What is the cost of knowledge?

I ought to be university work. Instead, I am blogging, but it’s related so it’s okay, right?

This article came across my feed a few days ago.

Angry Librarians is not just the name of a game from the AppStore. It is a reality of the changing face of value and it is growing. Academics, students, librarians and experts in their fields are all starting the join the cause that is seeing academic publication companies on the receiving end of the flak.

They are protesting the cost of access to academic journals. These subscriptions, which can cost some univeristy libraries up to US$10M per year, give students and academics alike access to articles which some say should be available for cheaper online, or free. In the past there have been “…good intentions and utopian schemes…” says Robert Darton (Director of the Library at Harvard University) but now it seems we are back int he grasp of a profiteering racket driven by publication houses. The protestors are saying that now we have the means, why do we not use the technology to make knowledge accessible to all of humanity?

This is not just an isolated protest either. We are not looking at just one field of study, or just the major universities and academic safehouses. We are looking at a world wide protest. It seems to this blogger, at least, that people are fed up all over the place, with how we have become so complacent as to how “value” is perceived.

When research libraries have reached the point where they can’t afford their yearly subscriptions and feel they have no choice but to dig in their heels and protest, then we know something is wrong. When the research library spearheading this campaign happens to be a university with the reputation of being the wealthiest in the world, then we know something is really wrong.

The thing is, these publications have a decent amount of something called “prestige” behind them. Now, I’m not an expert on what prestige actually is, but I gather it is rather like your Klout score or the number of followers you have on Twitter. Sure, it may mean something to someone somewhere, but it is an arbitrary valuation of your reach in the world. Prestige supposedly means that if you are published in these journals, you are cooler than people in your field who are not. It’s essentially a popularity contest and a means of ranking academics by knowledge quotient. I’m not saying that I completely dismiss the idea. I mean, it’s definitely cooler to be published in The Amazing Journal of Coolness Studies That Only Really Really Really Cool People Can Be Published In, than in Women’s Weekly, but if people have to pay stupid amounts to read your article, then how is your knowledge going to help the world?

So, this has been something of a deviation from my usual blog style, but I think it’s a very important issue that bears more looking into. If you want to know more, you can read about it here, the online petition and boycott site.

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2 comments on “What is the cost of knowledge?

  1. chicschelle says:

    Hi,
    Have you seen this http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.emera
    ldinsight.com%2Fnew_launch%2Findex.htm&h=xAQEAMk5I

    It is not a solution but possibly a start at how knowledge could be shared!

    • nephthysnile says:

      I am so glad you posted this. Thank you! It seems that people will find a way to do what they see as a solution to an ongoing problem, contrary to what the “old institutions” may think will be the eventual outcome.

      For what it is worth, I hope that the momentum for this particular cause continues and grows, as it will certainly have a trickle down effect into other areas. I can see this argument entering the DRM arena (I’ll be posting my two cents worth on this shortly) and other “rights” causes.

      Again, many thanks.

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