By the Feeding the Elephant Editorial Collective
Two years ago, we launched Feeding the Elephant, a forum on scholarly communications in the arts, humanities, and social sciences with a mission to bring together stakeholders in libraries, publishing, and academe around conversations of common interest.
We wanted to address persistent questions and frustrations about publishing by highlighting the projects that are already addressing these problems, especially those in adjacent areas of practice from our own. By connecting different stakeholders, we wanted to show that while scholarly communications may be undergoing huge transformations, it is also offering new opportunities. And while we experience it as individual stakeholders, it is a collective project. By making the range of our separate efforts visible in this shared space, we hope to encourage collaborations that strengthen the collective project.
Since Feeding the Elephant began in September 2019, we’ve become a home to weekly content about scholarly communication, posted each Wednesday. To date, we have published 77 posts by over 50 contributors, a group that includes academic librarians, academic press staff, podcasters, journal editors, and scholars. We’ve become a valuable source of information through our regular Elephant Roundup of links and with series we’ve established: Working with your Editor, Working with your Librarian, and [1:3] where we pose one question to a librarian, a publisher, and a scholar to get their three perspectives. All while growing our Editorial Collective by 33% and fostering conversations on Twitter through the #FeedingTheElephant hashtag.
In honor of our two-year anniversary, we wanted to revisit our very first post from September 16, 2019, where we laid out our idea for a forum about scholarly communications with a mission:
Scholars take chances in their work, following leads and forging connections. Sometimes these risks pay off in ways that enrich a conversation, a discipline, a community. Other times the reward is more modest: a learning experience for the researcher. Undergirding these intellectual risks are many kinds of institutional and community investments: time to write, research support, feedback from outside readers and reviewers. Fewer and fewer scholars are getting the basic institutional support required to pursue their research; nevertheless, many are piecing together what they need in order to continue. But the one investment without which an intellectual risk is no risk at all is publication. The book, the journal article, the website: in one form or another, the idea must travel from speaker to listener in order to be made public.
The ways scholars make their research public are being transformed by a host of factors, most obviously digital technology and decreasing public investment in higher education. Institutions have been bracing themselves against the shocks of this decreasing support. We read about the fallout regularly on the pages of the Chronicle and on social media under hashtags like #IStandWithSUP and #AKLeg. In the debates about the individual benefits of college, we have lost touch with the public mission of academic institutions. On any day, the problems seem insurmountable. Yet many defenders of this mission are working hard to reassert its importance and to remind us that the highest goal of higher education is still the public good.
Digital technology is offering an exciting range of new ways to make research public—to share it with both other scholars and a broader readership. Artists, humanists, and social scientists have eagerly experimented with these forms: Lever Press, Open Library of the Humanities, Public Knowledge Project, the MIT Knowledge Futures Group, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media are just a few examples. Journals now thrive in searchable databases and digital humanities projects offer complex, compelling multimedia presentations. But how do these projects fit into the existing systems of scholarly communications and the broader mission of higher education? How is this innovative work evaluated, and who has access to the training and tools to do it? Who has access to journal and e-book databases? Is open access publishing economically sustainable? Which of many alternative funding models for public-facing scholarship is most viable? And how can such work be made discoverable and be preserved for the future?
We look forward to seeing what the year(s) ahead will bring for the topics we cover and our collaborations.
The Feeding the Elephant Editorial Collective consists of Catherine Cocks, Yelena Kalinsky, and Dawn Durante. You can learn more about us and all of our contributors at the Feeding the Elephant Team page.
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