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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Today, I gave a talk at Royal Holloway for the TECHNE consortium of Ph.D. students on open access and scholarly communications. In the second part of the session, as I often do, I opened up into a “blue-skies” game where I ask those present, in groups, to think through what they want from a system of scholarly communications and how they would design it from scratch today if they were freed of practical and social constraints. It’s at once an amazing and inspiring session and then a little depressing when the utopianism (in a pejorative sense) of the vision (which isn’t technically impossible) is curtailed.

Some principles that the Ph.D. students present at the session presented, and which I thought were amazing, included:

  • It should be open to participation (authorship) and to reading without financial barriers as an underlying and immutable ethical principle
  • Libraries should go back to being libraries, not finance centres; librarians will be key in helping us to navigate the future information world
  • We need new ways to represent and group communities and their values, beyond the journal
  • Where we situate peer review and gatekeeping (pre- or post-) has a fundamental influence on the political economy of the system
  • There is nothing good enough at present to allow the publication and presentation of some of the dynamic types of work that these students want to produce; we need to fix this

This “imagining a world” of subjunctive possibility, a world buried by our own, is a great form of critical thinking that doesn’t just stop at criticism but asks what we want and need. Of course, many of these elements are hard to transition to and may even be impossible. But it was so refreshing to hear these entirely sensible but (for some) nonetheless radical ideas surfaced by early career scholars.