Research ∕ Learning

Library literature again ...

Lorcan 4 min read

Two interventions

First a mention of two recent articles ….

Rick Anderson has a very nice piece in Educause Review about budgets, libraries and scholarly publishers. It is an interesting reflection on systemic change, always difficult to manage as it involves reconsidering why things are done as well as how they are done.

Scholarly publishers are looking at libraries right now and seeing what has always been the best and most reliable market for their products suddenly changing into a highly unreliable one. There is very little likelihood that library budgets will grow significantly (if at all) anytime soon; in fact, there is a strong likelihood that they will shrink again next year–in many cases, for the second year in a row. Furthermore, even if budgets begin growing again, it is highly unlikely that they will ever rise to their pre-2008 levels or that libraries will resume buying books the way they did in the past. Traditional library collection development has meant buying large amounts of materials in the hope that those materials will turn out to be what patrons need, but financial constraints are now forcing libraries to move in a more patron-driven and less speculative direction. Having figured out how to do so, most libraries will probably continue to develop their collections this way for some time to come, if not permanently. // If I were a scholarly publisher

This article is what might be called an ‘intervention’. It contributes to an important debate and deserves to be widely read by library managers. To achieve its goals it needs to be published somewhere that aggregates the attention of a senior audience. It is interesting that it is published in Educause Review, which aggregates the attention of a senior IT and information management audience in higher education. In that sense Educause Review it is a platform publication, in the way that, say, variously, Harvard Business Review, IEEE Spectrum, Communications of the ACM, or Nature are. These publications aggregate attention in their communities, and beyond. They provide a platform for their authors.

The second is an article by Ted Striphas: ‘Acknowledged Goods: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Academic Journal Publishing’. This is academic writing in the idiom of cultural studies. He argues that although the institutions of communication are central objects of study among his colleagues, those colleagues are unreflective about the institutions of scholarly communication upon which their discipline depends.

This type of thinking is symptomatic of the sense of alienation I suspect many people in cultural studies feel from the instruments of production, distribution, and propagation of both our work and our field.8 We access these instruments all the time. We depend on them significantly for our livelihoods. What would cultural studies be without its publications, and without the formidable network of social, economic, legal, and infrastructural linkages to the publishing industry that sustains them? Nevertheless, many of us are reluctant to pause long enough to take stock of the choices we make–or that are made for us–when publishing our work, much less to consider how those choices may reverberate well beyond the immediate confines of cultural studies. // Acknowledged goods. Worksite.

Reading this, I was struck by the parallel with the library literature. Libraries acquire and manage literature for others, and are very familiar with individual publisher practices, and the business of distribution which underlies scholarly communication. However, librarians can sometimes seem strangely unreflective about the structure of their own disciplinary literature.

Reflections on the library literature

Here are some issues that prompt this statement ….

  • I am not thinking of open access in particular here, although Doug Way recently published an interesting article exploring rates of deposit among authors of the library literature.

    To examine the open access availability of Library and Information Science (LIS) research, a study was conducted using Google Scholar to search for articles from 20 top LIS journals. The study examined whether Google Scholar was able to find any links to full text, if open access versions of the articles were available and where these articles were being hosted. The results showed the archiving of articles is not a regular practice in the field, articles are not being deposited in institutional or subject repositories at a high rate and the overall the percentage of available open access articles in LIS was similar to the findings in previous studies. // The Open Access Availability of Library and Information Science Literature

  • I have not checked to see how the number of publications in our field compares to other disciplines, or if the work to find out has been done. However, we appear to have a proliferation of journals, many of little sustained interest. These are supported by editors, editorial boards, authors, purchasers. The literature is a citation farm for those involved in formal research activity, and in the US, a necessary career convenience for those librarians who work within the tenure system. I remember once sending an email to a university colleague asking had she a copy of an article. This was on the basis of a related article which I thought was very good. She responded bemusedly that I shouldn’t be reading this article, that it was just something written towards an application for tenure. There are certainly many interesting articles published, but I wonder about the system as a whole. The literature is very fragmented; few journals rise to the ‘must-read’ category.
  • This last point relates to the absence of a ‘platform publication’ in the sense described above in the library community. There is no natural venue within the library literature for an intervention of the type I began with, which will aggregate the attention of a large part of library management. I wonder why this is so. Does it matter?

A personal coda: My colleague John MacColl and I founded the Ariadne magazine many years ago, based on an idea and proposal by John. The original purpose was probably twofold: to provide a platform publication for discussion of the future of libraries in a network environment and to provide a venue for discussion of the JISC and other digital library projects which were becoming such a feature of the higher education scene. While it does a very nice job still on the second of these, the platform aspect has probably receded.

Related entries:

Note: Cosmetic amendments on 3 April 2021 to fix spacing and add headings.

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