QOTD: a new Alexandria

Lorcan Dempsey, Weblog, Mar 15, 2010
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Summary of a New Republic article that "discusses the continuity of the scholarly record in a richly allusive text." Dempsey writes, "I sensed three strands. First, the scholarly record is evermore diffused through media and formats, embracing source materials, and presents changes of identification and curation. Second, the licensed journal literature is enclosed behind paywalls, and current developments may extend that fate to the book literature. And third, the relevance of the scholarly record to the wider world and to future generations, and the influence of researchers, is diminished by this lack of access."

Remembering what happened to the first Library of Alexandria, I worry a bit about centralizing the archive (and about anything from the New Republic) but reading the article find a robust propoisal with the public interest firmly in mind. "Imagine that this library is electronic and in the public domain: sustainable, stable, linked, and searchable through universal semantic catalogue standards. Imagine that it has open source-ware, allowing legacy digital resources and new digital knowledge to be integrated in real time. Imagine that its Second Web capabilities allowed universal researches of the bibliome."

The argument for change from the traditional system of academic publishing is compelling, I think, and has two major threads. First, "If scholars continue to hide away and lock up their knowledge, do they not risk their own irrelevance? An immediately important debate, I think, is to be had over how academics fail to engage with their natural constituency (and former students): journalists, business leaders, lawyers, entrepreneurs, politicians, and civil servants." And second, "What if our next 'peasant poet,' as John Clare was known, twitters? What if he writes a blog or shojo manga? What if he publishes via a desktop or vanity publisher? Will his output count as part of legal deposit material? What if there is a masterpiece being filmed in Bollywood? What if one among many Nigerian novelettes, which typically address a young heroine's agonized choice between a village boy and a 'big man,' turns out to be written by a Jane Austen?"

Scholars of the future will be astonished at how few voices out of the collective six billion were ever actually remembered, and will wonder how we could let such a cultural tragedy occur.
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