This is already going on, of course (even this post is part of it–in a very small way), but we’ve yet to reach the ‘tipping point’ that will bring us to academic respectability.
Idealistic? Yes. Difficult? Yes. But it is happening–on blogs and on new types of open-source online journals. As Montfort says, without it we will never establish the dynamism and relevancy in the wider world that so many of us want. Even as scholars, after all, we desire to be of the world, not simply about it.
[Update: Sherman Dorn makes the point that what Montfort is advocating is simply divisive, setting up a dichotomy where a spectrum would be preferable. While I agree, I also see that Montfort’s position is one in need of loud expression, if it is going to have any impact at all.]