Thank goodness for To the Best of Our Knowledge, a public radio gem that is making my packing for the upcoming trip to Malaysia go by much more smoothly.
Annie Leonard, creator of the documentary The Story of Stuff, was a guest this hour. Leonard documents where all the stuff we throw away, or attempt to recycle, really goes. From landfills in the US to trash heaps in the Phillipines, our stuff squirms out all over the earth and causes environmental destruction in its wake. It was a sobering message indeed.
After stating the case, most people in Leonard's position would then extol the virtue of individual action. Make sure to recycle your electronics carefully. Be mindful of what you purchase. And so on. All of that is fine as far as it goes, but Leonard pointed out--refreshingly--that this doesn't go very far.
Our entire consumer system is geared towards producing rapidly obsolescent products and mountains of waste. So the real solution is to work to change that system, which is a very large assignment indeed. But that would ultimately be a better use of our time. If we had a world in which the default were not to waste, we would no longer think in terms of ad hoc, disconnected actions.
This made me think about why librarians have trouble changing the publishing system, despite clear problems: peer review may not be legitimate; we aren't leveraging the capacities of the Web if we just post a PDF and call it an electronic article; the costs are too high, because librarians serve as vendors for low supply, high demand content.
The real problem, though, is that we don't have a solution beyond expressing our legitimate frustration at this state of affairs. The everyday academic still is not likely to have any idea what an institutional repository is, but will know the top journals in their field. So, in essence, we are asking people to abandon what they know in order to take a great leap forward into the unknown. Most people won't take that leap. So we have to show, very clearly, an alternative that will allow researchers to continue to flourish. Just like Leonard with respect to stuff, librarians have to adopt a systems-thinking approach with respect to scholarship.
We can do it.