When Jeffrey Beall retired from the Auroria Library at the University of Colorado at Denver in March 2018, half of the scholarly publishing world applauded him for his efforts against “predatory publishers.” The other half let out a massive sigh of relief. Beall’s retirement succeeded a prolonged period of scandal in some academic circles.
In the years leading up to his retirement, Beall began to receive increasingly negative attention for his now infamous “Beall’s list,” a blacklist of potentially predatory publishers that he himself had curated since 2008 (presumably on his free time, and not while working at the Auroria Library). The list, criticized by some for “falsely accusing nearly one in five as being a ‘potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open access publisher’ on appearances alone,” attracted the enimty of scholars and publishers. And this at a time when the open access movement was picking up momentum. Following a series of altercations with several publishers, and after serious threats of civil litigation, Beall took down his website in 2017 and licked his wounds.
Beall had been relatively quiet since threats of civil damages threatened him and his institution, save for a handful of papers related to predatory publishing in niche publications. That is until February 7th, 2019, when Beall took aim at something altogether different: academic librarianship, the profession that he had benefited from for so long, and the one that ultimately left him in the cold.
In his recent THE op-ed (“Glamorised study halls do not need an army of librarians,”) Beall makes a case against academic librarians. The premise is painfuly simple and underdeveloped: academic librarians are a clear symptom of a bloated academy and an unnecessary element of the modern university. According to Beall, the rise of the internet should have decreased the number of academic librarians since the emancipatory potential of the web has enabled “free databases such as Google Scholar” yet >Government data show that the number of librarians overall in the US has remained about the same since 2003, and the profession is even expected to expand over the next decade.
For Beall and his alleged sample of students and faculty, the only “librarians who matter are those who pay the invoices for the proprietary online research databases, and those who ensure that they are not offline.” The very nature of the academic library, as a space of academic rigor, is in question, too. With “lounge-like interiors” and trendy cafes which apparently are nothing more than “elite social clubs, offering opportunities for drinking coffee — an endless supply of cappuccino on tap — and finding dates,” libraries, like the folks who walk and talk in its sacred corridors, have embraced anti-intellectualism.
The second half of his op-ed could be misinterpreted as a rough draft of Jordan Peterson’s writing (and they’re both rather fond of creating, and subsequently abandoning, blacklists). As Beall writes, > university librarians are left-wing zealots and often bemoan the cost of proprietary library databases and journal subscriptions… Meanwhile, their diminishing workloads have freed them to spend large parts of their days on Twitter, advocating for social justice causes, signalling virtue by retweeting hate speech directed at Donald Trump. > This prominence and homogeneity of leftist ideology is reflected at library conferences. Increasingly, events such as those put on by the American Library Association are more like meetings of the Democratic Party platform committees.
This diatribe is followed by an abrupt turn to fiduciary management. “With student debt in excess of $1 trillion,” he writes, “it is surely immoral for universities and colleges to be spending so highly” on resources that can be easily replaced by the internet. We can all agree with Beall when he writes that “The cost of university education in the US must urgently be brought down.” His solution? To turn his back on the profession that turned its back on him: “Pruning a bloated and hypocritical profession that has seriously lost its way would be an excellent place to start.”
I’m not sure what upsets me more: that Beall thinks that Google Scholar is a “free database” (it’s not, reader), or that he doesn’t know that a cappuccino is a type of brew that does not come from a tap.
The worry with op-eds such as these is that those who pen them might be on to something, tapping into and amplyfing a cultural zeitgeist. I do not think that’s happening here, reader. Beall’s op-ed reads less like what a seasoned librarian trained in research and scholarship would write, and more like the napkin scrawls of someone who’s had one too many vodka sodas. His claims are outdated, unfounded, and undocumented. Beall longs for the ascetic academic library of old — where library work was purposefully obscured from faculty and students — despite not having the privilege of working in one anylonger. He assumes that information is accessible, yet ignores the practical, technical, and financial implications of the digital. He disregards new and emerging services, like digital scholarship, critical information literacy instruction, and data services, to name a few, as well as the metadata work that is arguably more critical now than ever before. He sees progressive politics and empathy as negative characteristics, choosing instead to promote austerity and conservitism. Now that Beall is no longer in the candyshop, he’d like to have it demolished.
In 2014, Wayne Bivens-Tatum, librarian at Princeton University, published a rebutall to Beall’s critique of open access in tripleC. Taken out of its context, Biven-Tatum’s conclusion is just as apt, if not more so: > [Beall’s] argument fails because the sweeping generalizations with no supporting evidence render it unsound. Formally, the argument fails because its improperly distributed terms when in syllogistic form render it invalid. Thus, the overall argument is neither sound nor valid, which for an argument is about as bad as it gets.
2019-02-06 19:00 -0500