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IV. Creative Destruction



As I have said elsewhere, the term "Open Access" has two lives, one as a description of the increasingly vigorous environment for freely-shared scholarship and the other as a political term and economic cudgel. Open access as practice, as in the digital humanities, can coexist with and enrich the existing system of formal monograph and journal publication and, I believe, even relieve some of the financial pressure that besets it.  Open Access as oppositional rhetoric, as struggle to the death, promises instead a long stretch of turmoil, of "creative destruction," but with the potential for a utopian outcome –- utopias, however, being notoriously difficult to achieve in anyone’s lifetime and often accompanied by unintended consequences.  As Donald Waters, the Program Officer for Scholarly Communication at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation observed in a talk at the University of Michigan Libraries in 2007, later reprinted in the Michigan Library-sponsored open access Journal of Electronic Publishing, the issues surrounding open access publishing "may not be as straightforward as they appear to those partisans who are actively engaged in the debates."  Waters later elaborates: "open access [needs to] be balanced against the need for sustainability. It may be in the public interest to mandate open access, but it may equally be a failure of public trust if such a mandate is not balanced by consideration of a requirement for sustainability so that the content and the publisher endures."

cc_slide_15When I listen to Open Access advocates talk about the “broken” system of scholarly publishing, what I hear is cable news political pundits talking about how Social Security and Medicare are “broken” and need to be replaced by mutual funds or vouchers –- the prelude to solving a problem in our neoliberal epoch is always destroying rather than reinforcing what is already in place.  The economic term for this is “Creative Destruction,” as elaborated by Austrian-school economist Joseph Shumpeter in opposition to the Keynesian economics that guided New Deal programs of the 1930s.  In our time, “Creative Destruction” has come to be seen as essential for economic growth, its “disruptions” necessary for the creation of the new. cc_slide_16In the Urban renewal that swept American cities in the 1950s and 1960s and in the replacement of public transit systems such as Los Angeles’s streetcar network by highways (highways that themselves became clogged with traffic, necessitating the current reconstruction of L.A.’s streetcar network at great expense), we can see the effectiveness of “Creative Destruction” in spurring new development as well as its unintended consequences of making a desert of the public sphere.  As the geographer David Harvey described the process, “old places have to be devalued, destroyed, and redeveloped.”


cc_slide_17In our own world of scholarly publishing, a recent example of “Creative Destruction” was the decision, later rescinded, to close the “broken” University of Missouri Press and replace it with something new and “next generation” for which, the newly-arrived software-entrepreneur President of the University later admitted they didn’t yet have a plan.  One Open Access blogger hailed the threatened closure as a “positive bellwether for a healthy shift in emphasis from one model of scholarly publishing to another,” without, of course, specifying what that “another” consisted of.  As a tide of resistance to the closure to the University of Missouri Press rose from scholars, authors, university donors, readers, booksellers, public librarians, and the editorial pages of every newspaper in the state, many of us in university presses nevertheless fretted that our colleagues in the academic library world, our longterm allies, were largely if not entirely silent.


I am not going down the road of righteous indignation here.  Indeed, the threatened Missouri closure was in the news at the same time as the Georgia State case and the academic library community could itself feel our long partnership was being betrayed.  Both Missouri and Georgia State strike me as warning signs that we are failing to openly and collaboratively solve the challenges that face both our professions in the digital transition.  I continue to believe, as I said when I last addressed this audience in 2009, that “if we’re not in this together, we should be” for the good of scholarly communication and the university as a whole.

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