Lately I’ve been considering potential scholarly uses of the social pinboard site Pinterest. Scholars are active on other social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and; why not add Pinterest to the list? As a tool, it has the potential to afford several useful practices for academics.

Pinterest is an online bulletin board of sorts, and allows users to collect links and images from across the internet and share them with others. Academics are pretty good at collecting things–bibliographies are pretty much our business.

As an experiment, I created a couple of boards to represent various bibliographic efforts in my academic life: my rhetoric exam list, my course reading list for my final graduate seminar (Composing in the Cloud), general writing studies lists. However, as I began pinning links to the board, I came across a problem that I had sort of anticipated.

silo journals 2


Most of the highly respected journals in my field (like in many other academic fields) require subscriptions for access. Typically, for me, this isn’t a problem; the libraries at the University of Minnesota (where I’m currently studying) have subscriptions to thousands (millions? hundreds?) of journals. I can pin these articles to Pinterest, either for my own convenience or in order to share it with my followers, but users clicking on the pin might get the page above instead of the article they were hoping to read.

Why is this an issue? This is not the proper post in which to debate open vs. closed access in its entirety. I am not well-versed enough in the issues involved to do the debate justice here. However, for the purposes of my project (finding potential scholarly uses of Pinterest), it is an issue. A large part of academia is built upon referencing, synthesizing, challenging, and uptaking other scholars’ arguments. If Pinterest cannot allow scholars to do that, then maybe it’s not the right tool for scholars to use. After all, there are other ways for scholars to share articles with colleagues; there are other ways in which scholars can build and advance arguments. Why do we need Pinterest?

Maybe we don’t. But maybe we do.  A large part of academic work takes place in public institutions, which are built upon ideals of service to community. But much scholarly work ends up remaining siloed in the ivory tower. Pinterest (and other social media sites) could be a way to climb down from that tower and share our work with those we are supposed to be serving.

rapunzel coming down from tower

Fortunately, many fields are recognizing that academic silos can inhibit good scholarship and service. Open Access journals are becoming more bountiful and more respected, and they are certainly more “pinnable” than closed access journals. OA journals won’t solve the problem of academic siloing, but they are a step in the right direction, especially for scholars wanting to use Pinterest.


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