That First Mistake

The first mistake they made, back in the day, was deciding to stop cataloguing at the mongraph level. I understand why they decided to do this. It’s a lot of work. Tons of work. They’d never be able to cut tech services if they had them cataloguing individual journal articles, or individual chapters of books. If they had decided to catalogue the contents of compliations and conference proceedings, to list every contribution in any scholarly oeuvre as a separate record in the catalogue.

At one point the sheer size of such a database must have seemed too overwhelming for the poor systems. So big and sprawling it would be impossible to complete and too slow to sort through. But at this point you can probably store most of the sum of human knowledge on a laptop, so that concern has gone. Space is cheap these days, too. Google is giving gigs away.

But no. Someone must have seen the end coming when that decision was made. Maybe it was made before anyone even got their hands on it; maybe it was one person’s decision at the very beginning, back before one clear head could have prevailed.

If the libraries had at any point saw the error of their ways and thrown some support behind technical services, and done a proper cataloguing job on their collections, including journals most importantly, those leeches who make up the third party profiteering journal indexers/database vendors wouldn’t have had such an easy job getting a foothold. Think of the thousands that would have been saved. Millions! Wouldn’t it be better to employ more cataloguers in tech services than to line some third party’s pockets with university funds?

Eventually the necessity of full-text access would have reared its ugly head. But if we already had records and could search them, I think it would have been a fairly minor thing to get access to scanned versions. They probably wouldn’t have been cheap, but they would have to fit into our interface, no the other way around.

Liz and I were talking about the revolution, you see. That’s when we get all the scholars on the continent to say, okay, that’s it. We’re done. We’re not submitting articles to these bloodsuckers anymore. We’re not going to peer review anything. We don’t get paid to do this, we do it because it’s a service to our profession. Why are universities paying for access to scholarship they pay faculty to produce? So what if one day all the faculty say, that’s it. We’re going open source. Our research is going to be open to everyone. We’re founding our own journals. We’ll charge a bare minimum for pdfs or print versions. We’ll form our own publishing divisions. Instead of funnelling thousands to the third parties, we’ll fund a new department in our academic libraries to handle journal publications. We’ll submit to each other, peer review each other. And the sun will rise the next day on a better world.

Me and Liz are going to take over the world.