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Knowledge Workers Unite!

In May, 2012, ProQuest, the historical newspaper and scholarly journal database, introduced Udini, “an inventive new research service that provides individuals with access to premium content and cutting edge tools.” The “premium content” they advertised was pulled from select ProQuest databases which previously had only been available through research and academic libraries. According to their press release, Udini offers scholarly content to “knowledge workers without access to research libraries.”

Then in September, 2013, JSTOR, the online academic journal and e-book platform, announced JPASS, a subscription service also geared toward the unaffiliated scholar. For a small fee, you can access a set number of articles in the JSTOR archive. As the JPASS press release suggests, “It’s a great option if you are not able to get ready access through an educational institution or public library.”

Udini and JPASS, combined with increasing number of open access scholarly journal and monograph content, plus the full text titles available in Google Books, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive, has made initial research for the unaffiliated humanities scholar easier than ever before. And if one adds the growing amount of content digitized from specialized libraries, plus access to library subscription databases, a curious mind need only to have an internet connection and a library card to begin her independent studies.

In fact, one could argue that many of the alt-ac career paths that were mentioned and discussed in class on Monday don’t require a PhD at all. Many don’t (or shouldn’t) even require a Masters degree. What many of these alt-ac jobs require are the same skills that many jobs require: clear writing and communication, research skills, organization, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, and intellectual curiosity and initiative.

Intellectual curiosity, while perhaps once only satisfied by classroom engagement and course readings, is now easily fulfilled by tools accessible to a large portion of the population. Indeed, syllabi, lectures, and like-minded scholarly communities are all now easy to find outside the academy. In fact, there are many articles and blogs written by non academic scholars and enthusiasts whose writing and research are more aligned with their academic brethren than their publishing platforms may suggest. And much of their work is increasingly intersecting and interacting with traditional academia in interesting and productive ways.

I’m not suggesting that the world of material available to unaffiliated scholars mirrors the deep archival content that can be found in a university or academic library, or that an independent researcher is necessarily the equal to a PhD. But in 2013, there is so much more available to whet one’s curiosity and engage in learning, to participate in communities, and to publish, speak, and collaborate outside of the academy than ever before. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a social scientist, or even a library scientist to do it.