Monday, October 6, 2008

Digital Info: Where Is The Love?

I teach at a University. University libraries offer their students and faculty various kinds of access to electronic resources. Usually, this includes digital access to past issues of journals that someone has scanned in.

I often use such articles from such journals in my teaching. Students are famously paying way too much for textbooks these days, so I want to save my students money by making use of these resources.

It's pretty easy to put a link on their course page where they can download the article. It's free. They can then print it out, or use it on their computer, or whatever. This is almost like a utopia of information accessibility.

I started this process for a new course the other day, and I found that one of the articles is in the right journal -- the library has access, in this case through "Poiesis" -- but for some reason whoever is supposed to scan in the journal never scanned in that issue. From that year there is volume 2, 3, and 4, but no volume 1, which is the one I need.

I emailed my reference librarian, who was kind and energetic, and tried to help. But basically, there is no answer. The reference librarians don't know how to get in touch with Poiesis, and all they'll tell me is that "Acquisitions" doesn't know either.

They're going to scan it in and get copyright clearance, so it's the same thing, I guess. But I couldn't help trying to ask them a few questions: wasn't there a contract between the university and someone? Doesn't that someone agree to provide certain stuff? Isn't the library paying? Can't they contact whoever they are in this contract with, to say, Hey, Guys, You are missing Volume 1?

You know if the library had paid for some book series and never received one of the volumes, nobody would be all, "Oh. Um, guess theres's nothing we can do." They'd be up in arms.

But digital info, it gets no love.

Really, I can hardly believe how slow the move to open source information is. I mean, there are two journals in my entire discipline that I know of that are open source. And what about books and essay collections?

The big thing is "gatekeeping" and CVs. You know, if you just put something online, that doesn't really show you've accomplished something important in your research. If your article is accepted by a journal, or published in a book, it does show you've accomplished something important in your research. That accomplishment shows up on your CV, which is how other people evaluate whether you're accomplishing things, or just posting rantings on the internet.

But surely it's possible to devise some analogue to the open source journal, except for publications of all kinds? You know, where it's open source, but some gatekeeper is making the "acceptance" process meaningful?

You know, the actual publishers aren't going to lead the way, 'cause it's not in their interestes. Probably it will require some initial infusion of energy and capital. No one in education has capital. They do have energy, though. So hey, rich people, if you want to help out with the spread of free information around the world, please! Please help!

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