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Beyond the Academy

Catching up with Korey Jackson F'12, Gray Family Chair for Innovative Library Services, Oregon State University

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jackson_80x100Korey Jackson, a 2012 ACLS Public Fellow, was placed as an analyst at Anvil Academic Publishing for 2012-14. Here he describes how his new role promoting collaboration between an academic library and a university press "engages the same problem-solving dopamine receptors" that led him to pursue a humanities PhD.

ACLS: There were a number of placement opportunities available the year you applied. What drew you to the position with Anvil Academic Publishing? 

KJ: I had been working in academic publishing as a Council for Library Information and Resources (CLIR) postdoc at Michigan Publishing, just following my graduate work at the University of Michigan. It was this experience that led to my interest in the ACLS Public Fellowship at Anvil Academic. In many ways, the Anvil job felt like a perfect next move, building on my experiences at Michigan and applying them more directly to digital publishing and humanities scholarship. I also liked that Anvil was a new nonprofit in the strange realm of academic scholarly communication. There was a good deal of risk involved in joining an organization like this—the same kind of risk associated with any small start-up in a niche field—but it was equally energizing to be part of an experimental space that didn’t have a long legacy of “how things were done.” 

ACLS: Name three aspects of your doctoral studies—or skills that you learned there—that were most useful to your work as a Public Fellow.

KJ: While the position was pretty remote from my academic field interest (the history of 19th-century linguistics), the skills I’d acquired in graduate school were absolutely essential to the position. Here are the three I'd single out as the most important:

  • Research and writing skills: An obvious one perhaps, but the ability to gather and synthesize large amounts of data was central to my work at Anvil. I was responsible for putting together several detailed reports for general audiences and for our board of directors about topics ranging from publishing platforms to new modes of humanities scholarship and how Anvil was participating in this environment.
  • Conference presentation: I also presented frequently at conferences, so my earlier experiences as an instructor and a presenter at academic conferences directly influenced my capacity to succeed here. 
  • Event planning: While it doesn't seem like a key academic skill, my experiences as a grad student participating with conference planning and other committee work was integral to my position at Anvil. I helped to organize strategic planning retreats and directors meetings, and became the de facto MC at these events. 

ACLS: What do you feel was your biggest accomplishment while at Anvil?

KJ: Early on, Anvil was being framed as a development space for humanities scholars who wanted to engage with new digital forms of scholarly argument. This was a noble and, frankly, a lofty goal given the number of employees at Anvil (three) and our initial seed funding. With these limitations we had to rethink just what our strategic goals were, because we realized that we simply could not offer digital development services at scale. My biggest accomplishment, then, was helping Anvil to pivot away from the work of development and toward the goal of offering editorial and peer review of digital humanities projects. Honestly, it feels a little odd to claim strategic goal planning as a major accomplishment. It's not concrete, it's not something with a URL, it's not a piece of writing. But it was significant in that we could reset and reassert our priorities in a way that made sense to our constituents in libraries, presses, and academic departments.

ACLS: How did your work at Anvil prepare you for your new role at the OSU library?

KJ: I learned more at Anvil about the tools of the digital publishing trade than I would have learned in almost any other arena. I also made some lasting friendships in the small field of library publishing that led to my continued participation as a board of directors member for the Library Publishing Coalition. The universe of digital publishing within academic libraries is an extremely small one, so without Anvil as a steward I would never have had the opportunity to participate in this community on a national stage. That kind of wide-net exposure to the key figures and key conversations in a field has been tremendously important to whatever successes I've had at OSU.

ACLS: What is the most challenging part of your job?

KJ: My role at Oregon State University Libraries and Press, as the Gray Family Chair for Innovative Library Services, is to seek out and coordinate projects that enlist both the OSU Press and the library. Presses and libraries are not traditionally institutions that collaborate . . . or even complement each other (for a variety of reasons, the chief one being that university presses have traditionally funded their operations by selling the books they make, where academic libraries are cost centers whose aim is to make information as a widely and freely available as possible). Finding those projects that make sense to all constituents isn't easy. And looking for the carrots that motivate participation across this academic aisle has certainly been a challenge. But it also engages the same problem-solving dopamine receptors that got me interested in graduate study in the first place.

ACLS: What advice would you give to a humanities PhD who is interested in pursuing a career beyond the classroom? 

KJ: The first thing I'd say is this: I wanted (and still want) a career whose focus is making a positive difference in the world. The academic classroom can be a space where difference-making is possible. But it's certainly not the only one and, for me anyway, it was not even remotely the best one. It's easy to fall into the thought patterns of a particular institution—ideological habits of mind that end up dictating what constitutes success or what kinds of work will accrue symbolic capital. But these ideologies have very little to do with making a difference and, in fact, are often very conservative forces (inasmuch as they're usually more about institutional reproduction than anything else). That's all to say that moving beyond the tiny confines of the academic department was pretty liberating for me. At no point did I see my decision to leave the academy as a choice of "second best." Rather, I needed to move beyond the classroom in order to pursue a more meaningful professional life.

More practically I'd say to anyone who's considering a career outside of teaching or the tenure track to start thinking now about the kinds of differences you’d like to make . . . and the kinds of careers that might facilitate the impact you'd like to have. I'd suggest that applying for positions—or even mock-applying for positions—is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the rigors of that position. As humanities PhDs we've spent a lot of time digging into the esoterica of our particular subfield. This same operation can be applied to preparing a job application. It can also tell you where your résumé might be a little thin and where you might want to pick up particular skills.

 

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Beyond the Academy

This series highlights the diverse work of our fellows as they explore new directions for humanities scholarship. See the series.