So Many Aggregators, So Little Time

It seems as though every time you turn around on the Internet these days, print materials from past and present pop up on new platforms. For the last several years I’ve been gathering materials related to L.M. Montgomery – her short stories, poems, and essays, as well as reviews of her books in magazines and newspapers. Since starting graduate school in 1999, I have spent countless hours nerding it up at various libraries across the continent, consulting endless lists while sitting hunched over a microfilm reader, benefiting enormously from researchers who had already identified items that I now wanted to read for myself. But now, thanks to the good people at Gale, ProQuest, Google, and Archive.org, I can now search for key terms in a number of search engines and find all sorts of things that had hitherto fallen through the cracks.

A similar move is happening now with the dissemination of scholarship online. In an attempt to make scholarly research more widely available, a number of journals are now appearing simultaneously in print and in electronic form, through a number of aggregators such as ProjectMuse. Because most academic journals and university presses require that authors transfer copyright to the periodical or publisher (either explicitly in the form of a contract or agreement or implicitly just by taking control of your work), what this often means is that, when new opportunities for online dissemination of academic work come along, the authors are often the last to know. This doesn’t technically matter much, since academic work doesn’t actually pay anything to authors anyway.

On that note, I recently discovered that three of my publications are now available for free on BNet – I’m not sure what this is, except that it’s owned by the CBS Interactive Business Network:

In a way, this move to digitize everything in sight raises really complicated questions about ownership and value, since in this context authors simply don’t own their own work. Journals benefit financially every time someone downloads an item published in their pages, and they need that revenue to survive. And, too, while it seems unfair that authors of all these research get no compensation for their work being “republished,” the assumption is that if you’re publishing in an academic journal it’s because you’re being paid either by a job or by a graduate fellowship. Besides, it’s not all bad: while searching a database that specialized in graduate dissertations I came across my father’s Ph.D. thesis – in physics, from 1967 – that I was able to download as a PDF. I don’t understand any of it, but I’m so glad I have it.

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