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Gunseli Bayraktutan

Where academics fish in: Electronic databases as academic aquaria

My study basically aims to show the unequal relations and mechanisms of exploitations on the structures created by information technologies in the case of academia. We live in an age, almost all of us do have "password"s. To live in a global village where "consumption" is the slogan and requisite of existance I refer the word aquaria instead of village for the case of academia, because I think the general aggreement about free market in the village for a consumption does not exist in the academia. Researchers are fed with the information which they do not choose, on the contrary they/we are given. 

Almost all of us in the academia do have "ID number”s, "password"s and “login name”s besides the degrees we have obtained. In this information era a simple library ID card is not enough to consume or for relations regarding this issue. With these kind of new ID’s we are all included to a network.

Binark, in her study titled "Ideological Role of the Information Technologies" briefly discusses the contribution of Frankfurt School to the criticisms of information society which frames also my study here. Global capitalist interests in the development of information technologies and their widespread usages; the role of nation states and their neo-liberal policies, the new control and panapticon society which bases on these information technologies; the changes and divisions occur in labour both in the sense of expertization and also in deskilling; new inequalities in the sense of using or owning information; "information rich"s and "information poor"s; commodification and privatization of information are the key concepts and facts framing my study and summarizing the way of my looking to the issue. 

In “The Mcdonaldization of Society, An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life” Ritzer investigates major dimensions of Mcdonaldization. One of them is the “Calculability”. “McDonaldization emphasizes the things which are calculatible, countable, quantable. In fact, quantity (especially in big terms) tends to take place of quality.” (Ritzer, 1998: 100). Also, calculability is valid in higher education in terms of classes, points, ratings and rankings in academia. So, Ritzer criticizes the system in the academia which are used for the promotion. He argues that with this promotion system quality decreases while quantity rises in the field of research. 

When we look at the history we can easily observe that there were always various types of information. It has always had a value. However, in the era we live, whom many people label as information era, it becomes the most valuable commodity. There are many negative effects and disadvantageous positions these kind of commodification causes. Knowledge, information are common goods which should belong to everyone. Especially scientific practices and communities should promote openness. However, as mentioned above certain ideological attitudes and formations, economical regulations does result in the hegemony of the market criterias in every field of the society.

Electronic databases, e-journals, e-books and any other internet based resources are the very best examples of the information packages that are sold in very high prices. In daily life, in our office computers we are connecting to the systems and databases and making the literature search via these new tools. The creation of these new tools, how they have been born and the formation of them are still rise questions which are very important. The mechanisms of the selection criterias, the ideological role that they fullfil in the academia, the ranking of social sicences, the rating mechanisms and the language problem are important issues which should be discussed. 

The ongoing practices in Ankara would give us an idea about the existing situation in Turkey. There are nearly 15 universities in Ankara which have libraries with large collections. Besides these libraries there are also many research libraries for example, library of Turkish Council of Higher Education. In the second half of the 1990’s these libraries or research centers attracted the interest of the many publishing companies, in other words the Turkish market is discovered by the publishers and vendors. Firstly, the companies allow the libraries to use electronic formats besides the print versions, later on they demand money for the extra usage. They sell their products, -information packages- to the library managers and university executives in unfair conditions, for example they do licence aggreements which does not not protect the customers. Last years, the university heads (rectors and responsible people – library directors) in Ankara come together and form consortia’s for buying certain databases. Single university cannot afford a database economically, so they need to come together and work in cooperation. At the end of these kind of cooperations people become more aware of the rules and regulations of the market and behave consciously. The instutions like universities and research centers do also try to form a databases open for every user. Of course, to be a user people do must have certain criterias and conditions, like having an internet conntection. However, there are slightly poor activities and events which can be called as reactionary and does have an protest nature. For example, there are not any initiatives regarding the support of the university presses. 

Consequently, this study aims to show the most evident example of the commodification of information via electronic resources that are used in the universities, in research centers and etc. Of course, while showing the case many discussion points like hegemony of the transnational companies in the field, and the ideological role of these databases and negative consequences of selling information as a property will be discussed. 


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