by Jessie Daniels
9th September 2016

In today’s guest post Jessie Daniels explains why she and Polly Thistlethwaite, authors of Being a Scholar in a Digital Era, are so passionate about open access to information…

Daniels_headshot2When a new and frightening epidemic known as ‘AIDS’ was devastating a generation in the 1980s, the response from elected officials and government agencies was appallingly slow or non-existent.

Also in short supply was information about potentially life-saving drugs and clinical trials. Research published about HIV/AIDS was not available to the general public, but locked behind paywalls in academic libraries and databases.

It was through the confluence of her training as a research librarian and her activism in the fight against AIDS, that my co-author, Polly Thistlethwaite, learned that access to information is a basic human right.

As a research librarian, she could invite guests without university affiliations into her workplace to allow them access to print journals, books, and research databases that were only available at that time, pre-Internet, inside library buildings.

Connived and colluded

She was not alone in this work. There were doctors, nurses, lawyers, students, faculty and many other librarians who leveraged their credentials to tunnel into the rich stores of information locked inside institutions of higher education. They connived and colluded for wider access to medical, legal, public health, social science, education, and humanities literature when so little of it was freely available to those needed it most, including the people who were dying from this disease.

When we were writing Being a Scholar in the Digital Era, we wanted to find a way to make our work available to a wide audience. We wanted to do this for several reasons. First, making our writing available open access is consistent with the lessons that Polly took away from her AIDS activism and the values that we both share. Second, the focus of the book is about how the digital era is changing the way we do our work as scholars, and making it open is one of these key changes.

So, it made sense for us to find a publisher who would work with us to make parts of the book open access for readers. We’re grateful to have found such a publisher in Policy Press.

Consequently, Being a Scholar in a Digital Era is open access and available to read here.

Excerpt from Being a Scholar in the Digital Era – Chapter 1: Introduction: Transformation in Context

The Internet could seem like ‘the invention of space travel,’ writes journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who came of age alongside the rise of the popular Internet (Coates, 2015). For those of us who became scholars when card catalogs were the search engines of the day, the proliferation of digital technologies and the changes they have wrought can be at once exciting, puzzling and foreboding.

It can be exciting for those of us who became scholars because we love knowledge. The capacity to type any question into a small white rectangle on a screen and find millions of results can seem like the opening of new worlds, as Coates suggests. Being a scholar now means that almost all of us use digital technologies to do at least some of our work. We fully expect, even demand, that we will have continuous digital access to our academic libraries from anywhere in the world. We read, collect, analyze and write up our data within digital environments. 

Although some of us may remember when card catalogs, punch cards, and typewriters were the most convenient tools available, few of us would choose to return to those over our current scholarly practices. A generation of younger scholars has never known a world where ‘cut and paste’ meant to take scissors, cut paper with paragraphs typed on them, rearrange their order, and then glue them to another sheet of paper. For them, the Internet has always existed, and cut and paste has only ever meant the simple keyboard commands: ctrl+x, ctrl+v.

Of course, this generation fully expects that their scholarly lives will incorporate these everyday technologies and an engagement with a broader world into their ways of knowing. Why wouldn’t they? But, simply accepting this proposition makes it all too easy to minimize the profound transformation in scholarly life that is taking place. As with any change this weighty, it can also be, at turns, confusing and ominous.

‘The only lasting truth is change,’ science fiction writer Octavia Butler observed (Butler, 1993). While we may find comfort in nostalgic ideas of scholarly life as we knew it when we came of age as scholars, such nostalgia only obfuscates what’s happening. The truth is that scholarly life is changing in multiple, and sometimes contradictory, ways….

Being a scholar in the digital era [FC]Being a Scholar in the Digital Era can be purchased here from the Policy Press website for special 20% discounted price £15.99.

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