Webinar Event: “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility”

By nfesta

“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.”[1] Similarly, we can say the same about scholarly publications in the digital age. The Webinar event, “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility,” presented by Dr. Martin Paul Eve and hosted by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) discussed the ways in which the digital age and the unlimited reproducibly of scholarship has changed the expectations of researchers toward scholarly communication. Our digital technology promises the notion of access to infinite resources. But as Eve identified, our social and economic processes do not compliment this idea of abundance. This lecture therefore considers a variety of challenges with open access as a way in which to identify solutions to this disconnect between infinite reproducibility and scholarly publications.


The lecture began by considering why academics publish as a way to refocus the objectives of scholarly communications systems. According to Eve, academics publish their research for two key reasons, dissemination and assessment. Scholars disseminate their work as a way to communicate their results to their academic communities as well as to put their ideas “on the record”. Publishing also ensures that their records will be preserved by institutions, colleagues and within the footnotes of future scholarship. Additionally, scholars publish their work so they can be assessed. Assessment allows for recognition and promotion. By having research published, especially by a renowned publishing house in the field, the work is recognized as a critical contribution to scholarship and results in salary promotion within Universities. While publishers will pay scholars a small salary of patronage, which enables academics to produce work that will contribute to their field, the majority of their salary depends on Universities, as their contract requires and incentivizes publishing research. Scholars are not dependent or affected by the royalties from the sale of their publications. Therefore, publishers can make a profit, often substantial, from the sale of these publications to library institutions. A major problem within libraries is that they have insufficient funding to provide academics and students sufficient access to these publications year after year. Moreover, since libraries purchase the publications rather than researchers, researchers are not cost sensitive to the publication ecosystem. This entire system results in researchers driven to produce ever more work, hyper-inflationary price increases, libraries unable to afford to purchase publications, and the micro-monopolies of scholarship.[2] However, as Eve argued, these issues also existed in the pre-digital age, beginning at the age of mechanical reproducibility. And, digital technology might help us with these conflicts.


Referencing Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Eve asserts that the digital age and digital reproduction and dissemination, similar to the technical reproduction era of photography and film in the early 20th century, has caused a profound change in its effect upon the public.[3] But as discussed in class, the digital (computer) revolution, has affected a much larger and wider scale of people than that of the industrial/ print revolution. Similarly, as Moor theorized, “as computers permeate more and more of our society, I think we will see more and more of the transforming effect of computers on our basic institutions and practices.”[4] We have consequently seen this effect as our traditional work has transformed into instructing a computer to do a job.[5] Therefore, the job in which we now assign to a computer to complete has become an invisible operation.[6] And this notion of the invisibility factor in the computer revolution is directly applicable to Eve’s conceptions of the effects of digital scholarly publishing.


In the digital age, we don’t need multiple print copies. We can reproduce, disseminate, read and access information digitally. Moreover, we can have interactive scholarly communication. As the Internet is a system that provides us with information freely, it has become expected that free access be given to articles on the Internet. As a result, when a user is asked to pay for an article, it is believed that the fee is for the shareholder’s return and going towards the author and/or publisher. However, the fee for access to the article is actually for the invisible labor of the producing the article. As Eve clearly articulates, digital reproduction hides labor functions seen within the print age and the costs of labor have changed between print and digital. While labor functions, such as type setting, proofreading, editing, preservation, marketing, legal budgets, etc., are still included in digital labor costs of production, the cost of dissemination is lower in the digital age. This is why digital reproduction has invisible labor in comparison to print reproduction. These issues of labor invisibility within digital reproduction of scholarly communication are also reminiscent of our class discussion on computer invisibility. Computer invisibility of software and systems inhibit the public from evaluating where the information is coming from as well as prevents technology literacy. Digital labor invisibility and computer invisibility therefore, similarly impact and change the public’s perception of information provided and consumed through digital technology. Thus, systems such as open access and open software/free software are seen by many as a solution to several of the concerns of invisibility within digital technologies.


Open access systems provide free access to read and to refuse scholarly communications by enforcing a processing charge on library institutions. However, as Eve asserts, the current open access system is not economically sound. It costs more for institutions to pay the article processing charges for open access than it did for them to just subscribe to publications individually. Since our current scholarly publishing system enables publishers to have control over an authors work, they also determine how the work will be accessed within open access systems. As Eve points out, it makes no sense for scholars to produce their research to then hand it over to publishers for almost no cost, as it is then sold back to the university libraries for a high price. To combat digital publishing’s economic and labor systems within open access systems, Eve proposes that many small to moderate sized libraries should pay a small sum to companies like the one he helped found, Library Partner Subsidy (LPS), as LPS will conduct the labor of publishing so that the scholarly works can be available to everyone. By having many institutions participate in this system, they will be able to provide fully free access to their users to a wide range of publications for a fraction of the cost. While Eve’s analysis and solution lead us to support his own initiatives, his ideas are interesting to consider. By having a middle-man institution working with providing libraries with open access by removing the labor costs placed on the shoulders of publishing firms, institutions and their users can gain more access to information for less of cost.

[1] Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,”(2005 [1936]).

[2] According to Eve, Micro-monopolies in this context refers to the concept that each scholarly published work is individual and cannot be supplemented by another scholar’s or publication’s work.

[3] Eve references Walter Benjamin’s theory of mechanical reproduction

[4] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[5] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[6] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 6.


Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility

Benjamin, W. (2005 [1936]). “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” trans. Andy Blunden. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623278/mod_resource/content/1/moor-what%20is%20computer%20ethics.pdf


The Gatekeepers of the NYPL Photography Collection

By nfesta

Although I am a native New Yorker, I haven’t owned a New York Public Library card since I was about 10 years old when my elementary school class visited our local library branch. Since returning to the city in a more official capacity and attending Pratt, I felt it was necessary to register for a New York Public Library card. Signing up for a library card was simple. I completed part of my application online and then visit a local branch to provide a suitable form of identification and be issued a card. With this universal all-encompassing library card, I expected that any materials within the various collections of the library would be easily accessible. Yet, I discovered that it is not as simple of a process as one might assume.


Before visiting the NYPL’s main branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I searched through the library’s online catalog of collections to identify what I wanted to view at the library. I found a few nineteenth century photographically illustrated books that were being held on-site in Photography Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs and were labeled as “Available”. However, within the online catalogue system I was unable to place these items on hold as the item record stated that although it was available it was accessible “By Appointment Only”. While you can access almost all of the resources available within the NYPL, you must gain special permissions and admissions by “the keepers” of those collections. As Barbara Case and Ying Xu argue about the resources within public libraries, archives and museums, in Access to Special Collections in the Humanities: Who’s Guarding the Gates and Why?, “…access to research materials under each institution’s protection may be granted in accordance with a variety of restrictions and practices” (134). The procedures and permissions required for gaining access to special materials within libraries is important as it ensures that collections are well-preserved over time and that the patron requesting access genuinely needs access to the materials. However, during my observation trying to gain access to a nineteenth century photographically illustrated book, I experienced the blatant hegemonic restrictions and practices within the NYPL.


As the materials I wanted to examine were available and stored on-site in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I had to simply make an appointment to gain permission to view these nineteenth century photobooks. The NYPL website is confusing of how to best go about making an appointment and gaining access to the materials you want. It suggests calling or emailing the Photography Collection librarian reference desk in regards to your inquiry, while also proposes that you can come in-person to make an appointment. The website also mentioned a form that may have to be filled out in-person to acquire a “Card of Admission”, which would require one to provide a traceable identification and supply the name and address of a non-relative for the library to verify. As I was unsure what was the easiest and quickest method to make an appointment and issued a “card of admission”, I traveled to the NYPL’s main branch to inquire.


Upon arriving at the Schwarzman building I had no idea of where to go to make appointment to gain access to the Photography Collection. The Photographs Study Room did not open until 1:00 p.m. so thought that any of the staff within NYPL would be knowledgeable about this “standard” procedure. I approached to the first Information Desk on the Third Floor and asked how I could make an appointment. I was directed to the Reference Desk in Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, in which I asked the same question to this Reference Librarian. The Librarian was not familiar of how to make appointments with this specific collection and referred me to the information on the website, which of course was not helpful as it was the same information I had consulted earlier. I was then referred to ask the Information Librarian in the Rose Main Reading Room, who then referred me to ask a Librarian in the Art & Architecture Wallach Division Room 300, as these Librarians had more connection and access to the Photography Collection. The Librarians in the Art & Architecture Wallach Division were also not sure how I could make an appointment, and were conflicted with instructing me to send a general email or call the Photography Collection. They decided that since I was here in the library it would be better if I called them as they should pick up the phone even though the study room wasn’t open to the public before 1:00 p.m. So, I walked out of the Wallach Division doors, through the Rose Main Reading Room, and then the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and out into the large hallway of the third floor to make a phone call, as all of the rooms on the Third Floor are quiet areas.


As soon as I called the Photography Collection, a librarian immediately picked up and was able to help with my request for an appointment and pull the books I wanted to consult so I could access them when the doors opened at 1:00 p.m. When I gave the name of the book I wanted to view and was informed that it was available and would be ready for me that afternoon. I didn’t have to give the Librarian my name or library card number, but was informed that I would have to fill out a form and provide information when I arrived at the study room. In order to gain entrance into the Photography Collection study room I had to buzz a doorbell. The door is locked from the inside and one of the Librarians had to get up and unlock the door for me to enter. I then had to sign into the daily register book, as well as fill out an admission form to acquire a special collection library card. The admission form asked for my name, contact information, address, affiliations, reason for accessing specific resources and requested the name of a non-relative to verify my request to gain access. Though I was immediately issued a Special Collection Library card valid for 6 months and given access to the resources I had requested, this process and procedure implemented by the Photography Collection staff exemplified the authority librarians have over their selected domains.


The “keepers” of these collections have control and power in determining whether or not you are allowed and given access to consult specific materials. Moreover, this example also demonstrates the librarians have authority in determining which materials require special permission to be accessed and which can be called by anyone at anytime. Certain resources within the NYPL have been determined as “valuable” by those that control the ways in which information is structured and accessed. These issues of accessibility and control with determining the “value” of resources, address concerns pertaining to “Information Literacy” and the power and bias formed through the ways in which archives and records are classified, organized, preserved, and actively managed by librarians and archivists as well as the institutions. These hegemonic library knowledge organizations and structures directly affect the accessibility of information by consumers. The control and power gatekeepers have over these records can be used to aide or prevent users from finding and accessing collections.


This observation study case of the NYPL also demonstrated that each of their collections and divisions are very separate entities from one other. None of them know the specific procedures or information of the other. As the NYPL is a huge library with vast collections and numerously staffed, this is understandable. However, each individual division holds extraordinary power over their specific collections. While it is important that individual divisions control and are specialized in the knowledge and organization of there collections, for such a large institution with numerous collections under the same umbrella of the NYPL, information and access to those materials can be confusing, difficult and determined solely by one entity. Furthermore, if access were to be granted to anyone for whatever reason, why make patrons go through the entire ordeal of making an appointment to request permission to access a select group of materials? Does this process properly ensure that a patron truly wants and needs to access that information? Regardless, this process and procedure demonstrates that access to specific materials within a public domain is controlled by various individual hegemonic systems.


Case, Barbara, and Ying Xu, “Access to Special Collections in the Humanities: Who’s Guarding the Gates and Why?,” Reference Services in the Humanities, ed. by Judy Reynolds, CRC Press1994

Pawley, Christine, “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 422-452

Drabinski, Emily, “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 83, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 944-111

Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2: 1-19, 2002

Caswell, Michael, “”The Archive” is Not an Archives: Acknowleding the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies,” Reconstruction, Vol. 16, No. 1 http://reconstruction.eserver.org/Issues/161/Caswell.shtml


Conflicts with Cataloguing Structures

By nfesta

Emily Drabinski’s article, Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction, demonstrates the challenges presented by our desires to open and unlock the classification and cataloging systems within library structures. Since the late 1960s, scholars and professionals of information studies have challenged the neutrality of the Library of Congress’s traditional classifications and subject headings, demanding that vocabularies be corrected to reflect current social and political contexts. While specific classification and cataloging decisions in library structures have been “fixed”, Drabinski’s queer theory demonstrates that any corrections made are only conditional and never final.


Libraries are stable spaces, controlled through traditional library classification structures and vocabularies systems that provide standards and guides for both producers and consumers of information. Consequentially, the static nature of the library makes them resistant to change. As Drabinski argues, this is problematic since libraries are dependent on language. Language transforms over time, it is adapted into new contexts and given new meanings. The information acquired through libraries are therefore organized and identified through classifications and subject headings that become socially and politically incorrect over time. More simply, information and materials within libraries end up being misrepresented.


The root of this problem steams from the static quality of hegemonic library classification and cataloging systems. In order to combat this misrepresentation, Drabinski considers continuous revisions and additions to the library’s classifications and subject headings necessary. While she acknowledges that such corrections are adequate, they conform to the hierarchical power structures within the library’s catalog. If we break down this system we can identify that the cataloguer that originally classified and catalogued a material within the organizational system, the critical cataloguer that requested the revision, and the Library of Congress which judges if classifications and subject headings are suitable, all hold significant hegemony in how information is represented. In order to compensate for our inability to dismantle this hierarchy, Drabinski asserts that librarians and catalogers should open and engage in discourse with users on the limitations of our cataloging systems. However, this response is not sufficient. Library’s may not have enough staff as well as resources to fully dive into its specific cataloging and subject heading issues. Users may not seek out library professions to voice their concern, or even have the luxury of time to listen to the history and reasons for the library’s current system. While Drabinski continues to approach the issues of hegemonic cataloging systems head on, I suggest we incorporate a sideways approach.


The purpose of forming knowledge organizations and structures within libraries is to enable both producers and consumers of information to navigate and access quality sources of information. How rich and extensive the records are in describing the various materials within the library, will determine how much quality information is communicated. As Christine Pawley states in her article, Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling, “The decisions that indexers, catalogers, and classifiers make in providing intellectual access to the contents of books and articles through subject headings, and index terms, and physically or virtually allocating works to particulars areas of the library collection, contribute to the ways in which researchers think” (Pawley, 2003). Pawley recognizes the production of accessible knowledge does not end at the physical or virtual library shelf, nor does it move in one linear direction. It is a process that continues to recontextualize sources, perpetually moving, connecting, and growing. Rather than remain within the confinements of the controlled cataloging structures, we should widen and loosen our perspective. As Pawley notes of Hope Olson’s argument, we must relinquish control and create openings within these structures so that power can leak out as well as in. Therefore when forming classifications and subject headings we cannot use what Ross Todd identifies as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. We must engage in a more critical and collaborative approach that considers all aspects of a source – its content, the context of its production as well as the author, its history (specific to the material item and larger picture), its relationship to works it was inspired by and the ones it inspired. Thus, as these facets change and evolve with time we must continue to engage in this process of reformation and discourse. Our classification systems should always be in flux, evolving, and changing relationships with one another.


While this method may be too much work for libraries to continuously manage as well as financially burdening, especially if they have large collections, such a model does exist and has been quite successful in dissolving the rigid structures of our current cataloging system. Artsy is an online art collection that is curated by its own classification system and technological framework, called the “The Art Genome Project”. The Art Genome Project maps characteristics – “genes” – that connect artists, artworks, architecture, and design objects through history, and currently, over 1,000 genes exist within this project. While this system is similar with tagging and mapping local vocabularies concepts, Artsy’s genes are more firmly rooted and cohesive. Artsy’s 1,000+ characteristics are weighted proportionally to one another. For example, categories within the Art Genome Project are displayed as complete list and are organized numerically and alphabetically. Therefore within “B”, we find “Bauhaus” (an artistic movement) is listed below “Bathers” (a subject found within artworks). If we closely examine the art that relates to the gene “Bathers”, Artsy provides a description of this subject matter and its larger history, a searchable list of artworks that contain this subject, as well as a list of related categories and artists. This structure enables users to access and obtain information through this web of related knowledge. Additionally, Artsy’s widen structured approach also allows for collaboration with Artists, Galleries, Museums, Auction Houses, Scholars and Institutions, as well as many others. Such collaboration and discourse ensures that the information within Artsy’s gene web is of quality and its information is accessible. Furthermore, as Artsy collaborates with other leaders in the field, it is continuously acquiring new artworks and information, adding new genes, and restructuring relationships. Although Artsy is a virtual collection, I believe that we can apply the same techniques within the physical spaces of the library. As seen with Artsy, the actual space where the work resides is not crucial. Rather, what is important is the ways in which information is represented within these webs and consequently communicated back to users.


Drabinski, Emily. “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.” The Library Quartely: Information Community, Policy Vol. 83, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 94-111. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669547

Pawley, Christine. “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 422-452. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309685

Rosenzweig, R. (1991). “Politics and anti-politics in librarianship.” in ibid The Progressive Librarian No. 3 (Summer 1991) pp. 2-8. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL_Jnl/pdf/PL3_summer1991.pdf

Artsy – The Art Genome Project. https://www.artsy.net/categories

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