Can anyone else believe how quickly this year is winding down? I know it’s a cliché, but this time of year it seems like the sands are really burning through the hourglass. Final exams are on the way next week for our students, so the library is looking more and more like a survival camp in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. The best part of final exam stress? The puppies we bring to campus to alleviate study anxiety! And we’re not the only ones who employ this adorable tactic.
Quick question: have you ever contributed a paper or presentation to Academia.edu? I’ve been trying to wrack my brain to determine if I ever have (sad, I know, but I call it Early Onset Academic Memory Disfigurement), and I think the answer is no. I have, however, found several slideshows and papers to be useful, particularly when I was transitioning to my current position in electronic resources with very little practical experience under my belt. If you’re not familiar with the site, it’s a for-profit company that allows academics to share papers and such (after registering) and read the research of other academics. They don’t charge users for this, but they make their profits mostly through ads.
I mention Academia.edu because of this piece published earlier this week in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. A growing movement among scholars highlights the concerns over Academia.edu’s business model: make money by providing access to content they get for free. So, how is this different from the Elseviers of the world? This is the question some academics are asking, and their concern is gaining traction. If we in academic information provision are truly committed to making research accessible for all, shouldn’t we be supporting organizations and initiatives that also support/fund that research in the first place? I’m talking about open access initiatives. Academia.edu may be able to claim a certain amount of openness, but they’re a far cry from the Open Library of Humanities, for example.
Beyond the Greedy Corporate Monster argument, Academia.edu users are also unsettled by the data collection methods the corporation employs. I consistently receive emails from Academia.edu with suggestions for recently uploaded papers/presentations, most of which I actually would be interested in perusing. It’s an algorithm similar to that of Netflix or Amazon. Hey there, you viewed/liked/clicked on that one thing over there, so here’s some other things that are in a similar vein! On the one hand, I appreciate the thought, as it does make me aware of content pertinent to my field without having to slog through a lot of irrelevant slush, but I must wonder at the security of my personal data.
I’m not sold on either argument here. I don’t like the idea of Academia.edu securing a monopoly on freely-available research, but I’m also not convinced that just because they make profits they are inherently evil. Talk amongst yourselves and let me know what you think!