Monday, October 29, 2007

More on Blogging as Scholarly Communication

As the vice-chair (will chair next year) of our University Library's promotion and tenure committee, I have been gathering up evidence to use in a discussion about blogging as scholarly communication. This will be a very interesting challenge since we have a very traditional culture. While it will be a long, uphill effort I still feel strongly that the topic needs to be brought to the table.

A couple items I have come upon in building my argument includes an April post on Peter Suber's Open Access News blog regarding scholarly communication and blogging. Peter is an independent policy strategist for open access to scientific and scholarly research literature, is a Senior Researcher at SPARC and the Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge. Based on his blog experience:
  • The process is much faster. A few hours to a few days to create a post, then a few hours of intensive review, then a day or two in which the importance of the reviewed work becomes evident as other blogs link to it. Stuart's comment came 9 hours into a process that accumulated 217 comments in 30 hours. Contrast this with the ponderous pace of traditional academic communication.
  • The process is much more transparent. The entire history of the review is visible to everyone, in a citable and searchable form. Contrast this with the confidentiality-laden process of traditional scholarship.
  • Priority is obvious. All contributions are time-stamped, so disputes can be resolved objectively and quickly....
  • The process is meritocratic. Participation is open to all, not restricted to those chosen by mysterious processes that hide agendas. Participants may or may not be pseudonymous but their credibility is based on the visible record. Participants put their reputation on the line every time they post. The credibility of the whole blog depends on the credibility and frequency of other blogs linking to it - in other words the same measures applied to traditional journals, but in real time with transparency.
  • Equally, the process is error-tolerant....Because the penalty for error is lower, participants can afford to take more creative risk.
  • The process is both cooperative and competitive....
  • Review can be both broad and deep. Staniford says "The ability for anyone in the world, with who knows what skill set and knowledge base, to suddenly show up ... is just an amazing thing". And the review is about the written text, not about the formal credentials of the reviewers.
  • Good reviewing is visibly rewarded. Participants make their reputations not just by posting, but by commenting on posts. Its as easy to assess the quality of a participant reviews as to assess their authorship; both are visible in the public record.

    More recently, Kevin Smith at Duke details how two scholars have recently undertaken to write major pieces of scholarship about scholarly communications issues in blog form. He writes:

    "Not only are these two projects interesting because of their topics, they also represent important experiments in the kind of collaborative scholarship that the digital environment makes possible."

    Somehow it just makes some sense that librarians should be leading the way in recognizing the role that blogging plays in moving our profession forward. Having P&T committees that see and place some value on blogging is as good of a place as any to start. Sphere: Related Content


    Isabelle Fetherston said...

    I completely agree with all of Peter Suber’s points. As a former scientist, I have a lot of experience with the formal peer review process. I think that the most important benefits to blogging as a means of scholarly communication are the transparency and that the process is meritocratic. It is especially useful if the blog author provides access to his data. That way, his statistics and conclusions can be tested by anyone. The study can be evaluated fairly and any criticisms (listed in the comments) can also be evaluated – based on their merit. As a result, the politics, personal relationships, and personal agendas which can be masked by the peer review process are no longer a factor. Of course, one of the greatest benefits of blogging scholarly communications is that the communications are free, convenient, and available to all. I think that it is great that you are “leading the way in recognizing the role that blogging plays in moving our profession forward.”

    Eric Schnell said...

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Isabelle....

    Talking Books Librarian said...

    I definitely think more librarians should blog - it's a great way to let patrons know about available and up-to-date resources. I am a librarian, and I blog... check out my Talking Books Librarian Blog at