Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is Blogging Scholarly Communication?

One of the more dynamic dialogs I have had with my promotion and tenure committee has been over what constitutes scholarly communication. The purpose of the academic review process is to document a record of sustained excellence in librarianship and of quality scholarship and service that is nationally and/or internationally recognized and consistent with the mission of the libraries.

Our criteria documentation states:

Scholarship is the creation of new knowledge or organization of knowledge within a new framework or presentation. In the University Libraries, scholarship usually takes the form of a publication, but it can also be evidenced in other ways, e.g., exhibits, public performances, digital resources, papers at professional meetings, etc. Creative works not related to the candidate's responsibilities will be considered as supplemental evidence of contributions to the University and/or broader community. Scholarship should be consistent with the mission of the libraries.

Criteria for evaluation will include originality, breadth of dissemination, and impact on scholarship and/or practice in the candidate's field of research. Particularly important are works that have been reviewed by peers as worthy of merit. Generally speaking, examples of scholarship which have been reviewed by peers before publication or dissemination, have higher value as evidence of the quality of scholarship than those which have not.

In doing research on blog carnivals I came across an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Henry Farrell entitled The Blogosphere As A Carnival of Ideas. The title is what caught my attention, but the content of the article has nothing to do with the carnival concept.

What Farrell discusses is how blogs have invigorated scholarly exchange within and across many academic fields. Blogs have enabled academics to connect with a larger general readership for their insight and expertise. Blogs also allow for a more relaxed discourse. (One of the concerns that has been expressed to me by the P&T committee is my conversational writing style, which is perfect for a blog...) While there are issues relating to preserving the historical record of our profession's communication, this is a technology issue and not a part of this discussion.

Blogging does have a real intellectual value. It meets the goal of scholarship and service that leads to national and/or international recognition that at the heart of the promotion and tenure process and is consistent with the mission of most academic organizations. However, blogging is not conventional academic writing. It does not fill the requirement that a publication be reviewed by peers before publication or dissemination.

I do appreciate the intent and purpose of the blind review process. In many professions the validation of research is a life and death situation. In library science what is the purpose? Is it to simply make sure submissions are within the scope of the journal? It is purely for editorial consistency? Or is the reason we pre-review is to identify those communications which are significant contributions to the profession?

The real time nature of blogging allows me to get my ideas out faster, and receive feedback faster. I am able to clarify my ideas based on often very critical comments. A print article pre-reviewed by three people may be cited over time or a blog posting that receives a dozen immediate comments and spawns a real time critical discourse on the challenges libraries are facing today, not a year ago. Which communication method is more valuable to the advancing the library as a profession?

Additionally, some of my electronic scholarly communication is more significant than if I were to hardcode my developing ideas on paper and submit them to a journal in which a handful of people may read before it may be published. It is also not uncommon for a print journal to take over a year to publish a paper. This is way too long for anyone who writes about technology issues.E-journals have shortened that turnaround time but still do not carry the same impact factor as print.

This blog isn't a site that I'll comment about the theory I support regarding the number combination that keeps reappearing on Lost. It's an integral part of my scholarly identity. It allows me to meet the criteria of originality, breadth of dissemination, and impact on scholarship and/or practice in my field of research that are required for academic promotion.

It is a mistake for promotion and tenure committees and academics in general to dismiss blogging altogether. In fact, some part of the blog concept may very well be the future of scholarly communication. Still, any junior faculty member that wants to get tenure should be careful that blogging does not eat up time that could be devoted to working on articles or a book. Sphere: Related Content

No comments: