Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The politics of directing traffic to online journals

In another class that I'm currently taking, the instructor is somewhat loath to have us access the articles that are available online in another format. Printing would not be any trouble once the article had been downloaded, but the emphasis is on ensuring that "the library has accurate data on journal usage in areas important to our programs".

My personal bias was to have [me move copies of] the articles on eReserve so that others wouldn't have to worry about issues with proxy firewalls that I'm experiencing, but the quick answer from the instructor was to forget it. No big deal, but it did get me to thinking...

This motivation/line of logic pretty clearly discourages reading journals in the hardcopy, if that's available. Each old-school visit to the periodicals areas unfairly (?) docks the journals a hit and download from the reading count, a list that's pretty important when DH Hill decides which online journal subscriptions to keep current -- proof here, as part of a serials review for 2006 at NCSU. If an journal accessible online isn't accessed, it's relatively likely to get chopped.

For me, there's something strange-bordering-on-sinister about a system that requires researchers' use of certain, carefully controlled gateways to maintain a journal's worth. One of my favorite uses for free time is to head over to the periodicals section and grab the latest issue or two of journals I think are pretty important, and to force myself to read them. I've long thought that for many of these journals with a very limited on-campus audience, it'd be more useful to have the faculty interested to pay for and keep their own local copy, yet I find myself bristling at the requirement of keeping very careful track of trends of academic research to determine what survives the cut, and to have my printed journal digestion count for naught.

The worst of this experience is seeing a relatively innocuous but real-world example how these systems of online publication are coercing NCSU faculty to manipulate student usage in order to give their favorite sources more hits. When most of the canceled journals had zero hits, I think padding a few with even a dozen can greatly skew the picture towards those journals used in classes, which does very actively encourage this sort of localized academic nepotism. The potential for this sort of nepotism only strengthens my aversion to online journal subscriptions. Sure, they're cheaper, but when you turn the facet off, guess what? Nobody gets to view the journals or, at best, you're forced to pay through the nose for ILL. It's as if the library staff had taken to the stacks and burned each copy of the journals we had paid for -- unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have had someone play and beat the system to keep your journal online.

This forced, total obsolescence and obliteration of a resource based on future economics (that is, a subscription now no longer guarantees that state of journal access in the future) again moves academia and education much closer to the tenants of consumerism than scholasticism.


Susan said...

Hmm. I know it's incredibly naive, but I never thought about the fact that the library was tracking our access of different journals. It seems like I must be able to circumvent this and still make articles easily accessible to students. And I really like going to read the hard-copy versions in the library sometimes.


ruffin said...

For me, the real issue is that if you don't allow yourself to be tracked that you're hurting the, um, survivability (?) of your favorite journals. That's a position I don't appreciate us getting slammed into. What about when I don't want to play the online game?