Monday, December 27, 2010

liberation bibliography

"the problem with scholarly publishing is that the business model it has adopted generates so much income that it has to be protected against the danger posed by scholarship being shared freely. the only way the business model can survive is for information to be scarce, an expensive commodity available only to those who can afford it."

--from "liberating knowledge: a librarian's manifesto for change" by barbara fister in the number 26, fall 2010 issue of thought & action

I'm not entirely certain I buy fister's target for blame: researchers themselves who have "outsourced the evaluation of faculty value to publishers" and who "instead of learning how to contribute to knowledge for the greater good, [coach] graduate how to play the game and compete successfully"--as if academic publishers hadn't priced themselves out of the market generations ago and as if search and tenure review committees weren't openly hostile to publication in any form that isn't bookended by covers. (and now I suspect I have a better idea of where the hostility of so many of my colleagues to research from wikipedia comes from.)

but I can't take issue with her conclusion: "the library is conceptually the commons of the university. in recent years, it has been enclosed and exploited by corporations, and individual scholars have been schooled to be grateful to those corporations for claiming the copyright over their work in exchange for career advancement. but we don't have to do it this way."

finster's solution, modeled on liberation theology (!), is an inspired bit she calls liberation bibliography. it is as follows:

  • liberation bibliography arises out of outrage at the injustice of the current system. it's not about saving money, it's about the empowering nature of knowledge and the belief that it shouldn't be a luxury good for the few.

  • liberation bibliography must emerge out of a sense of solidarity with communities struggling for liberation. it's not just a matter of a few academics and librarians tinkering under the hood of the scholarly communication system to improve conditions for scholars; it's about action for the public good.

  • liberation bibliography recognizes that the world is not separated into the scholarly and the ordinary. if knowledge matters, it must matter beyond the boundaries of our campuses...

  • liberation bibliography recornizes that we are implicated in systems that personally benefit us, even when we recognize those systems to be unjust. whenever we publish in a journal that will resell our work for a profit and withhold it from those who can't pay, we have put our self-interest before social justice.

  • liberation bibliography takes seriously the slogan...that the truth shall set us free--and that means freedom should extend to all of us, not just to a select class of employed academics and currently enrolled tuition-paying students.

  • liberation bibliography recognizes that the liberal learning we promote must be beneficial to all people. as a consequence, our libraries should not serve our institutions' immediate needs but rather their higher ideals. toward that end, libraries and scholars need to remind our institutions of those ideals which still form the material for countless mission statements and taglines but are ignored in daily institutional practice. and...we must act on them.

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