This week marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Scholarly Kitchen. Wow, time flies, and it’s been a rewarding journey from Kent Anderson’s initial experiment to becoming a cornerstone of the industry (9.5M pageviews, coming up on 70K comments). Any credit for this is due, of course, to the very smart people we’ve been privileged to have writing in this space for the last decade. As their Editor, I can honestly say that I learn something new from the Chefs every week.
An anniversary is always a good occasion for some navel-gazing, so I want to take a brief look back at how the Kitchen has evolved to its current state, and offer some thoughts on where I’d like to see it go in the future. Your thoughts appreciated in the comments below as always.
I joined the Kitchen in April of 2009, at Kent’s invitation. I was already blogging as the Editor in Chief of a biology methods journal and had found myself filling up what should have been a science blog with posts about publishing, as I continued my evolution from researcher to editor to publisher. I was the sixth “Chef” blogger (the seventh if you count Stewart Wills, who offered up “side dishes” through an intriguing new medium, Twitter). By that time, the “serials crisis” and the fire and fury of open access (OA) advocates had most publishers doing everything they could to keep a low profile. The Scholarly Kitchen ran counter to that notion, and created a space where publishers could voice opinions and talk about just what it is that we do, and why it’s of value.
Let’s get to that elephant in the room right away — Is The Scholarly Kitchen anti-open access? Of course not, The Scholarly Kitchen isn’t pro- or anti- anything. There is no singular Scholarly Kitchen viewpoint on any subject. We are a collective of individual bloggers, each writing their own thoughts about whatever subject interests them.
In its early days, The Scholarly Kitchen was indeed a rare place, daring to offer critical analysis of the OA movement and the methodologies chosen. Many of those early critiques have proven prescient, whether questioning the promise that OA would result in massive cost savings, to showing an early glimpse of the administrative nightmare that managing OA funds would become for libraries. The Scholarly Kitchen was the first to expose a predatory OA publisher with the submission and acceptance of a nonsense paper. And to be fair, sometimes we’ve been wrong, but that’s a risk that comes with being willing to voice an opinion and provide speculative analysis, no matter how well-reasoned and researched.
Before OA became a mainstreamed part of the way that we do business, it was very much a fiery protest movement, with very clear lines drawn — you were either an enthusiastic supporter of all things OA, or you were declared an enemy, no nuance permitted. Rather than embrace the debate, it became easier to label The Scholarly Kitchen as “anti-open access” and accuse us our all-volunteer bloggers of being paid shills for the large commercial publishing houses. With the rise of character-limited social media and filter bubbles, these ad hominem attacks offer an easy escape from confronting difficult truths. Advocates have gone behind our backs to the SSP, demanding they silence our bloggers. One of our authors was told that he was not allowed to publicly discuss potential negative impacts of OA.
For the record, in the ten year history of The Scholarly Kitchen, a total of two of our 29 Chefs were actively employed by a commercial publishing house while blogging (and neither wrote a single post about OA during that time). Our current roster remains strikingly non-commercial (two librarians, six independent consultants, six employees of not-for-profit organizations, six not-for-profit/society/university press publishers, and three vendors). In an era where OA has been fully embraced as a profit center by the biggest commercial publishers, some still cling to the notion that these for-profit entities are secretly funding our bloggers in a self-defeating attempt to stop their own commercial success. And yes, we do regularly receive complaints (usually through private channels) from commercial publishers about how they’re being portrayed as well.
Perhaps all you need to know is that when PLOS needed to hire a new CEO, the fact that their eventual hire was a Scholarly Kitchen blogger didn’t deter them (and we’re thrilled that she continues to write for us, adding to the diversity of viewpoints we can offer).*
Expanding our diversity in all ways has been a goal for me since I became the blog’s Executive Editor in June of 2013. We’ve grown from 14 bloggers to 23. Our gender balance has greatly improved, from an 11:3 male:female ratio to our current 12:11. We’ve always been a bit too STM-heavy, so I’ve tried to bring in more voices from the Social Sciences and Humanities (but, as with voices from book publishers, we could use more). Our newest blogger, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, has hit the ground running, giving voice to the concerns of libraries and researchers in an increasingly commercial environment.
Racial and geographic diversity remain struggles. The Scholarly Kitchen in many ways reflects the scholarly communications community, which is predominantly white and western. Recruiting new bloggers is never easy. Only a small portion of the general population seems to enjoy blogging. We need authors that write well and that have the time and inclination to do so frequently. Perhaps more importantly, we look for bloggers with something interesting to say, and a willingness to take the risk of voicing a public opinion (see above). Those who face career disadvantages due to bias are more vulnerable than those in a position of privilege, which so far has made many hesitant to write in this space. We continue to try to recruit new voices and Siân Harris from INASP has joined us to help build a bridge to scholars and publishers throughout the globe.
For those that can’t make the commitment to regular writing, we love guest posts. If you have something to say, please drop us a line at email@example.com and let’s work on a post. Be prepared to back up your opinions with research and data, and please, no flagrant plugs for your company’s products or services. We plan to revive our popular podcasts in the near future, but given the all-volunteer nature of The Scholarly Kitchen, these can be time-consuming to produce. If you have experience in podcasting, your suggestions on how to streamline the process would be appreciated.
And so, five years after the death of blogs was proclaimed, The Scholarly Kitchen continues to grow, both in participation and audience. Despite information being divided and sub-divided into smaller and smaller portions, there remains something valuable in longform writing. Some ideas take more than 280 characters to explain. The Scholarly Kitchen has also remained a place where commenting is still valued and still works. While newspapers and magazine increasingly bury their comment sections or are abandoning them entirely (and with good reason in many cases), our audience remains willing to engage, and in thoughtful and helpful ways. I learn something from the comments on most posts, so I’d like to thank our commenters as much as our authors for my continuing education.
But we don’t want The Scholarly Kitchen to stagnate, so soon we’ll be reaching out to our readers for feedback and thoughts on how we can improve (more on that later this week). And please join us in Chicago for the 40th anniversary celebrations for the SSP. Milestones and champagne toasts are always fun, but there’s still work to be done. Now, time to start tracking down next week’s posts…
*updated to make it clear that blogging here wasn’t a key criterion for this particular hire, just that it wasn’t a disqualifier.