Closed Doors

I'm in a ripe, foul mood this morning. Last week, I got a package of form letters from the ex-college's human resource department telling me to hand back my parking pass and my school ID or else no last paycheck. What? I think I still have the IDs from the last two places that I worked. It was like they caught me dipping into petty cash drawer or something. Whatever. Here take the stupid thing.

Another form letter informed me that my e-mail address would be terminated immediately. What? My old e-mail addresses from other schools probably still work. Pissing me off is about the only thing that this school bureaucracy efficiently accomplished. Good show.

But more seriously, since they cut off my e-mail account that means I don't have access to the academic databases at the school library. I can't read the scholarly articles that I need for my writing projects. Ugh. I've just been poking around to see which journals I can access through my APSA membership. To get the rest, I'll have to use my dad's account from his ex-school. Annoying.

The academic journals are only available through university library systems, which you can only access when you're an employee or a student. The journal companies charge exorbitant subscription fees, and no public library has the funds to access them. They charge $15-$25 to download individual articles, which really adds up when you typically look at 50 articles at a time.

The impact of this system is that only employed academics can look at scholarly articles. Journalists, writers, and independent scholars aren't going to leisurely skim through the table of contents of APSR and pick out a couple of things to read. Academics complain that mainstream writers are too dim to read their stuff. Or maybe they just don't have access to it. 

This indignity comes on the heels of a frustrating conversation with a neighbor yesterday. I tried to explain that I was working all summer on a paper, but not getting paid for it. She could not get her head around that one. Then I made the mistake of telling her that I was spending a $1,000 of my own money to attend a conference and present the paper that I had been working on for free all summer. She suspects drug use.

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25 thoughts on “Closed Doors

  1. I adjuncted at a local college a few years ago and had a very similar experience (and realization). My contract was typically term to term. One term, they were so efficient that they deleted my e-mail account and website (pre-course management software days) as soon as the quarter ended, and then had to restore it in time for the following quarter. Not only did I feel diminished, my students needed the information on that website. IMHO, another example of how the de-professionalization of academia impacts the education students receive.
    For several years I had no academic affiliation. It was effectively impossible for me to access scholarly material. That was when I realized that universities really are gateways, and gateways can be barriers as surely as they can be portals.
    I think you make a strong case for arguing that much of the insularity of academic scholarship is due to the way in which said scholarship is (or isn’t) distributed.
    Lots of people engage in expensive hobbies. Or think of it another way, your article is kind of like… writing Twilight fanfic and then going to the convention. 🙂

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  2. I’ve asked various Uni. to extend my e-mail access for 6 months (they should wean you off), which should also give you library access. (Yes, I’ve had the same experience re: parking pass, etc.) It feel horrible.

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  3. I have IDs from four universities and a set of keys given to me when GHWB was president. If you are stuck, feel free to send me an e-mail and I’ll see if I can find the article. We’ve got a subscription to everything I’ve ever heard of.

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  4. The impact of this system is that only employed academics can look at scholarly articles.
    One long-time doctoral student explained to me that she was not interested in graduating right away since that would threaten her access to the research materials she’d need to continue her work in hopes of gaining some kind of full time employment in academia. A classic catch-22!

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  5. Both major research university libraries I have worked at welcome walk-in visits from unaffiliated scholars, and grant access to their research databases to guests when the guests are physically on campus (this last is generally written into article database licensing agreements). Ask at local Universities what their policies are, and please, don’t download those articles at $25 a pop!

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  6. Laura, this was the most unexpected and most significant barrier to independent scholarship for me when I left academia five years ago after finishing my PhD. I expected the time shortage, the diminishing motivation, the shifting priorities, the lack of collegiality, the nonexistent office space—I knew I would have to deal with all these issues to continue research from home with my small children. But for some reason no one ever warned me (and I didn’t have the foresight to anticipate) the difficulty in gaining library access. I’ve been able to get limited and sporadic access to online resources through my husband’s academic affiliation. I’ve also found that my local public library has an agreement with a nearby academic library through which I can check out some books and journals. I probably could get more access if I were able to spend time physically onsite, as flea suggests above; unfortunately the kids make that very difficult.
    Good luck. You’re more motivated, have more freedom, and have more momentum than I do at this point, so I think you’ll find a way to make it work.

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  7. The academic journals are only available through university library systems, which you can only access when you’re an employee or a student. The journal companies charge exorbitant subscription fees, and no public library has the funds to access them.
    I’m glad to hear that you’ve gotten access at another local institution Laura, and that the other institution had access, because in my experience, cutting electronic subscriptions is among the very first choices libraries at small or mid-ranked schools and community colleges make when they need to cut costs. I’ve had only limited access to journals in my field through my years at Friends; frustrating, but I’ve had to make do.
    Flea’s suggestion is a good one; the better university librarians understand what the reality of the situation is, and are willing to make allowances. I’ve been able to access stuff I don’t have at Friends through Wichita State pretty easily. Of course, I have to drive all the way up to campus, but that’s doable.

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  8. That’s what I was going to say. The community colleges offer great access and even if you had to take a class (yoga?), it would not be very expensive.
    Another option? Apply for a Fulbright (deadline Aug 1), spend 4 months somewhere cool, and, as an alumni, you’ll have lifetime access to an amazing number of academic subscriptions.

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  9. I teach at a community college and since it’s part of the larger state system, I have access to everything I’d have if I were at the flagship, so check, your access via the cc may grant you access to even more than is immediately obvious. I get a lot of articles via ILL in PDF form. It’s even more convenient that if I were at the major library: I just fill out an online form and a week or so later I get an e-mail with a link to the PDF of the article that I can print or save to my computer. ILL gives me access to all the books I could want.

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  10. I’m in the slightly strange position of having three universities and four colleges that are closer to my house than a community college.

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  11. Some other techniques to try:
    For recent articles, often the authors are reachable by email and will be happy to email you their copy. (Or they may have deposited a copy in SSRN or their institution’s repository.)
    Older articles are also often available through aggregator sites that are cheaper than the publisher’s own site. For instance, APSR is available through JSTOR up to 2005. (JSTOR is relatively inexpensive for libraries, and also offers some limited individual subscriptions). There are also free online APSR articles up to 1922 from Hathi Trust, but that’s probably older than what you’re looking for. Some journals are in the public domain (and thus scannable by anyone) as late as 1963, but most of that backlist is not yet online at free sites.

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  12. Another trick that I have is to google the author’s name and find their website at the university. Often they’ll put .pdf files of their articles on their CV.
    Still, these methods are crazy, no? Shouldn’t everybody have access to these articles without having to use all these backdoor methods?

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  13. “Another trick that I have is to google the author’s name and find their website at the university. Often they’ll put .pdf files of their articles on their CV.”
    Or ask them for it–most likely, they’ll be very flattered. I think my husband did that last year with a journal article on the efficacy of different physical therapy methods that our university library didn’t have.
    But as Laura says, this is a very silly situation, given that scholarship is supposed to be about enlightening mankind.

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  14. Like with everything, it’s money. Subscriptions like Project Muse cost a fortune and the price actually goes UP with the amount of usage (as I understand — I could be wrong on this). Opening the digital gates for a college like Laura’s former institution to anybody with an internet connection would very quickly deplete library budgets.
    I imagine that the NYC public library has a subscription service that rivals many university libraries. The ILL service there probably can access anything they don’t have. LIkewise, if you’re a member of APSA, you can get a reduced price subscription to JSTOR.
    That said — Laura, if your cc connection doesn’t avail you of everything you need, send me a citation.

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  15. I find it annoying that Harvard and Columbia are very strict on who can access their libraries. But SUNY schools, and some private institutions upstate are pretty good about letting anyone in. It’s annoying to read articles at site (sometimes you can only print if you have a student billing account), but sometimes it’s worth it. (There might be a “public financing” rule for access, since Cornell is also open to anyone to access the library, and you can buy a circulation card.)
    (People always complained about Japan’s National Diet Library, and its restrictions on photocopying, and the cost of it, and only being able to look at a few items at a time, but I found it sort of nice, even if the inside was very 1970s….)

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  16. Disclaimer — I haven’t used the libraries in Manhattan in about five years.
    Columbia’s library policy was the worst. You could only use their library if you could prove that you couldn’t find a particular book at the CUNY system. I used to sneak in using a friend’s ID.
    The NYPL does not provide access to scholarly journals.
    These academic restrictions on information are oddly out of touch. The future is about free.

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  17. Laura, if you’re interested in pursuing this further, Google the Open Access movement. There are political battles being fought at this moment about whether taxpayer-funded research should be locked behind pay-walls, as well as non-legislative debates about free culture and the role of the scholarly publishing industry.

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  18. Actually, NYPL does provide access to scholarly journals. Some you can access from home, using your library card #; others you need to access from a branch or a specialty library. I can get anything on Academic Search Premier and most of the EBSCO databases from home, JSTOR I can get from the branch, but for the MLA database, I need to go to Mid-Manhattan, SIBL, or one of the other specialty libraries.

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  19. I recall getting a lot of databases that either gave me the abstracts or gave me Newsweek articles at the NYPL. Always had a lot of trouble finding the full articles.
    Thanks, Ben. Yes, I think I’ll google.

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  20. Just about any public university I’ve ever been near allows access to their scholarly databases if you are physically in the library (and they allow walk-in use of the library). Also, explore carefully public library resources – I was delighted to learn that one of the two public library systems I have access to has JSTOR and several other scholarly databases accessible – even remotely, with a library card.

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  21. Believe me, there are a lot of librarians who want the future to be open access. Not only is it ridiculous to lock up scholarship behind paywalls as a general principle, it costs us ever-increasing amounts of money to subscribe to article databases. Which in turn squeezes every other part of the collections budget. If you’re a university library, you can’t not subscribe to Prestigious Journal Where Faculty Publish So They Can Get Tenure, but Prestigious Journal generally comes with a hefty price tag and a boatload of restrictions on who can access it. Until publishing in open-access journals becomes the norm, it’s a catch-22.
    The ironic thing is that, even though there’s still a lot of suspicion of open access within academia, there’ve been studies showing that non-paywalled articles have a higher impact: they get read more and cited more. Which isn’t surprising, really. I think we’re moving toward a freer future, I just don’t know how long it’ll take us to get there.

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