Gavia Libraria

Pig-ignorant entitlement and its uses

The great mass of those who publish in the scholarly literature are pig-ignorant about how scholarly publishing works. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have to worry about scam open-access journals or journal impact factor, just to offer up two obvious examples, because they would be laughed out of existence.

This great mass does, however, have a strong sense of entitlement surrounding the scholarly literature, the processes they wrongly believe constitute the whole of it, and their own contributions to it in particular. This sense is, the Loon feels it incumbent upon her to repeat, completely unmoored from legal and economic reality, but it is nonetheless singularly potent, such that the least effort to question or contradict it usually feels like running headlong into a working buzz saw.

Thus it is that institutional-repository managers run into the utterly divorced-from-reality notion that institutional repositories “take your copyright.” (No. That would be your publishers, dear pig-ignorant scholars.) Thus it is that faculty post anything and everything in their online courses (the Georgia State plaintiffs aren’t witless; they know this) and on their websites, or any other website that takes their fancy. Thus it is that too many humanist scholars think that getting a print book published is a purely meritocratic process, so much so that they’ll base their entire career structure on it.

(Don’t talk to the Loon about teaching and service. She’s seen more than enough tenure cases to know better—and to thank her stars that she has nothing to do with any tenure system.)

In general, toll-access publishers benefit most from the pig-ignorantly entitled, since such folk are easily manipulated into signing contracts they shouldn’t and vehemently defending organizations and processes out to exploit them. The only scholars who benefit are those tenured folk whose egos rest on believing their lottery-winning manipulation of the publishing system entitles them to their exalted position; these people are invariably the most pig-ignorantly entitled, after all. Libraries and librarians certainly benefit not at all; we are handy blame targets for breakdowns in access, and easily accused of skulduggery and incompetence when we seek to change scholarly publishing. (The Loon never ceases to marvel at what pig-ignorant open-access advocates—what, you thought pig-ignorance was limited to those who defend toll access? perish the thought—think libraries and librarians can “just” unilaterally do.)

It is, however, possible to effect change within what pig-ignorant entitlement will pass over in silence or with only nominal protest, as the patchwork quilt of institutional and sub-institutional open-access mandates attests. Pig-ignorance cuts all ways! Refrain from poking at it, and much can be accomplished.

This is what Elsevier forgot when they hassled academia.edu to remove publisher PDFs posted by faculty. They are of course perfectly within their legal rights. Academia.edu is a reasonably savvy economic target, as they’re a for-profit enterprise—they certainly can’t put up the put-upon-nonprofit moan that the Loon would have moaned had Elsevier targeted any of the institutional repositories she’s been involved with over the years. (The Loon, of course, was quite careful not to let publisher PDFs into her IRs save for the tiny group of publishers that permits them there. In that way she is typical of IR librarians.) Perhaps Elsevier thought this would be a purely boardroom-cleanroom battle, legal summonses at ten paces.

Unfortunately for Elsevier, academia.edu understands how to exploit pig-ignorant entitlement. They promptly told their faculty participants about Elsevier’s demands, blaming those demands clearly and succinctly on Elsevier… and suddenly the battle moved out of the boardroom and onto the Internet, where @FakeElsevier has popped up again (much to the Loon’s amusement). Before Elsevier could blink, it found itself back in the higher-education press sporting yet another black eye.

(The Loon often wished to do similarly, in her IR-running days. She never did because she knew full well she would have caught hell from her library employers, who subscribed to their own pig-ignorant beliefs about the ability to create change without upsetting anyone anywhere. One of the many delights of being the Loon is not having to soften her opinions regarding pig-ignorance… much.)

Elsevier tried to pass the matter off with its own appeal to pig-ignorant entitlement, because it too knows how well that usually works… but unfortunately for Elsevier once more, entitlement generally wins over pig-ignorance. Faculty might be convinced to believe that Elsevier has their best interests at heart, though Elsevier’s argument to that effect yesterday was startlingly convoluted and weak. Even had it made a scintilla of sense, though, it would not have been enough to convince faculty to give up their perceived entitlement to post their authored works wherever they see fit.

The legalities of the situation don’t matter. Pig-ignorant faculty entitlement does. As a strategic move, then, Elsevier’s wasn’t.