I have spent majority of the past week discussing the value of education vs. degrees and the barriers a significant portion of the population face in obtaining the credentials and associations required for respected participation in scholarship.
In areas where primary and secondary education provision remains troublingly weak, the higher ed options available to students produced from those systems are limited. Unfortunately, this means that any scholarship addressing those populations is represented either by outside observers or a limited number of in-group folks that made their way into academia. This leaves out the valuable perspectives of a massive section of our population.
Thanks to the growth of independent or self-published avenues and online, semi-formal scholarly platforms, however, participation barriers for a portion of that excluded population (and others not generally included in academia) are diminished. Of course, these avenues still face ridicule from a vocal core of academics and administrators. But the shuttering of university presses and the standardization of open access journals has cleared the way for a rethinking of publication options.
Open access (OA) journals are one hammer whacking away at the rigidity of academic publishing. Open access literature is online, free of access charges, and free of most copyright or licensing restrictions. Despite the insistence of many not using OA publishing, all major scientific or scholarly OA journals insist on peer review. The primary difference between OA and traditional publishing lies in the pay structure. OA literature is free to read. Producing OA journals is not without cost, though, even if it is much cheaper than traditional publications. Like traditional journals, accepted authors pay a publication fee (often waved for instances of hardship). Editors and referees all donate their labor. This model ensures that readers don’t face a paywall, and thus ensures the widest possible online access.
Questions of reliability aren’t entirely unjustified, though. Unscrupulous individuals do take advantage of this new publishing system. In my library science reference class with Stephanie Brown, we went over the pitfalls of OA publishing. Here’s a checklist Stephanie created on things to keep in mind when assessing or submitting to an OA journal:
- Is the journal listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals? If so, then it’s likely reliable.
- Does the journal provide a clear statement on article processing charges (APCs) and other fees? If the fees are unreasonable, stop and find another journal.
- Receiving continual article solicitations from a journal via email? File it under spam and find a different journal.
- Does the journal make unlikely promises (e.g. brief peer review turnaround)? Stop & find another journal.
- Download an article and read it. Would you want your work to appear next to it? If not, find a different journal.
Traditional publishing does have the possibility of facilitating inclusion if modeled to do so, however. In the Wikipedia summary of Kathlene Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, the author notes that the current university press model treats the press as a separate institution from the university, one that’s meant to at least partly support itself financially. But, if the university incorporates the press more fully into itself, then the press “has a future as the knowledge-disseminating organ of the university.” In order for this to happen institutions of higher learning must first reconceive of themselves as “a center of communication, rather than principally as a credential-bestowing organization.” Tabling the issue of overemphasis on credentialization in the job market, ensuring that a press reflects the learning of an institution’s constituents is both a way to provide professors and students an opportunity to publish and a means of holding the university accountable as an institute of learning rather than a degree churn. Many schools’ student groups publish a law or business review comprised of student contributions, but few encourage the students to publish for a wider audience through its own press.
Until university presses are revamped, we have OA publishing and peer-to-peer online platforms. Peer-to-peer—like OA— provides a different publication model, but this one focused on dialogue between participants for a broader conception of peer review. MediaCommons from the Institute for the Future of the Book provides an ideal example of this new approach. It focuses on exploring new forms of publishing for media studies through blog posts that others can comment upon in the same capacity as peer reviewers. These posts are tied to profiles that link to the participants’ projects and works, which yields a networked approach to publishing, both through interpersonal networks displayed through post commentary and through links to related scholarship.
These online networks become increasingly important as the volume of publication submissions increase. Peer-reviewed journals (the form of journal required by tenure committees) require a sufficient pool of referees from which to draw so that no individual is overburdened with requests for reviews. As Maxine Clarke points out in her blog post on “Reducing the peer reviewer’s burden,” if more scholars with subject expertise are findable, then the pool of referees to participate in peer review deepens. And given participation on communal review platforms like MediaCommons, those scholars will be more prepared to perform the duty of jurors, even if their university did not formally prepare them. This has the added benefit of not just relieving the pressure on the current pool of pier reviewers, but also reducing the influence of a few on many. A reader’s personal experience of the world and focus within the subject colors her or his perspectives, and thus her or his edits and comments. More readers means more diversity in editing perspectives.
Other publishing avenues to keep in mind for monographs are self, print-on-demand or independent publishing. Print-on-demand is a form of self publishing (an option still derided by the academy) that allows you to publish your monograph to an online platform from which visitors can download or order a printed copy of the book. Lulu.com is a particularly popular print-on-demand self publishing site. Independent publishers generally deal with smaller press and can also be print-on-demand. For instance, Library Partners Press at Wake Forest University is one of the many independent presses that operates on a digital platform, allowing for the option of printing.
Folks have information to share with one another, and so many scholars (whether members of the academy or not) have expertise to tap. The current Big Publishing business doesn’t fully acknowledge nor use those people—it’s only natural that legitimate alternatives would pop up in stead of that operating procedure.