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Many of the concerns surrounding the digital and the scholarly are familiar to me. Prior to taking on the editorship of The Space Between, several years ago, I ran an online, open access journal for the scholarship of teaching and learning in English studies for another organization. I sat through a lot of board meetings for a lot of years listening to members talking about how we were sending a message that we didn’t value the scholarship of teaching and learning because we were publishing it in a “lesser” venue: digital didn’t “count.” It wasn’t “real.”
Never mind that online, open access publication meant our members (many from economically strapped “teaching institutions”) could benefit from the scholarship of each other by having valuable research and good ideas for pedagogy made readily available. Looking back on it now, it strikes me as deeply ironic that this resistance to open access and the ways digital could make the scholarly possible in new ways was manifesting itself in debates around a journal devoted to teaching. The ethos of dialogue and collaboration that is a part of good teaching, and that should be part of the digital dissemination of scholarship (especially on teaching), was not visible. The digital was seen as hindering the scholarly, not fostering it.
Furthermore, I didn’t do enough back then to facilitate such a vision from my position as an emerging, untenured scholar. One of the ways I went about addressing the issue was to try to create an online journal that looked as much like a traditional, analog journal as possible, going through three redesigns, each meant to closely replicate a print journal. I made sure to share rates of rejection at annual board meetings as a metric for “rigor,” as well as PDF downloads as a metric for “reach.”
What I was witnessing, and complicit in, was what Dan Cohen has characterized as a problem with the social contract of scholarly publication. What is required to counter the less constructive elements of this contract is the “influenc[ing of] the mental state of the scholarly audience” in order for the demand for new forms of dissemination to match the supply. It angered me to sit in a room and listen to the board charged with supporting the journal talk about how the publication was not legitimate, that open access meant less-than, that “digital” and “scholarly” were mutually exclusive terms–that “digital” might even dilute, even threaten “scholarly.” This stance struck me as devaluing the work I was doing as editor, and devaluing the work of our colleagues in the scholarship of teaching and learning. At the same time, I quite frankly didn’t know enough about the terms of the contract, much less how to alter it.