The Nerdiest Black Market Around

My latest for the Chronicle of Higher Education is on the post-PhD library access lockout:

The hardest thing about doing the revisions for my final scholarly article was not the research, or the writing, but obtaining access to basic materials. Merely tracking those materials down took multiple phone calls and emails to friends with different levels of access. Such is the circuitous path around a paywall: You borrow a friend’s ID and library login, you ask former colleagues to send you articles, you email the author requesting a copy of his or her work, you start offering drinks to graduate students in exchange for PDFs. Suddenly, you are a player on the nerdiest black market around.

Such is life after Google Scholar, where who you know determines what you know. Paywalls on academic journals are not only an economic barrier but an intellectual barrier. If it is this difficult for me, a researcher with connections, to access scholarly materials, think about how hard it is for the average person interested in exploring new ideas. Odds are, they simply pass academic works by, eclipsing “the conversation” altogether.

Open access is a battle long fought, with notable victories over the past few years as several major journals decided to make their works available to everyone. But it is far from the norm, and the combination of closed scholarship and rising contingency has created a “conversation” that functions like a coin-operated feedback loop.

Read the whole thing, Lip-Syncing to the Academic Conversation, at Chronicle Vitae.

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