DocFilm just returned from this year’s SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference in the big old city of Chicago. Not as gritty as I remember it from days past, Chicago is hip, happening, and operating at warp speed. There were wireless “charging rings” for your devices in the coffee shops, not to mention mobile ordering and pick-up at Starbucks. The smart elevators in the AON center whisked you up to the 80th so fast you got a bit of a head rush from it. And, one of the most interesting discussions at this year’s event was also concerned with the inter-future of academic publishing, aka the open access model.
There were two workshops dedicated to the topic and a flurry of the biggest gatekeepers of profit, non-profit and alternative forms of book and journal publication as well as the new guard of revolutionary writers, bloggers and scholars who are aiming to democratize the system and a couple people who seem to fall in both of those categories… The big question at hand: is open access a revolutionary model or just another way for the major players to control the system? Can it possibly be a sustainable form for sharing research without the traditional backing of book sales and publishers’ prestigious marquees?
There is a whirlwind of new websites out there with the explicit intention to share, share widely and share freely. Things like Critical Commons, Film Studies for Free, Academia.edu, (in) media res, Lever Press and SCMS backed [in]Transition. Many of these initiatives spun into being as a response to the Budapest Open Access Initiative which was first published (online) in 2002. There are countless additional sites that uphold its vision for free access via the arts, sciences, humanities, and social disciplines. This has also given way to multi-platform approaches to creating scholarship using live annotations, film and audio clips and other creative renderings to deepen the relationship between the reader and the researcher, speak to a more global audience and include non-academic writers who may have just as much to contribute to the conversation.
Sustainability remains the key challenge to this rebellious effort meant to level the playing field of academia and research as something reserved only for the intelligent elite. Many of these websites have also closed up shop after burning out from handling every aspect of publication themselves due to little or no funding or simply been unable to raise the minimum amount needed to keep their initiative alive. And, alive, on the internet, is a very real problem. Outdated pages, expired links, journeys to “Error 404“ abound. There’s nothing more stinky than a rotten internet corpse. Without regular maintenance, a system or platform to retain embedded data and, of course, M-O-N-E-Y, these efforts all have an eventual end. As Mary Francis of University of Michigan Press pointed out (she was a panelist and vocal audience member), less and less people have the need to publish as tenured positions at University are decreasing at a rapid pace and Universities are saving that cash by bringing on the dreaded “adjunct” faculty instead. If there is no professional need to publish, what then? She also stressed that the processes of the presses have not really changed. Yes, they now sometimes offer an open access version of a book or journal but not much else has evolved. She wondered if we are looking in the right place to resolve this issue of inclusion, access and democracy among academics.
With 2020 swiftly approaching, so does a new referendum by the European Union entitled Horizon2020. All scientific research papers that are produced under publicly funded initiatives must be made available for free. We will see who’s ready (and who’s not) to capitalize on this when the new decade dawns. At DocFilm we are eager to take part in this dialogue and help facilitate it. We are busily constructing programs, initiatives and strategic partnerships to launch our own open access, multi-media nonfiction journal (working title) Pluralities. Using the engagement with the so-called real as a center, the journal will mesh theory and practice of nonfiction film, explicitly connect with other disciplines in hopes to visualize, digitize and democratize research, media, and innovative reflections on reality.
Many many thanks to the SCMS17 for hosting these workshops and the fascinating individuals who structured the conversation as well as those who participated in it.
Workshop G5: Film and Media Studies in the Digital Era
Chaired by Caroline Edwards with Jefferson Pooley, Katie Gallof and Anna Froula
Workshop N16: Open Access Book Publishing
Chaired by Eric Hoyt with Mary Francis, Nedda Ahmed, Vicki Mayer (whose open access book I just downloaded), Lea Jacobs and Ben Brewster
Both with extremely vocal and sometimes adversarial crowds to whom I am also grateful.
Written by Soumyaa K. Behrens, Photos by Robert Barbarino