Lag time

With apologies to any reader(s) who may have wondered, since my last post on 8/19, where I disappeared to . . .

The answer is—predictably enough—into work. The semester has indeed come around with its usual, happy busy-ness: planning and reading for classes, writing assignments and other course materials, responding to student drafts, meeting with colleagues and undergrads, and trying to get some research and writing done in between all that. I’m not complaining. Teaching is what I want to do—and I don’t feel over-worked, just reasonably busy and (I hope) productive.

But what that does seems to mean is that if I  want to read a book that’s not for a course I’m teaching, or see a movie or watch TV, or just spend some time with my wife or friends—well, that seems to take up the hour that I spent on writing a blog post in the summer.

I realize that may not be a blinding insight. But I am interested in how others manage those sorts of writing that lie on the edges of our professional lives: blogs, journals, listservs, all those connected-to-but-not-exactly-work email exchanges, and the like. My experience is that while  such writing is often rewarding and fun, it is also, like high-school art classes in a budget crisis, the first thing to go in a pinch. So if there’s anyone out there who is still reading this, I’d like to hear from you about how you do or don’t fit such writing into your intellectual life.

In the meantime, I do enjoy blogging enough to want to try to make it part of my life during the semester. So let me resume doing so by turning here to a related issue: lag time in scholarly publishing. This summer I came across a reference in a manuscript to a 2007 book on Labor, Writing Technologies, and the Shaping of Composition in the Academy, by Pamela Takoyoshi and Patricia Sullivan. It sounded like my sort of thing, so I found a copy in the Duke library, and discovered that the book collects essays from a conference held seven years before, at the University of Louisville in 2000. The lead essay is by Richard Miller, who frets (circa 1999) about the extra labor imposed on his Writing Program by the decision to—get this!—wire the entire campus of Rutgers University for digital access.

Miller actually has some smart things to say about how sweeping visions for educational change actually play out in departments and programs—as do many of the other contributors to the volume. But I can’t imagine him, one of our current gurus of the digital humanities, still worrying over the wisdom of providing online access to Rutgers students in 2007, much less 2010, and it’s thus hard to shake the feeling that this book, serious and thoughtful as it is, had already passed its sell-by date before it had ever been published—much less read, discussed, assigned in courses, or reviewed.

As academics, we tend to hope that our writing will have a long half-life on the shelves—which is a comforting thought, given that few us are first and foremost writers. We have other important work to do—and books, articles, and blogs can get deferred and delayed as a consequence. But I have to wonder: Might there not be a point when it really is just too late to enter a certain conversation?


Takoyoshi, Pamela, and Patricia Sullivan, eds. 2007. Labor, Writing Technologies, and the Shaping of Composition in the Academy. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.


About Joe Harris

I teach composition, creative nonfiction, and digital writing at the University of Delaware.
This entry was posted in Meta, Readings. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lag time

  1. Jonathan Dueck says:

    The lag time, it seems to me, might also point to a temporal problem with paper publishing and the kinds of peer review processes we typically use in the humanities (valuable though they are). In physics, on the other hand, since we see models like the arXiv “preprint” server, where writers submit their work for anyone in the field to benefit from and critique–crowdsourcing the peer review process since 1991. Some efforts like this are emerging in the humanities, but largely at the level of the article. I’m not aware of comparable efforts (besides selfpublishing) for books–are you?

  2. Joe Harris says:


    I think you get right to the core of the problem. While I remain a fan of the book, it is a painfully slow technology in a quick moving culture. I think we need to figure out ways of moving our scholarly conversations forward that are careful and considered, but not glacial.

    Thanks for your response,


  3. Trauman says:

    Jon and Joe, I’m curious about your associating publication lag time with paper-publishing. I agree that the physicality of printing certainly contributes to the delays about which you’re writing. But I’m not sure that going digital in lieu of paper would reduce the lag time. Having worked on several born-digital publications, both as author and editor, it’s been my impression that the “sending to the printer” component of the process usually comes at the end and involves a few extra weeks (or a few months, at most). Given the timelines you work out here, that doesn’t seem to be the primary cause of the delays, right?

    Do you think that these delays might be due more to the nature of the scholarly model of publication? Multiple peer-reviews, multiple revisions, and highly complex and variable labor models? I’m thinking graduate student and faculty who are often paid only in “experience” or “vitae capital.” And because of this sort of compensation, the turnover is high with a constant atmosphere of on-the-job learning. So much variation and turnover result in unpredictability and inefficiency. And the only way the academic publishing model has seemed to respond is to work with relatively long deadlines for different parts of the publication process in order to accommodate all of this unpredictability.

    These are the factors that I’ve always understood to be the driving force behind the extended deadlines for scholarly publication. And that’s why I’m not sure it’s a realistic expectation for digital publication to address this significant problem.

    One possible way to address this problem is through better systems of coordinating this complex system of labor and textual distribution. For instance, Kairos was just awarded a grant toward implementing an Open Journal System which has been developed to address these very problems. Instead of an editor serving as a clearinghouse for work associated with a publication where he/she receives work, processes it, and sends it back out to the appropriate people or entities, OJS works to automate those relationships in a way that allows editorial collaborators and co-workers to communicate and work together more directly. Not only does it speed up the process, but it reduces certain types of mundane tasks traditionally relegated editors-as-editorial-hubs.

    In this way, I could see digital publication models as a potentially effective response to the lag time associated with more traditional editorial models.

    (and it might even be a way of increasing the pace of print publication, too!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s