I kept thinking about my earlier post after I finished it, revisiting it because something about it bothered me, and after a lot of thought I finally figured out what it was. I think my argument about how academia regards scholarly publishers and journals as signs of quality is more or less correct. What bothers me is that in my relatively dispassionate analysis I gave no clue as to how much the situation disappoints me.
Academics use publishers as status indicators without necessarily considering the quality of the publications, just as they use schools, programs, and degrees as status indicators regardless of the quality of the individual scholar. I once heard a prominent scholar mocked (not to his or her face) for having a PhD from a state university. A professor I knew once compared two academics meeting for the first time to two dogs sniffing each other’s butts. Sniff, sniff, oooh, a Harvard PhD. Sniff Sniff, a book from OUP. Granted this isn’t necessarily what happens in the scholarship itself, where superficial stereotypes might give way to consideration of merit in other’s works.
Librarians usually lack the status consideration of professors, at least about some things. As long as an MLS is accredited, few people care what university it’s from, unlike academics considering the origin of PhDs. Some librarians have institutional status anxiety, I guess. I was talking with another philosophy librarian from a university library in the south. He joked that some of his colleagues might see the “Princeton University” on my badge and think, “hey, you could probably come down here and run our jerkwater library.” Trust me, I couldn’t. But I’ve served on numerous ALA committees with librarians from all sorts of libraries, large and small, academic and public, and I’ve never noticed anyone responding to anything other than the quality of their participation, not what employer is on their badge or where they got their MLS from.
However, libraries have pretty much given up control over the quality of their collections. It’s worst with scholarly journals, i think. As the Big Deals have squeezed out so many choices, librarians have had to give up a lot of that control. We don’t really select many journals anymore, and those we do select we don’t really own. With approval plans, especially in larger libraries, we do relatively little of the individual selection, relying upon vendors to pick and choose for us and send things to us. There are obvious reasons our selection of books and journals must be this way, but we’ve still given up so much control.
Dissatisfaction and unhappiness often come because people can’t reconcile their expectations of reality with reality itself. I try to take things as they are when nothing can be changed and avoid that fate. Thus, I might accept libraries giving up control over their collections or the fact that academics and librarians often make judgments based on superficial signs because there’s nothing I can do about it. But I don’t have to like it or try to justify it. I thought about just deleting the post and starting over. Instead, consider this a postscript.