Comprehensive Exams 3rd Area Justification
In a 2016 co-authored article, former academic librarian Jeffrey Beall made the hyperbolic claim that Open Access journals “have created problems so serious that we believe they threaten the very existence of science, more so than at any time since it began to emerge in 17th century Europe…” (1). If this statement seems a bit dramatic and over-the-top, you would not be wrong in feeling this way. In fact, the first time I read this statement, it immediately put me in mind of a similar sentiment that I read some years ago in a novel by Rachel Caine: “Imagine a world in which anyone, anywhere, could create and distribute their own words, however ignorant or flawed! And we have often seen dangerous progress that was only just checked in time to prevent more chaos” (19). Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series put forth a world where the Library of Alexandria never fell and instead became the governing body for an alternate Earth. The Library decided who received what knowledge, when, and how. In making these decisions, the rhetoric the Library uses often parallels the rhetoric used by Open Access opponents. These same rhetorics can also be seen in Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, and Rod Duncan’s The Fall of the Gaslit Empire series. Each author has created a world where libraries and archives set the rules and decide who will be given knowledge and who will not. To that end, in order to better understand the deeply elitist and privileged beliefs that emerge from Open Access opponents, it is important to analyze their fictional counterparts.
My interest in this subject has been driven by my career choice of academic librarian. When I started library school in 2017 and became a graduate research assistant, Open Access became an integral part of my life. Once I began working in Digital Collections, I became even more involved with Open Access and Open Educational Resources. I’ve written a number of papers on the subject, so I’ve become very familiar with the literature on both sides of the issue. I believe that Open Access is an overwhelmingly positive thing and I intend to make it a foundational part of my career. I feel that focusing on an analysis of Open Access opposition as it compares to fictional villains who engage in knowledge control could help to demystify the subject while also revealing the elitist, racist, and xenophobic nature of much of the opposition’s rhetoric. This, in turn, will help inform my career as an academic librarian focused on scholarly communications and equity in education.
Per my advisor’s suggestion, I have divided the reading list into the following categories: literary studies, rhetorical theory, and library science. Breaking down the material into these categories makes the most sense, and defines the three essential pieces that are needed for this analysis. The literature review that follows is brief and intended to highlight important points in each particular conversation.
All of the series that I want to examine take place on alternate Earths and in alternate historical time periods, so a large portion of these sources will be focused on speculative fiction, alternate history, possible and impossible worlds, unnatural narratives, etc. The goal is to create an understanding of the ways in which these kinds of narratives bring attention to the rhetoric surrounding knowledge control and how these rhetorics affect the lives of the people against whom they are employed.
In a co-authored paper from 2010, Jan Alber and his colleagues stated that though “the projected worlds may resemble the actual world we live in, they obviously do not have to: they can also confront us with physically or logically impossible scenarios or events” and this is true of each of the book series that I will analyzing (Alber et al. 115). Due to their impossible nature, these kinds of narratives pair very well with alternate histories. Karen Hellekson’s 2000 article, “Toward a Taxonomy of the Alternate History Genre” makes the point that “The alternate history concerns itself with plausible causal relationships, and as such, it concerns itself with narrative and time” (Hellekson 1). The relationships are plausible, even if the worlds are improbable. These kinds of alternate, or counterfactual narratives, where the world is different due to the removal of key historical figures and technological advances are not uncommon, given that “people tend to remain quite close to reality when they envisage counterfactual situations” (De Smedt and De Cruz 62). The inherent importance of these kinds of counterfactual and often impossible narratives lies in the fact that “the role of literature has historically always been not only ‘to delight’ but also ‘to teach’…” (Lewis et al. 201) While Open Access opposition may not be as dire a situation as that of a world controlled by the closed fist of the Great Library of Alexandria, the narratives still teach the reader the danger of this kind of knowledge control.
While literary studies can help us to recognize the rhetorical turns in these books, it is also necessary to understand the theories that underlie these particular rhetorics. I will be focusing on sources that discuss critical discourse analysis as well as rhetoric as it pertains to propaganda and activism. I will also touch on rhetoric and its relationship with narrative, especially unnatural narratives and impossible worlds.
In “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis” Raymie McKerrow asserts that “a critical rhetoric seeks to unmask or demystify the discourse of power. The aim is to understand the integration of power/knowledge in society” (1989). This is important when attempting to untangle the rhetorical traps that Open Access opponents have built around this subject. According to Dale Sullivan in “Keeping the Rhetoric Orthodox: Forum Control in Science” Open Access opponents’ claims that Open Access will be the downfall of the academy and of legitimate science are a type of forum control and while “techniques of forum control are necessary, they are nevertheless, exercises in political power and they are sometimes used in unethical ways” (126). In order to counteract these unethical uses of rhetoric, I will use scholars like Lawrence Frey and Joshua Hanan, who believe that “…ideological critics have opened up robust and critically informed accounts of rhetoric, domination, oppression, and other concepts that are central to the pursuit of social justice” (851). This is especially pertinent in light of the fact that Jeffrey Beall has repeatedly referred to Open Access as a social justice movement, something that he does not consider to be a good thing.
In order to best grasp the concept of Open Access and the debates that surround it, I will be relying heavily on sources that lay out the pros and cons of Open Access. I will also be using sources that discuss the popular stereotypes of librarians, the ways in which American libraries engaged in their own forms of control and governmental collusion in the past, and the importance of the library as liminal space.
Jeffrey Beall, a former academic librarian from the University of Colorado Denver, believes that Open Access is an “anti-corporatist” movement that will eventually “eliminate private businesses”(589). In a 2013 article, Beall even goes so far as to employ antisemitic dogwhistles when he states that Open Access mandates are “set and enforced by an onerous cadre of Soros-funded European autocrats” (596). Conversely, supporters like Benlamri and Klett believe that Open Access resources and materials can help to serve “knowledge, skills, and competency advancement in novel educational settings”(2). In order to understand Open Access, however, we need to understand American libraries, which is why I will pull from sources such as Kornelia Tancheva who talks about how the popular view of librarians “is overwhelmingly stereotypical and emphasizes negative features such as lack of imagination, dowdy appearance, excessive orderliness, indecisiveness, and, generally, a ‘mousy’ character’”(530). I will also be spending some time with Victoria Thur, who tells us that during World War II, American libraries were commonly used as listening posts to intercept intelligence and librarians were pressed into service as spies for the FBI (439). In describing libraries themselves, Radford, et al says that they are “constitutive of experiences of continual change, excitement, surprise, and discovery. In the library…one never knows what experience is going to come next, and revels in the excitement of moving from one extreme experience to another’’ (746). Libraries are many things and many angles must be considered when examining them.
I believe that focusing on the rhetoric surrounding knowledge control and dissemination using these and many other, similar sources will give me a better understanding of the situation and will allow me to better explain it to others. Using literary and rhetorical theories to analyze how these kinds of rhetorics are woven into our fictional and factual lives allows us to gain greater control over the conversation and move this particular Overton window to a more accepting opinion of Open Access and its benefits. It is in this way that I can become a more effective academic librarian and speak from a place of experience and expertise, which will provide for a greater career trajectory, one that is in line with my own beliefs about the importance of equity and equality in knowledge dissemination.
The Great Library Series
The Invisible Library Series
The Gas-Lit Empire Series
Gill, R.B. “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction.” Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 46, no. 2, 2013, pp. 71–85., doi:10.1353/mos.2013.0021.
Lewis, David, et al. “The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 44, no. 2, 2008, pp. 198–216., doi:10.1080/00220380701789828.
Yell, Susan. “Control and Conflict: Dialogue in Prose Fiction.” Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, vol. 74, no. 1, 1990, pp. 136–153., doi:10.1179/aulla.1990.010.
Hikins, James W., and Richard A. Cherwitz. “The Engaged University: Where Rhetorical Theory Matters.” Journal of Applied Communication Research, vol. 38, no. 2, 2010, pp. 115–126., doi:10.1080/00909881003639551.
Johnstone, Barbara, and Christopher Eisenhart. “Discourse Analysis and Rhetorical Studies.” Rhetoric in Detail: Discourse Analyses of Rhetorical Talk and Text, edited by Barbara Johnstone and Christopher Eisenhart, John Benjamins, 2008, pp. 3–21.
Wodak, Ruth, and Michael Meyer. “Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology.” Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001, pp. 1–33.
—. “The Open-Access Movement Is Not Really about Open Access.” TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, vol. 11, no. 2, 2013, pp. 589–597., doi:10.31269/triplec.v11i2.525.
Dudley, Richard G. “The Changing Landscape of Open Access Publishing: Can Open Access Publishing Make the Scholarly World More Equitable and Productive?” Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, vol. 9, no. 1, 2021, p. 2345., https://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.2345.
Radford, Marie L., and Gary P. Radford. “Power, Knowledge, and Fear: Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian.” The Library Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 3, 1997, pp. 250–266., doi:10.1086/629951.
Teixeira da Silva, Jaime A. “Why Does Retraction Watch Continue to Offer Support to Jeffrey Beall, and Legitimize His Post-Mortem ‘Predatory’ Lists?” KOME, vol. 5, no. 1, 2017, pp. 147–152., doi:10.17646/KOME.2017.19.
Thur, Victoria L. “War, Law, and the Librarian: The Creation, Precedence, and Passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and Its Effects on Libraries.” Journal of Access Services, vol. 6, no. 4, 2009, pp. 437–445., doi:10.1080/15367960903098838.
Van Dijk, C Niek. “Science Is Being Corrupted by Governments and Publishers; the Argument against Plan S.” Journal of ISAKOS: Joint Disorders & Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–2., doi:10.1136/jisakos-2019-000278.