Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

I learned about this book (Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy by. Dr. Kathleen Fitzpatrick) from the LSW (of course) and it was a joy to read. Below are some of the best parts.  Note that the quoted parts are from the preprint electronic version of the book. (The copyright notice is way at the bottom of the post.)  Some of the text in the printed book may be slightly different from the online version.  And, there were complete sentences and paragraphs that were in the book, but were not on the website.

Most of her work focuses on the scholarly book publishing industry in the humanities, but in order to explain some of the problems with the scholarly publishing book business, she had to examine how STEM journal budgets have eaten up academic library budgets.  She does a great job of explain much of the scholarly communications crisis as the whole. She would like to save university presses by having their services merged with university library publication services.  In doing this, university administrators will need to rethink the whole scholarly communication ecosystem within universities and with the rest of the world.  She points out that technological change can be quick, but that cultural change can be slow to glacial in the academy.

This bit does a good job of explaining the serials crisis. (page 3.)
Though the notion of a crisis in scholarly publishing was first aired well over a decade ago (one might see Sanford Thatcher’s 1995 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “The Crisis in Scholarly Communication”), things suddenly got much, much worse after the first dot-com bubble burst in 2000. During this dramatic turn in the stock market, when numerous university endowments went into free fall (a moment that, in retrospect, seems like mere foreshadowing), two academic units whose budgets took among the hardest hits were university presses and university libraries. And the cuts in funding for libraries represented a further budget cut for presses, as numerous libraries, already straining under the exponentially rising costs of journals, especially in the sciences, managed the cutbacks by reducing the number of monographs they purchased. The result for library users was perhaps only a slightly longer wait to obtain any book they needed, as libraries increasingly turned to consortial arrangements for collection-sharing, but the result for presses was devastating.
The scholarly communication system is broken (page 7.)
"But the point is, the system’s broken and it’s time we got busy fixing it. What ought to count is peer review and scholarly merit, not the physical form in which the text is ultimately delivered” (Kirschenbaum).
 Administrators should evaluate the work of scholars while being format agnostic (page 8.)
Many of the recommendations put forward by the MLA task force (which were of course later expanded upon in the task force’s final report, published in December 2006) were long in coming, and many stand to change tenure processes for the better; these recommendations include calls for departments:
* to acknowledge that scholarship of many different varieties is taking place online, and to evaluate that scholarship without media-related bias.
These were extremely important recommendations, but there was a significant degree of “easier said than done” in the responses that these recommendations, and particularly the last one, received, and for no small reason: these recommendations require a substantive rethinking not simply of the processes through which the academy tenures its faculty, but of the ways those faculty do their work, how they communicate that work, and how that work is read both inside and outside the academy. Those changes cannot simply be technological; they must be both social and institutional.
She then discusses the MediaCommons project and the rate of social change within the academy. (pages 8-10.)
No matter how slowly such software development projects move, the rate of change within the academy is positively glacial in comparison.
Those of us who have been privileged enough to succeed within the extant [higher education] system are often reluctant to bite the hand that feeds us. Changing our technologies, changing our ways of doing research, changing our modes of production and distribution of the results of that research, are all crucial to the continued vitality of the academy – and yet none of those changes can possibly come about unless there is first a profound change in the ways of thinking of scholars themselves. Until scholars really believe that publishing on the web is as valuable as publishing in print – and more importantly, until they believe that their institutions believe it, too – few will be willing to risk their careers on a new way of working, with the result that that new way of working will remain marginal and undervalued.
She advocates for a huge change in the peer-review system of scholarship. (page 10.)
In what follows, then, I focus not just on the technological changes that many believe are necessary to allow academic publishing to flourish into the future, but on the social, intellectual, and institutional changes that are necessary to pave the way for such flourishing. In order for new modes of communication to become broadly accepted within the academy, scholars and their institutions must take a new look at the mission of the university, the goals of scholarly publishing, and the processes through which scholars conduct their work....

And it’s the structures of peer review that I argue in chapter 1 we need to begin with, not least because of the persistence of the problem that peer review presents for digital scholarship, and the degree to which our values (not to mention our value) as scholars are determined by it. Peer review is at the heart of everything we do – writing, applying for grants, seeking jobs, obtaining promotions; its presence is arguably that which makes the academy the academy. But I want to suggest that the current system of peer review is in fact part of what’s broken, part of what’s made a vibrant mode of scholarly communication undead.
 We need new ways to cite works. (page 12.)
We may instead need to develop new citational practices that acknowledge the participation of our peers in the development of our work.
 And, we need to figure out ways to encourage administrators to accurately evaluate different modes of scholarly communication. (pages 12-13.)
We must find ways for the new modes of authorship that digital networks will no doubt facilitate – process-focused, collaborative, remix-oriented – to “count” within our systems of valuation and priority.
Publishers will continue to experiment with different business models. (page 13.)
Publishers, for instance, will need to think differently about their business models (which may need to focus more on services and less on objects), about their editorial practices (which may require a greater role in developing and shepherding projects), about the structures of texts, about their ownership of copyright, and about their role in facilitating conversation.
Chapter 1 is all about the peer review system.  She touches on some library things. (page 17.)
As one librarian frames the issue, “Banning a source like Wikipedia (rather than teaching how to use it wisely) simply tells students that the academic world is divorced from real-world practices” (Badke, qtd in Regalado). The production of knowledge is of course the academy’s very reason for being, and if we cling to an outdated system for the establishment and measurement of authority at the very same time that the nature of authority is shifting around us, we run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to the dominant ways of knowing of contemporary culture.
In the course of changing the peer review system, this may entail the loss of "power and prestige" for the academics involved. (page 19.)

She has good overviews of the history and possible future of peer-review.  She also provides touches on the aspects of anonymity, credentialing, the reputation economy of academics, and more.   There is a good quote in the book that is not in the online version. (page 31.)  Junior scholars are advised to
focus not on the important but on the publishable, avoiding risk-taking in the interest of passing the next review.
The scholars who have achieved status in the prior system would like to keep the status quo. (page 31.)
The result, conventionally, has been the dismissal by many faculty and administrators of all electronically published texts as inferior to those that appear in print, or, where those authority figures are sufficiently forward-looking as to argue for the potential value of electronic publishing, the insistence that the new forms adhere to older models of authorization — and thus the reinforcement of “the way things have always been done” at the expense of experimental modes that might produce new possibilities. Such conservatism shouldn’t come as much surprise, of course; those faculty and administrators who are in the position of performing assessments of the careers of other, usually younger, faculty are of necessity those who have sufficiently benefitted (sic)  from the current credentialing system as to rise to that position.
She touches on the scarcity of information vs abundance. (page 37.)
Print-based publishing operates within an economics of scarcity, with its systems determined in large part by the fact that there are a limited number of pages, a limited number of journals, a limited number of books that can be produced; the competition among scholars for those limited resources requires pre-publication review, to make sure that the material being published is of sufficient quality as to be worthy of the resources it consumes. Electronic publishing faces no such material scarcity; there is no upper limit on the number of pages a manuscript can contain or the number of manuscripts that can be published, or at least none determined by available resources, as the internet operates within an economics of abundance.
She also cites Clay Shirky (page 38) on the scholars' ability to "publish-then-filter," instead of filtering (peer-review and rejection) before publication. 

She introduces a concept called peer-to-peer review, which she describes as a "review of the reviewers." (page 43.)

Chapter 2 covers authorship.
In what follows, I argue that we all need — myself not least among us – to rethink our authorship practices and our relationships to ourselves and our colleagues as authors, not only because the new digital technologies becoming dominant within the academy are rapidly facilitating new ways of working and new ways of imagining ourselves as we work, but also because such reconsidered writing practices might help many of us find more pleasure, and less anxiety, in the act of writing itself. This is of course not to suggest that digital publishing networks will miraculously solve all of the difficulties that we face as writers; rather, it is to say that network technologies might help us feel less alone and less lost in the writing process.
Concerning the remixing of content... (page 79.)
We might, for instance, find our values shifting away from a sole focus on the production of unique, original new arguments and texts to consider instead curation as a valid form of scholarly activity, in which the work of authorship lies in the imaginative bringing together of multiple threads of discourse that originate elsewhere, a potentially energizing form of argument via juxtaposition. Such a practice of scholarly remixing might look a bit like blogging, in its original sense: finding the best of what has been published in the digital network and bringing it together, with commentary, for one’s readership. But it might also resemble a post-hoc mode of journal or volume editing, creating playlists, of sorts, that bring together texts available on the web in ways that produce new kinds of interrelationships and analyses among them.
Chapter 3 covers texts and CommentPress.

Chapter 4 is about digital preservation including bits about standards, metadata, LOCKSS and CLOCKSS, and the economics of preservation.

Chapter 5 covers the University.  She envisions great changes for the future of university presses.

Page 159 has a quote that is not in the online version.  The university press system exerts "a conservative influence over scholarship, as genuinely new ideas would present concrete financial risks" when they consider publishing the first work of a junior faculty member.

Here is another big blockquote on the serials crisis. (page 159.)
In fact, the degree to which the largest commercial scholarly publishers have put the bite on universities (by obtaining the products of scholarship, most of which were produced through university, foundation, and government funding, without compensation to authors or their institutions — indeed, at times even demanding payment from them — and then selling those products back to universities via obscenely expensive journal subscriptions) might encourage us to rethink the profit-model of scholarly publishing altogether, to consider whether there’s another option through which universities can reclaim the core of the publishing endeavor from the commercial presses. The commercial presses can’t be beaten at their own game, as the large commercial publishing conglomerates will always be able to conduct such business more efficiently, and more ruthlessly, than the university should want to do. But nor can we simply abandon the business of scholarly publishing to them; as Thompson notes, in times of economic slowdown “commercial logic would tend to override any obligation they might feel to the scholarly community” (98), leaving nothing to stop them from eliminating monograph publishing entirely. We can’t beat them, and we can’t join them; what we can do is change the game entirely.
 Ahhhh, here is where she goes into the benefits of Open Access. (page 160.)
One clear way of changing the game, dramatically and unequivocally, is a move toward the full embrace of open-access modes of digital publishing. While the notion of open access has generated a great deal of controversy among presses, who given current financial realities declare its proponents naive and its ideals untenable, we need to understand, as John Willinsky has argued, that “open access is not free access… the open access movement is not operating in denial of economic realities. Rather, it is concerned with increasing access to more of the research literature for more people, with that increase measured over what is currently available in print and electronic formats” (Willinsky xii).
But, the roots for open-access publishing models lie not in the "subversion of market forces in the distribution of scholarship" but it is
the ethical desire to break down the barrier between the information “haves” and “have-nots” of the twentieth-century university structure, enabling institutions without substantive endowments, institutions in less-wealthy states, institutions in developing nations, to have access to the most important new developments in scholarly research.
On page 165, she recommends that universities consider locally produced publications and journals (eg. university presses) be
considered to be fully part of the core research mission of the Institute... in the same way that an experimental laboratory is considered part of the core research mission in the sciences, employing both graduate students and technical professionals working on an ongoing program of research — would it be funded differently? Would we begin to understand publishing ventures not as revenue centers nor as idiosyncratic one-off experiments, but rather as part of the infrastructure of the institution, as key an element in its research mission as is, for instance, the library?
She argues for greater collaboration between the university press and the university library system. (page 166.)
If such publishing ventures are understood as part of the core mission of the university, and thus become funded as part of the university’s infrastructure, however, there are some potentially fruitful avenues through which we can think about streamlining the labor that must take place, about finding ways to avoid the reduplication of efforts, and ways to bring together work already being done in disparate administrative units in order to expand their potential. For instance, new scholarly publishing initiatives will require significant new resources for programming, design, and distribution, but will presses or libraries need their own teams of programmers, or can a fruitful partnership be developed with the programmers located elsewhere in the institution? Do presses need metadata specialists, when this is one of the key aspects of contemporary library and information science programs? While the library, the press, and the information technology center all currently serve different aspects of the university’s communication needs, and while all are often stretched to their limits in meeting the full range of those needs, joint experimentation amongst these three units might enable fruitful reimaginations of the university as a center of communication, with a reduced need for perpetual reinvention of the wheel.
But, this would be an interesting challenge. University presses and libraries have different thoughts on experimentation. (page 169.)
Such new partnerships, however, present challenges for institutions, and even many of the institutions that are working to build such strategic relationships encounter difficulties in the process. These difficulties are less due to any dearth of administrative imagination than to the real, material differences between these various academic units. As Brown et al point out, for instance, libraries (as well as, I’d argue, information technology centers) often have resources for experimentation available, but their positions within the institution do not serve to provide them with a broad sense of the fields in which such experiments might operate (what audiences, for instance, the experiments might address, and how they might fold into ongoing projects within the disciplines).  Presses, on the other hand, have a clear sense of their markets, but often lack the resources with which to experiment, as well as the mandate for that experimentation.
More and more scholars are getting recognition for the work that is online and at the leading edge. (page 170.)  She noted that "at this point very few scholars have been hired, granted tenure, or promoted primarily based on this kind of open online work, there are a few, and there will be more in the years ahead.  More and more scholars are rejecting publication venues that don't provide open access."

Concerning the publication of knowledge, she cited David Perry--"Knowledge which is not public is not knowledge."  She goes on to say that if faculty research is not public, then the "university has not completed its job." (page 173)

This seems to be the basic thesis for the book, that universities should merge the functions of the university press with the university library. (page 180.)
What if the press were reimagined, in parallel with the library, as another point of pivot between the institution and the broader scholarly community — if, as the library brings the world to the university, the press brought the university to the world? What if, rather than serving particular scholarly fields through the current list-based model, the press instead focused its attention on the need to publish the work produced within the university, making it available for dissemination around the world?
However, she recommends that the university press publish the works of the faculty at the university instead of publishing the works of those outside of the university. (page 181.)
The changes I’m proposing here thus have broad implications for every academic institution, and not just for those relatively few institutions that currently house university presses, as shifting the focus of the press’s publishing efforts from the list model to publishing the work of its own faculty will require every institution to take on this publishing mission, to invest in bringing the work of its own faculty into public discourse.
This requires university administrators to think of university presses in a different way.  The proposal "requires a radical reexamination of the funding model under which scholarly publishing operates, moving the press from being a revenue center within the university toward being a part of a broader service unit within the institution." (page 186.)

In the conclusion of the book, she notes that this is an "extraordinary challenge that change presents for the academy--the degree to which 'We Have Never Done It That Way Before' has become our motto--we might do well to ask how much of what I propose in this volume is really feasible....  I do believe, however, that change is coming, and coming more quickly than we imagine." (page 194.)

Lastly, she said that "Change is coming to scholarly publishing, one way or another--but what form that change will take, ans whether it will work for or against us, remains to be seen." (page 195.)


Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, published by NYU Press. Copyright (c) 2009 New York University. This text may be distributed in part or in whole on condition that (1) distributed text is not sold, whether or not such sale is "for profit" and (2) distributed text bears this notice in full. Except as permitted by law, all other uses are prohibited without written permission of the publisher.

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