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It's all of our business

A letter from the editors
Published onAug 19, 2021
It's all of our business

The Commonplace began a little over one year ago as a space to bridge the gap between the people who use (or want to use, or could use) open infrastructure and those building it; between ideas and implementation. To that end, there has been a very practical underpinning to our editorial calendar that is central to our mission. Our second series, “The Business of Knowing: Bringing about [infra]structural change to knowledge communication” is no different.1 Inspired by an essay written in the Commonplace2—about the purchase of ProQuest by Clarivate—that sparked interesting and provocative discussion, the series seeks to capture some of that input and to give these ideas a home, to then be harnessed and channeled into real products and cultural shifts we can feel, the kinds that move us.

As we publish the series, we do so with an understanding that this act is, at most, a middle point. It’s now our job—all of us—to actively engage with these ideas, provide notes and annotations, and then work to hone them, reflect them in the policies, practices, models, and infrastructures within our control(s) and purview(s) in our respective plots of the knowledge ecosystem.

We’re extremely grateful to the sixteen (16!!) authors across eleven (11!!) contributions who set aside time and directed their attentions to this conversation. We all know that both time and attention are scarce resources today and we take their commitment and excitement as inspiration and motivation.

“The Business of Knowing” has three sections: Cultural Shifts and the People who Make Them; The Cost of Change and its Value, and; New Means Towards New Ends. In truth, these essays could have been organized into any number of different groupings, a reflection of both how intertwined the different changes we need to enact really are as well as of the interdependency of the proposed ideas. Knowledge sharing and knowledge creation today are socio-technical acts (some could argue they’re the same act) and the lines of communication between those working on either end of the social<—> technical spectrum, crucially, need to be free of static.

In this series we find a range of productive imaginings: from drawing on our history to thoughtfully map out our futures3 to reframing infrastructure as an activity4; from cooperative-based organizational structures5 to cooperative sustainability6; from restructuring citations7 to opening up grant proposals8; from securing sustainability through collective funding,9 to subscribing to open,10 and/or reapportioning existing grants and budgets11; from new authorship models12 to centering video and other media as valid scholarly outputs.13 All of these ideas are community-centered and, with respect to incorporating them into tools and policies, should be community-driven. It’ll take more than economic shifts, or technological innovations, or cultural changes. In fact, it’s no longer helpful to think of these separately. We need them all, and we need them together.

It’s hard to imagine truly new realities from the standpoint of a current, existing, all-encompassing one. When [infra]structural change requires us to tear down the foundations of the house in which we reside, we tend to focus on the “character” of the beams instead of the structural integrity. We seek to preserve or improve even when rebuilding is warranted, as it is now. We completely understand this impulse because we are guilty of it ourselves. In some ways, our very use of this structure—a call for submissions, a series—came about in the very same rote way so much of how the existing, suboptimal system maintains a hold: we didn’t think twice about it.

In our call for submissions, we made other errors. The first was not scheduling enough lead time for submitters to send us their proposals and, if accepted, their drafts. This led to an initial pool of submissions that was predominately white, male, and American. The final lineup of contributions still skews in favor of this demographic (as does academia), though we took steps to improve it and will continue to do so. As we launch our fall series,14 we’ve accounted for this and planned for a longer turn-around and more extensive outreach to potential submitters. We’re committed to learning from this process and implementing those learnings as we go on to better serve our readers and authors. To that end, we also hope that future series contributors will take us up on the ability to publish works other than essays! It seems, though, for now, that the series format will stick around with us as will the essay. We’re keen to see what more we can do with it.

It’s easy to feel frustrated in today’s scholarly publishing ecosystem to the point of, at best, being resigned to do what we can with what we have. And these practices are admirable, our collective endurance inspiring, and a testament to the importance of supporting open knowledge sharing and the people doing the work where and whenever possible. Yet, as the essays in this series prove out, it’s due time to be inspired not by our endurance but instead by our reimagining and reinvention.

We thank you for contributing, for iterating, for building, and for reading.

—Sarah & Catherine

📖 read more essays in the “Business of knowing” summer series 📖
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