Alchemical Thoughts

Things that make teaching information literacy that much harder

Posted on: May 13, 2009

The whole fiasco with Elsevier and their fake journals (and unlike the more polite people, I have no problem calling a spade a spade, and these were basically fake journals sponsored by a big pharmaceutical passing themselves off as serious journals) has been discussed in various librarian blogs. This is why I am just scraping some of my thoughts here and leaving it out of the main blog.

Here are some links for those who may be interested:

The one thing I thought about when I read about the issue is that this just makes our work teaching information literacy that much more harder. As information literacy or instruction librarians, we spent a lot of time teaching our students how to evaluate resources. We spend even more time telling them to rely on "peer reviewed" publications. And now we get that we can't even trust the "peer reviewing" since it is not so much scholars doing it as some big pharma corporation. Let's consider the ethics of the matter, which is about the only thing we can really consider. I mean, we can be angry at Elsevier, but in the end, Elsevier is like any other big corporation, and they did the move that would make them money, ethics be damned. But the larger problem does go back to corporations like Elsevier who take research (often done with federal money, i.e. paid by your taxes) and repackages it and sells it to the libraries. Until those doing the research actually take some control and come up with some better ways to disseminate their information in an ethical way, the corporations will keep doing this, and we as librarians will just have to be that much more wary of information sources. And to be honest, why the heck the federal government (in the U.S. at least) not make it a requirement to make any federally funded research be published for free (put it in PubMed or something like that), since we paid the tab, is simply beyond me.It can be done; there is just a serious lack of spine to do it, but then again, that is politics for you. And let's not even start on why the U.S. government often outsources their information to vendors (can you say Lexis, for example?).

But it is also going to take the scholars to finally get a clue as well. Until academia decides to have the intestinal fortitude to come up with other ways to evaluate for tenure besides how many articles you get in an Elsevier journal (or other big corporate-owned journal), and until scholars basically stop serving on those editorial boards, and instead help create better models of distribution where the information is not held by some conglomerate more interested in the bottom line than some ethics, things will not change. Now, I am not an expert by any stretch; others from advocates for open access to repository librarians to those librarian bloggers with bigger reputations have been saying it. I am just a librarian with a thought or two and a dislike for the way things are currently done. And at the end of the day, I am the librarian in the front lines who has to teach the students how to evaluate sources, and now I have to start making another distinction: that is a real scholarly journal, and that other one is paid for by Merck (or insert your big pharma company here). This publisher seems to have some integrity, and this other one is pretty much open to the highest bidder. Because we often make a big fuss when a student plagiarizes or tries to pass other's work as their own. But when a company like Elsevier basically commits an act of academic dishonesty (or just plain dishonesty), they don't exactly get raked over the coals as they deserve. Then again, we should know better as information professionals to question the sources of information. And we should be noting and be aware that a lot of that information we depend on in academia is coming from a corporate source, the type of source not necessarily interested in things like ethics or integrity. We have to remember that their interest is the bottom line and the investors. If it so happens they provide information products academia can use so much the better. But make no mistake, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. This means we should be on our guard and constantly asking questions and demanding accountability. 

And those are my two cents, for what they may be worth.

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