"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Friday, June 3, 2011

Access to Knowledge Is a Privilege of Affiliation. Should It Always Be?

After getting over my initial irritation yesterday at being cut off from remote access to Grad U's subscription databases, I have a few more thoughts on what "affiliation" means -- on what it preserves and protects and who benefits:
  • It protects access to knowledge as an institutional (and institutionalized) privilege.
  • It restricts the production of new knowledge by limiting access to the resources necessary to produce it.
  • It thereby preserves boundaries of inclusion and exclusion that serve the interests of the institution but not necessarily those of knowledge workers, Knowledge itself, or society at large.
Now, I speak from a privileged position myself. Because Crapitol City where I live is also host not only to Grad U Library but to The Greatest Library in the World, the only barrier to my access to these subscription databases is my own lazy a$$, just as the only real obstacle to reinventing myself as an independent scholar is, likewise, my own laziness.

But, what about those who aren't so geographically fortunate? What about someone living in a remoter place who says "fuck it" to working as an adjunct but, like me, aspires to reinvent hirself as a sometime independent scholar? Such a person might move away from an adjunct job in remote Grad U town to somewhere ze can earn a a decent living doing something outside academe. That place is probably not Crapitol City. More likely, it's Hometown, where ze can live rent free while making up for lost wages as a grad student and adjunct by living with hir parents for a while. Or, maybe it's going somewhere ze knows someone who can offer hir a job.

In either case,  it isn't likely that the nearest public library also happens to be The Greatest Library in the World.

Most postacademics who say "fuck it" to institutional employment also say "fuck it" to being a scholar. So, there's no problem being cut off. But what about those who don't? Isn't it in the interests of the Pursuit of Knowledge more generally that access to knowledge NOT be restricted exclusively by affiliation?

Instead, would-be independent scholars -- alumni, former adjuncts, perhaps others -- ought to have the option of retaining remote access (and maybe interlibrary loan) through one of the following means:
  • Pay for it. I'd be willing to. Heck, I'd be willing to pay a couple hundred bucks a year for remote access -- and that's just because I'm lazy. I cannot fathom why Grad U doesn't offer this as an option. What have they got to lose?
  • Have an approved research project (like, say, turning your dissertation into a book). The library could have some sort of formal process for applying for the privilege of "non-affiliated" access.This raises some of the same questions as institutional privilege more generally does but would make access to knowledge available to people who, arguably, should have it but don't because they are "unaffiliated." Indeed, there's a class factor here, too, as I imagine there must be people who would like to remain within academe and continue with their scholarship but cannot afford to feed their families on an adjunct's salary.
  • Some combination of the first two suggestions.
But I am deluding myself in entertaining these fantasies. Institutional privileges preserves institutional systems.

(So, come on all you would-be independent scholars who are afraid to quit your adjunct jobs! Go ahead and quit and move on over here to Crapitol City, where you, too, can work as a Think Tank Secretary and, during your lunch break, hop a bus, incognito, over to The Greatest Library in the World -- where you can pick up where you left off after your defense.)


  1. From what I was told it is the restrictions of the actual sites themselves and not the university that limits their ability to give access. Don't know how true that is, but supposedly they buy their subscriptions and promise only certain people will have access. That does not include alums.

    I'm trying to figure out how I will gain access to these materials if I don't get a visiting scholar status at the local university. Otherwise I will have problems writing.

  2. Hmm. That's interesting. I've been looking into things a little more, too, and it looks like the place where I did my M.A. allows alumni to access certain -- but not all -- databases remotely. I don't know yet which those are and whether they'd be of any use to me.

    Also, it looks like a lot of garden-variety public libraries allow patrons remote access to their databases. Largely, they don't subscribe to those that would be of use to scholars, but a random Google search turned up that the public library in Brookfield, Wisconsin, subscribes to EBSCOHost, which patrons can access remotely. So it might be worth just seeing what's what at the public libraries, at least for starters...

  3. Well. I understand Physioprof and all. But. I am tenured faculty in a poor state and we might lose access to JSTOR at any time. It is $50 in gas to see journals in person at the nearest research library and Tenured Radical says we should not live on credit so I am in a real bind. I would join the alumni association of my graduate institution if it would give me online access to their library, but it will not. So. What am I expected to do ... lose grad faculty status or something? And note, we have post tenure review now and the meaning of tenure is that you have a year's notice or so, as opposed to 3 months. So, I can't just dump research. So: what to do?

  4. Oh, that truly, truly does suck. How can you be expected to publish -- not independently, which is my aim, but AS PART OF YOUR JOB -- without access to materials? How does your institution/department rationalize that?

    Yet another reason I'm gonna stay here in Crapitol City and work as a secretary/independent scholar rather than seek tt employment in Nowheresville.