Monday, August 04, 2008

Will Librarians Embrace Knol? Chances are....

...we will not. At least initially.

To play with Knol, I created my first document, a repurposing of my five part SOA blog series from last year. I could have created one very long blog post but decided to break it into more digestible chunks. The reformatted Knol version pulled it all together and it seems to works as a longer document. I will likely be questioned by faculty colleagues wondering why I didn't publish publish it in a traditional peer reviewed journal. This is part of the point of this post.

I spent some time reading Richard Akerman's posts about Google's Knol. Much of the criticism he provides, such as search and discovery, are well founded. I do wonder if we have grown to expect only great things from Google and are increasingly disappointed / critical when they do not immediately deliver. (can you say Gphone?) All the current shortcomings of the Knol aside, two of Richard's comments interested me:

"...a total lack of understanding of the current state of scholarly blogging..."

"If you want to make Knol a system for presenting authoritative information, you might want to look at how scholars do it in modern web-enabled scientific articles"

Google is not the only group that may not understand the current state. We only have to look in the mirror (well, not any of you. You ARE here reading this).

I have posted my perspective on the value of blogging as scholarly communication. I am a tenure track faculty librarian and the incoming Chair of our Promotion and Tenure Committee. When talking with our faculty about "scholarly blogging" it still amazes me that is how many librarians simply do not see how blogging is shaping our professional communications. I'll speculate that a majority of topics presented at conferences and eventually land up in print literature started with a half-baked idea on a blog. Certainly, blogs are the major source of topics at the various library BarCamps.

Librarians think of themselves as being on top of emerging technologies and using them to provide our customers with the best services possible. Yet, the communications methods that we use to share our ideas, our knowledge, are still grounded in the middle ages. A growing amount of content making its way into our traditional literature is so 'old' that it is no longer interesting. This may be the single reason why our traditional published literature has become so dreary.

I am sure many of our professors could wax poetically about why Knol and blogging do not merit consideration as scholarly communications. They will talk about the lack of pre-publication peer-review and authority. Chances are they would be evaluating Knol without ever using it. Their perspectives would be no different than the critic that trashes a movie before seeing it. A major breakthrough moment would be if I would get the response "I read over the blog posts about Knol the other day..."

So, while Knol has issues, it is the potential of this type of publishing I feel can help to revitalize the state of our professional communication. Tools such as blogs and Knol can let us toss out those half-baked ideas. The reviews and comments enables the author to build out newer/better/more thought out versions of the content. This is in contrast to a blog post which is generally stuck in time - much like the majority of our professional communications. Sphere: Related Content


Karen said...

How is a knol different than a Wikipedia article?

Also, I agree with a need for an updated review system for P&T that takes into account new interactive modes of publication. Have you drafted a model of how that might work? Is a knol the same thing as an article? Is there a way to track impact?

Eric Schnell said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Karen.

A wikipedia entry can be built by many unidentified individuals. A Knol can be a collaborative effort but the author(s) are clearly identified.

One could build impact by having a Knol referenced in another Knol, a blog post, having authoritative sites link to it, have it listed as reading material in coursework, or referenced in presentations.

The cultural and political forces in P&T committees are very strong. An open dialog is needed. The dialog has to include the adoption of a more flexible definition of what is scholarship (see: ) and how the criteria used for P&T needs to evolve to reflect the changing face of the profession.