The Forecast

compassAs we welcome 2014, let us do a little forecasting for the IPRH blog. Upcoming examinations of the theme of Publication this semester will include:

Fair Use & the University. Preparations for classes are under way, and many of us are availing ourselves of the University Library’s e-reserves service which makes readings available online and provides copyright clearance. Perhaps, like me, you’ve received notice of the restrictions placed on specific items. For instance, one publisher forbids the use of a chapter written by an emeritus professor of UIUC, which represents 11% of the book. Meanwhile, the rights’ holder of Bruno Latour & Steven Woolgar’s Laboratory Life will charge $5.37 per student to put the introduction and a chapter on reserve for a class of twenty; an excerpt from Walter Ong’s Orality & Literacy might run $11.37 per student.

On the face of it, the employment of such materials in the classroom should be protected by “fair use,” a provision offering an exception to copyright law for scholarly and creative endeavors that “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Indeed, the Library’s policy on electronic resources, citing §107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, reads:

The fair use of a copyrighted work . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

But academic libraries are on edge about the proper interpretation and implementation of fair use as the provision continues to be eroded in favor of the interests of for-profit companies involved in scholarly publishing.

Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and SAGE Publications recently took aim at academic e-reserves, suing the Georgia State University for copyright infringement. Although Oxford UP recently posted a 10% growth in overall global sales, and 20% in digital publishing, its president claimed that these “razor-thin margins” are threatened by e-reserves such as those of Georgia State. The university was found liable in five instances. Nevertheless, an appeal was lodged by the plaintiffs, the cost of litigation bankrolled in large part by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the Copyright Clearance Center, a “rights licensing expert” that brokers copyright permissions.

As academic libraries engage in partnerships with such for-profit vendors and publishers, they have found themselves consenting to escalating surveillance of their own activities around fair use.

studentsAbsent from these conversations is much consideration for the practices of the university, the education of students, the integrity of syllabi, or academic freedom. So let’s hear your stories: Faculty, have you compromised your pedagogy or research because of copyright controls? Students, how have you navigated licensing restrictions? What of our distance-learning students, who may not enjoy any privileges at their local academic libraries and must rely heavily on UIUC’s e-resources? And how are e-resources for the thousands of students in a single MOOC to be paid for, and by whom? This semester, Mary Laskowski of Collection Management Services will explain how the University Library negotiates between the demands of the publishers and the needs of the academic community.

Peer Review. Despite proclamations that the system is irreparably broken and the proliferation of initiatives that seek to develop a more open, transparent, and egalitarian model (often with the aid of digital technologies), a discerning peer review at the pre-publication stage is still one of the hallmarks of scholarship in the humanities. Daniel J. Myers outlines a few key challenges to the current state of peer review in his article in The Chronicle:

Editors complain about frequent refusals from potential referees, low quality and brevity of reviews, lack of engagement with the papers’ arguments and evidence, and the ever-increasing time it takes referees to produce their reports. Authors, especially graduate students and pretenure faculty members, also worry about the increased length of the review process and consider compromising on where their manuscript is published in hopes of getting another line on their CV before hitting the job market or submitting their tenure packets.

I might be one of the few who still believe in the merits of peer review (and I might even defend the closed system). Yes, it took a year to get the first round of reports back on a book manuscript; yes, reading the reviews can be like crawling backwards over barbed wire. At the same time, I’ve received feedback within a few hours on a Friday evening, and lengthy discriminating reviews within three weeks. A resourceful editor managed to find not two but four qualified and willing referees to critique an unlikely project that involved the construction of a wooden cabinet (off-print here).  And although there are other opinions on the matter, I’ve found plenty of value in the most vituperative reader’s report.


So I invite us to reflect upon what precisely, if anything, ails peer review. Or, we might consider instead whether the debates surrounding peer review are fueled by broader concerns—perhaps about the overproduction of Ph.D.’s, the quality of scholarship in the academy, or a rapidly declining commitment to disciplinary service.

To add some levity to the discussions of peer review, the IPRH blog will also highlight excerpts from our own readers’ reports! The journal, Environmental Microbiology, annually shares their most entertaining reviews, some of which may be read here. So send us the best and/or worst from your own archive for this recurring feature! Whether you were the author of a clever turn-of-phrase or the recipient of a comprehensive excoriation, from the pithy to the eloquent to the infuriating or simply inscrutable, let’s have a look!

PeerReviewPlease send all contributions to Bonnie Mak (bmak at illinois dot edu), guest editor for AY 2013/14. The IPRH blog always welcomes your thoughts and suggestions.

This entry was posted in Theme: Publication (2013-14), Yearly Theme and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Forecast

  1. Dorothee Schneider says:

    I’ve used e-reserves for many, many years now and have recently run into the high fees model with some materials. A chapter of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed would have cost the library about as much per student as the entire book costs new. Given the title and the author’s ideas this was more than ironic!

    In other instances I have resorted to other ways of making the material available to the students and will do so again in the future. Who knows, maybe the old Notes and Quotes route will have to be revived, too? In my experience, students who work with a paper printout, do a better job with the material, anyway.

    Dorothee Schneider

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