Post It

Janneke Adema, Kaja Marczewska

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Attached to this issue of Convolution are four tear-out postcards, printed on the back flap of the cover. These have been designed to evoke the now largely forgotten medium of Reprint Request Cards. Today made obsolescent by the ease of PDFs downloaded directly from journals, databases, or perhaps torrented and accessed via so-called shadow libraries, Reprint Request Cards once constituted an important tool among communities of readers and writers and served as means of obtaining copies of publications directly from their authors. Although most prominent among scholars in the (social) sciences, due to the historical centrality of journals in scientific publication, Reprint Request Cards speak poignantly to the nature of contemporary publishing and draw attention to the changes brought about by the turn to reading online, irrespective of the disciplinary context.

    Reprint Requests, Leung, Robson, and Siu note, “begun as a matter of courtesy within a small group of scholars” and by the early 1920s became an established and common method of accessing and circulating publications within the scientific community. The mechanism of obtaining a reprint was simple: having identified an article of interest, a reader mailed the author a card requesting it and, a few weeks later, received a printed copy of the publication in the post. While a reprint could have been requested via a regular letter, libraries, publishers, or indexing services, such as The Institute for Scientific Information, provided standardized Reprint Request Cards as well as indexes of authors’ addresses. This made the process of requesting publications easy and, perhaps most importantly, encouraged an active community of readers and writers to emerge. A drive for engaged readership informed the practice of sharing publications in response to Reprint Request: “I remember the delight of receiving hundreds of reprint requests,” writes Steven Willey, “for individual papers that I fought long and hard with reviewers to get published.”

    Motivated by a similar desire, we provide here a set of four Reprint Request Cards for readers to use themselves or pass onto family, friends and colleagues. We invite the Convolution community to post a card to us and to receive in response an essay in which we take on the form of Reprint Request to explore in more depth questions so central to any attempt at writing, reading, and publishing, i.e. questions of circulation, distribution and access and, in particular, their challenges today with respect to experimental forms of writing and publishing. We look at Reprint Request Cards as characteristic forms of expression in their own right, which draw attention to the significance of the ways in which we encounter writing. But we also set this exercise in motion as an experiment in thinking about modes of community building that an act of publishing makes possible outside of the immediate contexts of today’s online sociability, which we have grown to take for granted.

    We hope that turning to Reprint Request Cards will reintroduce to those who choose to post them the pleasure of the postcard – of sticking a stamp, of dropping it into a letter box – so rare today. Our cards, while reproducing the format of the traditional Reprint Requests, also disrupt it. They are designed to invite our prospective readers to introduce themselves to us by filling in the blank side of the card, playfully exploring the form of the postcard and the processes of reading and writing which these cards are to initiate. As the cards arrive, we hope both to forge new connections between our text and its readers and to get to know the unique community that Convolution brings together.
    Alexander K.C. Leung, “Responses to Reprint Requests: Form Letters Versus Preprinted Cards,” Journal of National Medical Association, 83.3 (1991): 249.
    Steven Wiley, ‘Bring Back Reprint Requests’, The Scientist, September 1, 2009,
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • Reprint Request Cards
    • Publishing
    • Post-digital
    • Post cards
    • Scholarly communication

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Library and Information Sciences
    • History and Philosophy of Science
    • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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