I feel like bragging about my class discussion a bit. We were talking about how and why information communities ask questions and judge new information. Really relevant, right? #vax #etc

12:38 AM · Oct 28, 2021

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I may know more than the typical professor about higher education funding and structural changes in higher ed finance. You will also want to look for a new book from @CharlieEatonPhD on financialization of higher ed press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books…
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Anyway, my point is I have been in meetings about the library cuts, I think a lot about open access and knowledge production and how platform capitalism shapes the information society. And I wrote #LowerEd. I was RIPE for this class discussion.
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I note that there is not, to my knowledge, a long-term plan for how cutting library research capacity will, you know, affect the research productivity of a research 1 flagship public university. A plan my exist but I have not seen a presentation about it.
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But I am teaching future information professionals and we want to game theory this out. First, the idea that interlibrary loans can make up some of the accessibility loss created by budget cuts does not account for the resilience of a system built on reciprocity.
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As some students point out, ILL assumes that capacity exists somewhere in the system. Cutting budgets reduces overall capacity. ILL is not a long-term solution to cutting financial capacity of library resources.
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Next, students wondered about Open Access. The university presentations that I have seen absolutely recommend that professors participate in and encourage the use of OA materials to address accessibility issues caused by budget cuts. This is reasonable, if insufficient.
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First, there is the basic problem of OA costs. Basically, OA isn't cheaper to produce. It merely shifts the cost of producing the research article from one source to another. This is risk shift. To learn the basics: libraryjournal.com/?detailSt…
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Because they think about the ecological context of accessibility, students asked a great question about institutional capacity: who will be responsible for wrangling all the OA sources for continuity across classes and departments?
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We do not know but I bet that the assumption is that professors will do it. This pushes the risk down and out, to professors who will inevitably push it out to graduate students and other contingent labor. What we know from info science is that caretaking the internet is hard.
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For more about caretaking the internet and how the lack of infrastructure for a decentralized web weakens degrades social ties, see this primer: theverge.com/2021/5/21/22447… Short take: someone has to clean up the works and that will take labor and money. Budget cuts undermine both.
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One student posited a near-future where entire graduate assistant lines assigned to the bureaucracy of resource management -- finding links & pre-prints & updating some database somewhere. At the same time that research & teaching support are being cut. Inversion of mission.
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How and why are library budgets cut when CARES Act provided some cash infusion and enrollments did not tank as projected? Basically it is a flow versus stock problem. But UNC received 44m in 2020 from CARES, some of it allocated to "information technology".
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It's an issue that really stems from federal defense spending and funding priorities. No cold war to fund, no need to hoard institutional research capacity. Anyway, we pivot to talking about how budget cuts accelerate the financialization of research activity.
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Every proposed short-term stop-gap involves entering into some kind of arrangement with a platform: publishing platforms and media platforms and search engines and apps and so on. All undertaken by faculty and low-level admin. The atomization of research & teaching resources.
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Cutting academic library capacity at public research universities is part of the same old trends of privatization. But the internet makes this seem like a technical fix in a way that privatization 1.0 did not.
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Every solution for keeping research activity afloat supposes an app will fill the void. There is no framework for navigating privacy or ownership or accessibility or caretaking infrastructure in these moves to platforms.
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Because there isn't an infrastructure to caretake. There are only workers. Anyway, we looked at some of the indirect effects of shifting knowledge production to platforms. Both trouble the notion of accessibility.
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First up is an article by Li Lu and Y. Connie Yuan about how people satisfy their need for information. Some larger conclusions from this article is that people really like information in the context of a relationship.
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That's what the internet gave us, after all, when it made everyone a "friend". It pretended that all information you get online is RELATIONAL, even when the tie is so weak that it can barely hold up in the rain.
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Anyway, that's why your grandma would rather not take a vaccine to stay in step with her facebook group than she would take the vaccine to see her grandchildren. That's an extreme case but not a rare one.
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And it is part of the problem of relational contexts being flattened into one zone, as if status and expertise do not matter. That is exactly the kind of flattening that institutions counter with (somewhat) transparent processes of expertise and knowledge production.
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Of all times to weaken the system of transparent knowledge production for the black boxes of parasocial expertise on platforms, now seems like a...bad time.
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Well, why don't researchers just rely on grants and philanthropy to do all this knowledge production? Sure, sure, of course. You know what happens when we only produce the information that the marketplace wants to buy? You get degraded information eco-systems with poor quality.
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You also get frustrated people who cannot access the information they need because no one in the market thinks their information needs are sexy enough to fund.
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We talked about some of this using Amelia Gibson, Samantha Kaplan & Emily Vardell's research on how parents of autistic children find information across their child's life-course.
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A student pointed out that as autistic children outgrow the diagnostic interest in early childhood, the quality of information about their lives becomes scarce and poor. Philanthropy cannot subsidize the information health we need to be a plural democracy.
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Moving on, we can go on for days about how Open Access research lags in producing research on marginalized people, in critical theory, or broader humanistic research. Suffice to say that OA has the same cumulative history problem that plagues another platform utopia: Wikipedia.
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For this, we talked about Fracesca Tripodi's article on gender inequality and Wikipedia. Wikipedia is as close we get to the kind of accessibility that defunding academic libraries suppose will fill the gap. Let's talk about that utopia.
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