The Next Step for the MLA Job List

(I probably don’t have time to fully develop this point, but here goes …)

It should come as no secret to people that I am an advocate of open access, that was, after all, the focus of my talk at Computers in Writing, and a frequent subject on this blog. Indeed many have accused me of being militant about open access, a moniker I’ll gladly wear. Not to get to far off topic here, but I think this is one of the defining issues of our time, the ability to which we recognize knowledge rights as human rights, and resist the current trend to comodifying and restricting knowledge access.

Which brings me to the article in The Chronicle, covering my previous post, and MLAJobleaks. Which has kicked off more discussion about the Job Information List (JIL), especially on Twitter.

Let me be clear, once again, I like the MLA and as many have pointed out the last five years the MLA has made many positive steps towards recognizing the changes the digital both affords and demands of institutions like the MLA. But let’s consider the long game here, 10 years from now what is the future of the JIL, I am going to predict one of two things. Either the JIL is open (as in really open not pseudo occasionally pdf open, but the database is just free for anyone to look at) or the JIL disappears. Why disappears? Because other options that are free (to access) and present the information in a more useable format are going to replace it. I can even imagine a whole new multi-disciplinary job list separate from The Chronicle, InsideHigher Ed, or Higher Ed Jobs popping up. There is probably even a way something like Interfolio could host one of these that would put all the others out of business …

So, knowing this the real question is what is the future of the list. That is how does the MLA avoid being obsolesced in this transition. And here’s the thing, I think the people at the MLA know this, know that transition is coming and they have to do something about it. But they are caught, as the article points out, in a rather difficult position, where the organizations revenue stream is tied to this obsolete business model. They have to transition, but doing so is difficult. The question then becomes how to do this. And again Rosemary knows this when on Twitter she pleads for patience.

But you see this isn’t just about the future, rather it is also about the present. It’s easy perhaps for me to have patience, I have a tenure track job, I am not on the market. But the people who are currently on the market don’t have that luxury. Saying change is coming, is nice, but that doesn’t help the people who need it now. So the question becomes two fold 1. How to transition effectively. 2. How to do so in a way that implements stop gap measures in the meantime. For what it is worth and so I don’t seem like someone who is just needlessly critiquing, here are some suggestions (recognizing that I don’t have all the information and nuances of how the JIL operates internally at the MLA and who gets to make those decisions).

  1. Start by being honest, recognize that the list is currently not open, and that there are people who do not have access. Claiming it is open is just open washing. Explain that the reason it is closed is a business decision and that the MLA is committed to in the future making a correction to this and making it open.

  2. Provide a time line. Be concrete, give people a sense of how long till the list will actually be open. One Year? Two Years? Saying that it will be open in the future doesn’t help.

  3. Provide a stop gap measure for those who currently don’t have access. On the login screen and on the about JIL page, prominently display the above information, along with the ability to get access if you currently do not. For example, let users without access fill out a form with name, email, institutional affiliation, and request access. Have those requests moderated and approved. Giving everyone access to the database within 24 hours of request. This doubles as providing info to the MLA about the people who currently don’t have access. Provide the above info on this page, and this page. And doing a press release about this would help as well.