It occurs to me that I’m at a bit of a disadvantage in writing about libraries and archives in that I haven’t taken any library courses yet. That’s next year. In the mean time, I guess I’d better inform myself by watching educational videos.
I mentioned in comments a few days ago that I was hoping to get in a post about some basic differences between libraries and archives before things became really busy for me again. But it looks like that’s going to have to wait for another week or more as things are busy again.
In the meantime, you can watch Jon Stewart make fun of archiving in a way that suggests he thinks of it as a kind of librarianship. At least, I think you can watch it. Copyright prevents me from actually playing the clip below, but I’ve watched the episode on the website for the Canadian channel here that broadcasts the show and I’ve seen the clip described textually as the piece I think it is. Let me know if it is not, in fact, Jon Stewart talking about a job ad for an archivist working on the Grateful Dead collection.
Clearly, this page was designed by people who spend a lot of time thinking about authority control.
The moral of the story that the numbers tell once seemed straightforward: if there are fewer jobs for people with Ph.D.s, then universities should stop giving so many Ph.D.s—by making it harder to get into a Ph.D. program (reducing the number of entrants) or harder to get through (reducing the number of graduates). But this has not worked. Possibly the story has a different moral, which is that there should be a lot more Ph.D.s, and they should be much easier to get. The non-academic world would be enriched if more people in it had exposure to academic modes of thought, and had thereby acquired a little understanding of the issues that scare terms like “deconstruction” and “postmodernism” are attempts to deal with. And the academic world would be livelier if it conceived of its purpose as something larger and more various than professional reproduction—and also if it had to deal with students who were not so neurotically invested in the academic intellectual status quo. If Ph.D. programs were determinate in length—if getting a Ph.D. were like getting a law degree—then graduate education might acquire additional focus and efficiency. It might also attract more of the many students who, after completing college, yearn for deeper immersion in academic inquiry, but who cannot envision spending six years or more struggling through a graduate program and then finding themselves virtually disqualified for anything but a teaching career that they cannot count on having.
That’s a surprising conclusion, but I think Menand is on the right track here. Only he misses an alternative conclusion that his own analysis points towards:
Who teaches that? Not, mainly, English Ph.D.s. Mainly, ABDs—graduate students who have completed all but their dissertations. There is a sense in which the system is now designed to produce ABDs.
The system works well from the institutional point of view not when it is producing Ph.D.s, but when it is producing ABDs. It is mainly ABDs who run sections for lecture courses and often offer courses of their own.
Maybe he’s too much a product of his professional training and context to see it,* but it seems to me that rather than completely transform the Ph.D., it might be better to acknowledge that the ABD has become a sort of degree without a diploma and then formalize it and confer upon it a legitimate status. That is, make it a terminal degree between the M.A. and the Ph.D., and reward people who teach with an ABD (or whatever it would be called if no longer associated with a dissertation) with a decent salary, benefits, and a measure of job security. That’s a lot to ask, especially in today’s economic climate, but if ABD is going to become a degree with a diploma, it can’t be a degree in diploma only. As for time to degree, I admittedly don’t have any numbers on this, but it seems like it usually takes about the same time to get to ABD within the same discipline across institutions, with variation in time to Ph.D. mostly a function of variation in the length of the final dissertation phase. A formalized ABD degree would have to set its requirements to avoid reproducing that same disparity.
Meanwhile, the Ph. D. – which may still need reforms in other ways – would get to remain distinct as a Ph. D. And the M.A. could remain a shorter, still in-depth but not as in-depth degree. My experience, anyway – and I was in a bit of an unusual situation because in my program you got an M.A. through coursework, but there was no M.A. thesis or M.A. exams – was that I learned quite a lot between finishing the M.A. requirements and passing my oral exams, and that this learning was not just a matter of covering more content but involved learning new ways of thinking about both my field (history) and, for lack of a better phrase, my orientation towards the world. Maybe it’s not always like that. But even though I went on to the start of the dissertation after I finished my exams, I still felt like I’d completed something very real and distinct when I became ABD; that would not have been the case had I left the program earlier.
*Or maybe, as an ABD, I’m blinded by my own status and context.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes takes a look at copyright and file sharing, and blank cassettes, and blank video tapes, and blank paper:
It’s too bad they didn’t bring up probably the oldest and most common form of legal media sharing – libraries – but no worries, The Philadelphia Story covered that one decades ago.
Update: For anyone who doesn’t want to click on the link, here’s the video. You’ll have to manually go to the 6:49 mark; the link jumps there automatically but for some reason the embed code won’t let me do that.