Today I heard back from the library of the university at which I completed my PhD a year ago. Sadly, they are unable to offer me online, off-campus library privileges, even with Visiting Scholar status. Only current faculty, staff and students can access the online resources. It took the library two months and countless messages from myself and my former department’s Chair and Graduate Secretary to provide this information.
So if I want to access databases like the MLA, peruse online journals, or see what books are in the library system, I have to go physically to campus and work there, in a crowded public lab filled with undergraduates. That’s a bit of a drag when you’re trying to be an academic researcher in the 21st century, and want to check something on the MLA at 2 in the morning – or briefly at 3 in the afternoon, for that matter.
I don’t have an academic job right now. Like so many recent PhDs, I’m cobbling together what I can, teaching sessional, applying for jobs, looking for other options and yes, grateful for the work I do find. But moving forward is not easy when you’re not affiliated with a university. It’s much more difficult to research and write papers when you don’t have good, unlimited access to an academic library. Heck, the moment my card expired after my PhD I was back to borrowing status as a member of the public: 3-week loans on a regional library card, with no way of accessing interlibrary loans.
My former department has been very supportive, and they tried their best to help me. But university policies, and library policies, are very clear: they’re meant to exclude me the moment I graduate. In the current economic climate for PhDs – and the current employment climate generally, with its rise in sessional positions and cutbacks to full-time workers – universities should rethink their relationship to their alumni, and offer more institutional support to their PhD graduates. After all, the harder it is to publish, the easier it is for us to perish. Ultimately that makes them look bad too.