Lorcan 5 min read

Update: my comments about the published literature below are about the library literature, a very specific set of journals and organizations. I am not trying to make any statement about the general value of the ‘published literature’ relative to blogs or other media.
We have lots of places to ‘publish’ positions, views, findings, …. Consider some options …
One. A little while ago, I wrote a couple of hundred words or so in a post to the discussion board on a Facebook group. Not a very active or large group. It took a while to prepare as I had to think about it, and the topic had been bubbling away under the surface for a while. A colleague read it and asked why I had not put it on my blog. I responded that it was probably a little more provocative than I would normally be here and also that it was specific to the experiences of various folks within that particular Facebook group. However, it does have a limited readership, and it does underline one of the widely discussed issues with Facebook: that it is a one-sided platform: what happens in Facebook stays in Facebook. However, I felt about it like I felt about posts to mailing lists or about blog posts in early days of the blog: it is for the moment.
Two. I write quite a bit on this blog. It has been an interesting experience. From a writing point of view I find it quite liberating. Over the years I have written quite a lot for the professional literature. However, I write slowly. For me, the main procedural difference here is twofold. The first is that entries never get long enough to
worry about structure. And the second is a continuing sense that that this is still a fugitive medium. This means that an entry can be dispatched relatively quickly. I did it for a year internally at OCLC before we decided to externalize it. So it has a strong focus on work topics, although latterly I notice that I have to resist using it to talk about a wider set of topics. It is good to have a place to ‘publish’ short pieces, to comment on what is going on, and to have stuff commented on. And I also find it a useful place to work through things, which makes me better prepared in (some 😉 discussions. The downside is that I have become something of a blog bore: increasingly I want to refer people to blog entries in conversation as it is somewhere to which a range of thoughts have been ‘externalized’.
It is also nice to see posts or concepts discussed here get into wider circulation. It is interesting to see blog entries being cited in the ‘literature’. Although it is very difficult to get a real sense of readership. That said, I do sometimes wonder about the opportunity cost of writing here in the context of a broader set of writing opportunities (or reading time, or whatever, …).
In this context, I was interested to read Andy Powell’s comments about Jakob Nielsen’s Write Articles, Not Blog Postings piece. Nielsen is talking about the effort/impact ratio. If you are going to spend effort, make sure it has impact. Andy’s response is that the blog works just fine. He goes on to compare the blog with the professional/scholarly literature.

Now, impact means different things to different people, but for me, as a non-researcher (i.e. as someone that doesn’t have to worry about impact factors and the RAE), writing something for a peer-reviewed journal that won’t see the light of day for another year or so doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m happy with the impact of this blog thank you very much. There are times when it does seem to make sense, to me, to write for something with a quicker turn-around – Ariadne for example – but I must admit that it isn’t 100% clear to me exactly when that makes sense and when it is sufficient to simply put something in the blog. [eFoundations: Write blog postings, not articles 🙂]

And thinking about impact, or influence, Dan Cohen urged his fellow professors to take up blogging some time ago: “A large blog audience is as good as a book or a seminal article. A good blog provides a platform to frame discussions on a topic and point to resources of value.”
I sometimes wonder about curation and about record, especially given the volume of material now ‘published’ here. It has gone beyond ‘just for the moment’. Much of what is in blogs is not worth holding onto, some is, as is shown by citation patterns. We don’t have good models here. There is a tension between the now (where the library literature and associated apparatus is difficult to access, to the extent, I suggest, that it is the new ‘gray’ literature, while the network literature is readily available) and the record (where we don’t have professional practices and services to ensure continued access for the ‘blog’ literature, while we do for the classical literature). And yes – we are seeing some closing of this gap. But slowly.
Three. However, I think we have a very dreary ‘published’ literature. We have a set of niche publications, many of little sustained interest. The literature is a citation farm for those involved in formal research activity, and in the US, a necessary career convenience for those librarians who work within the tenure system. I remember once sending an email to a university colleague asking had she a copy of an article. This was on the basis of a related article which I thought was very good. She responded bemusedly that I shouldn’t be reading this article, that it was just something churned out towards an application for tenure. There are certainly many interesting articles published, but I wonder about the system as a whole.
The state of the library literature is a big topic, one which I don’t propose to address here. A major issue is that much of it is cut off from the web, which reduces its impact inside and outside the library community. My own incentives to publish in the existing print literature are much reduced in recent years: why hide away something that has taken a lot of effort to produce in a journal with limited readership? And no traction outside the library community.
Since being at OCLC, I have encouraged my colleagues to publish more in the professional and scholarly literature. However, I have recently been involved in several discussions about where to offer something for publication without any really satisfactory outcome. D-Lib and Ariadne suffice for some types of material but not for all.
Now something like College & Research Libraries does land on a lot of desks; it would be nice if I could pass around URLs for articles published there. It seems to me that I see more references to Educause publications or to First Monday than I do to C&RL? How often do you see mentions of LRTS articles in discussions of metadata or knowledge organization outside the library community?
So, I am left with two thoughts:

  1. There is a growing gap between the positions that the library profession takes with respect to the literature more generally and the state of its own literature.
  2. What responsibility should libraries take, if any, to the curation of the ‘blog literature’. This is another area where the balance between institutional and network level response is interesting to think about.

References: See Walt’s recent ‘On the Literature‘ and Stu’s remarks on blog curation economics.
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