Culture Clash

Perhaps one of my friends in the academic Humanities could clear a particular point up for me.

The point is this: as Clarissa has noted, Universities around the world are cutting back on their services in the name of “austerity.” One such budget frequently being slashed is the one for scholarly journal subscriptions. This, sadly, is every bit as true in the sciences as it is the Humanities, but what I can’t understand is why it is such a huge problem. You see, as a physicist, I cannot recall the last time I have actually had cause to read a scholarly journal for the sake of catching-up on cutting-edge research. This is because I read all of my papers on the ArXiv,  a website offered by the Cornell University Library upon which physicists (as well as mathematicians, statisticians, quantitative biologists, financial economists and computer scientists) from around the world post the drafts of their papers before publishing them in journals. The advantages of this are multiple; first of all, it adds an extra level of peer input to the publication process; readers can offer constructive criticisms* to the authors before the paper is even submitted for peer review, citations can be checked at a glance, and best of all, it is absolutely free for anyone to look at at their convenience.

Now of course this is not my field, but is there some obvious reason that a similar system could not be implemented for Humanities and Social Science papers?


*That’s how it works in theory. In practice, “constructive criticism” just as frequently consists of “telling the authors that they should cite your paper as a reference.”

About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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8 Responses to Culture Clash

  1. We don’t have anything of the kind in my field, although it would be great if we did. I feel like many of the older people in the Humanities are very reluctant to embrace technology. Some even need to be convinced that if a highly reputable journal moves to an online version from a print-only version, this doesn’t mean that the journal has lost in quality.

    At the same time, the creation of such a database will not serve the issue of us needing subscriptions to journals. In Humanities, we are not looking for the most recent, cutting edge research. The most recent sources are not necessarily superior to the ones published 20, 30, 40 years ago. If I don’t have access to articles from the 70s and the 80s, I’m in deep trouble in terms of my research. I need access to everything that has ever been published on a subject I’m researching.

    • I had assumed that the back issues of the journal would remain in the library even after the subscription was cancelled.

      • It’s a huge fight every single time because, presumably, there is no space. We even had to fight for the textbook we use in class not to be thrown out to free up space. I mean, if there isn’t space for textbooks on campus, then what is there space for? What kind of idiots throw out journals and books??

  2. Pingback: Why Do We Need Scholarly Journals? « Clarissa's Blog

  3. Lindsay says:

    I’m more of a science person than humanities as far as journal-reading is concerned, and for me, getting the full text of articles online is often a function of whether one’s academic institution subscribes to the journal in question.

    (I haven’t looked much at ArXiv, maybe that solves it … all I know is, if I’m nosing around the Web looking for articles on, say, the biochemistry or neurophysiology of autism — a special interest of mine, obvs — I’d better hope the article I want isn’t in some holdout journal like Hormones and Behavior or Molecular Psychiatry or Neuropsychopharmacology or a few others whose titles escape me, because those journals *never* have any kind of free full-text option for nonsubscribers, and neither of the universities I’ve been able to log in from has subscribed to them. So if an article is in one of them, I basically have to give it up for dead.)

  4. Pingback: On the importance of physical libraries in scholarly research « The Third Glance

  5. I can’t say from a graduate perspective, but universities serve undergrads as well. Lack of access to journals could be a major problem, particularly because many undergrads (especially in their their first two years of college, at least in the US) don’t do original research, but instead compile information from articles already written about the subject they’re writing about. Just a thought – not saying there aren’t solutions already available.

  6. Pen says:

    I don’t think ArXiv would help all people, even in physics. I know right now I’m ordering copies of papers from the 1980’s and the 1990’s left and right, or viewing them off of databases which require subscription. Of course, it isn’t to keep up on research–it’s to get a handle on background information. This information is in turn crucial in deciding what we do next and why. If my university canceled this service, the project would likely come to a standstill. Often previous versions of the journals we look at are only online through subscription services. It’s also summer, and I’ve learned the hard way that libraries will take their time sending copies. If I have to wait upwards of a week or two for my request to go through, that’s one more week that I have no idea what I’m doing. Because of the cost of samples, we can’t take that risk.

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