Digital scholarship practices: Students and researchers working around the system
Imagine being a student at a small university whose library does not have the funds to subscribe to a journal that you need for your final paper. What do you do?
Imagine being a faculty member and you come across a very promising paper relevant to your work, but you can’t access it because there’s a 6-month lag between the time a paper is published and the time it becomes available at your library. What do you do?
A standard approach is to search Google or Google Scholar for the article, as a number of us self-archive our publications as soon as they become available. Another option is to email an author directly and ask for a copy of the paper. I find that most are not only willing, but excited to share their work and talk about it. I love sharing my research and I truly enjoy talking about it, so I’d be delighted to share it with anyone who lacked access but needed it. I believe this falls under fair use licensing.
Through my research on the practices of digital scholars (i.e. individuals who use emerging technologies for purposes relating to networked participatory scholarship) I have discovered another way that individuals use to access scholarship that they need. If you take a look at the image above, you will see that individuals employ digital tools that we use in our day-to-day lives (a forum) to circumvent obstacles that prevent them from doing their work. In particular, individuals request articles that they do not have access to, and those who have access respond with a copy of the article. What you see here is the creative use of networked technologies to enable practice and success. And it does not just happen in open forums like the one above, but I’ve also seen it occur on Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, in one situation, the author was requesting access to an article s/he wrote because the publisher (!) did not provide him/her with a final copy of the paper. We can debate the moral and ethical dimensions of this activity, but to me this practice highlights ideas relating to empowerment, networked skills, digital participation, reciprocity, and participatory cultures as they pertain to scholars’ digital practices. [Update 11/26/2012: In addition to the platform above, other spaces where exchanges happen are: The pirate university http://www.pirateuniversity.org/ and #IcanHazPDF on Twitter. Andy Coverdale has also discussed this topic.]
Such practices aren’t foreign to teachers, as they are akin to using proxies or usb keys to bypass school filters. For example, here’s a video by Alec Couros that demonstrates this activity: