De-materialising

Is it possible to get rid of all your possessions, to de-materialise so to speak? to be so free of place that it doesn’t matter where you are?

The BBC website recently posted an article titled “The cult of less” which featured some people who have converted their books and articles to digital copies. In one case, a guy simply owns a bike, a mini-keyboard and a laptop. Not even a home.

I’ve been going through my office file cabinets this week in a similar though much smaller scale effort. My goal is to get rid of at least one 4-drawer file cabinet by scanning in any essential articles and tossing out the rest. Mostly it’s involved discarding–somehow I still have my grad student papers from the 1980s! Nice to know you have, but hardly essential.

Academics are pack-rats. We keep a lot of things. Old committee reports. Old student projects. During the 1990s and 200os I would often print out articles and file them in alphabetical folders by author. While I haven’t done that for a while with the increasing availability of pdfs for new journal articles and even deep backlists through project Muse, a countervailing trend are the cutbacks to university budgets.

Last year our library was cut by $400,000 in journal subscriptions (requiring the deletion of subscriptions including electronic access). This year another $200,000, including some top ten journals in geography such as Environment and Planning (all four journals). There is a mechanism to object but at the end of the day they still have to find the savings. I would estimate over 1,000 journals have been cut.

What this means is a radical upsurge in inter-library loans (ILL). We can get digitally scanned articles delivered in 3-4 days this way (currently free).  That’s livable I suppose though hardly ideal, but one wonders when they’ll start charging you for this, presumably arguing you can pay for it through your granting. This of course would differentially affect social sciences and humanities.

Perhaps part of our Strategic Plan should be to say that if we hold ourselves to be a leading research university we should have a leading research library?

One response to “De-materialising

  1. A quick Google search suggests this is a trend. I don’t doubt the loss of institutional subscriptions will adversely affect academic publishing in general. I often wonder if publishers and universities are as open to new business models as I am to new models of article ‘acquisition.’

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