Library On/Library Off

Nicolibrarian explores the secret life of information

Posts Tagged ‘technology

Scholarly publishing: what would a do-over look like?

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There to here


In the January 2009 Atul Gawande wrote Getting There from Here, a piece in the New Yorker about health care reform. In it, he explored how “path-dependence,” in the social science sense, makes reform harder. Despite our most idealized visions of a health care system we could build, had we only a clean slate, what has happened in the past so tethers us down that it becomes hard to see how to get from here (a broken system) to there (that shiny utopian system). It seems so obvious and stupid sounding at first: “the past impacts the present,” but whenever I am frustrated with an old system, it does me good to remember Gawande’s analysis, and path dependence. I find this paradigm shockingly relevant in several areas – old friendships, website redesign, or pondering the craziness that is scholarly communication. There is value in envisioning an idealized new system; but once those ideal plans are drafted, one has to in some ways let go, step back, and try to think about how to get there from here.

In my current issues in collection development class, we were challenged to think about scholarly communication.  Let’s pretend we were unencumbered by history, and Universities and research was just starting up today: how would scholarly communication be changed?

Before I jump in to  the imaginarium, a brief bit about scholarly communication. I’ve written about it before, but it is a complex system with vagaries of all sorts, especially variable from discipline to discipline. If you happen to be an academic and feel so moved to tell us about how scholarly communication works in your part of the world, please leave a comment. (The comment link is at the top of this post, not the bottom.) I’d also like to acknowledge the 2007 Ithaka report University Publishing in the Digital Age by Laura Brown, Rebecca Griffiths and Matthew Rascoff, a far better written, researched, and more authoritative rendering than I can do here.

If scholarly communication were starting today, it would be able to take into account contemporary information communications technology, like blogs, wikis, open notebook science, social networking, and functionality like rating, commenting, and group editing (such as you  might find on a comment page in Wikipedia). Instead of print journals and their concomicant, long timelines from solicitation, through peer review, to publication, scholars could publish independently on blogs. In the prestige economy, however, there would likely still be a desire for editorial control and peer review. Processes could be managed entirely online: authors upoload content, editors review, publishing staff send electronic invitations to reviewers, reviewers remarks are saved and viewed by the original author who makes changes, publication happens online. This builds off today’s model of scholarly communication, only mediated by CMS or other publishing technology.

More interestingly, technology could enable different and transformed kinds of scholarly communication. The process of peer review could be opened up entirely, where “preprints” (which would need to be renamed, obviously) could be published and then articles both ranked and commented upon; author revisions could then be “finalized” and the process archived like a Wikipedia talk page (can you tell I like that example?). And yet this still doesn’t go far enough – what if technology was moved “upstream” in the scholarly process, where scholars were collaborating in wikis and other computer-supported collaborative environments? Would the concept of the journal article even continue to persist?

The practice of scholarly communication, were it to be built over, would have to take into account not only scholarly process but the tenure review processes that reward scholars, and what counts as “work,” and how those committees know that said “work” is valuable. And goodness, that’s enough right there to make anyone’s head spin…

What do you think? What would you change, imagine, or hope for if the world got one big “do over” when it comes to scholarly communication?

Written by nicolibrarian

May 6, 2010 at 7:42 am

Libraries without Walls

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I was reading tonight in About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, by Cooper, Reimann and Cronin about interaction design principles and patterns, and they quote (of all people), Antoine St. Exupery: “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Cooper, et al, are using it to support their notion that “one of the classic elements of good design is economy of form: using less to accomplish more.”

This struck a chord as I’ve been mulling over a conversation with a new friend about library school and the field of Library and Information Science (LIS), of which we are both students. She was voicing some discontent about whether the field of public librarianship needs a lot of the theory taught now in the MLIS programs in the U.S., when so little of it seems to be applicable to the actual practice of serving the wide array of public needs on desk in a traditional public library. I was mulling over my place in library school: while I have library experience, love the institution of the library, and would be happy to land in one, I’m primarily attending school to further my knowledge of the organization of information, information architecture, and information design. Needless to say, it’s hard to explain to my peers why I’m there, and even harder to explain to folks outside of the LIS community why library school, and what I hope to do.

The St. Exupery quote above made me realize that, far from fighting the information changes happening in my world, I love them. I like the change; I like the act of reduction, of boiling things down to their essence. I adore that now *everyone* has many capabilities to search and retrieve information, where once upon a time it was only librarians and a handful of other professional knowledge workers who could access information rapidly and across a wide variety of fields. And I realized that part of what I love about library school, this blog, and thinking/learning/studying information is that I like not that libraries are changing so drastically, but that in many ways, the walls have come down. We’re all living in a library – one without walls.

An example: Clay Shirky, a thinker of note, writes a lot about how technology and the Internet is changing the world. He writes about scale of technologies and economic shifts and, although neither he nor his critics might say this, I think he writes about the ideas the underpin LIS. In this post on Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing, Clay says:

“Travelocity doesn’t make everyone a travel agent. It undermines the value of being travel agent at all, by fixing the inefficiencies travel agents are paid to overcome one booking at a time. Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.”

Although I am an ardent supporters of libraries, a LIS graduate student, and I certainly recognize there are things libraries do beyond serve as a search engines, I can’t help but wonder if the paragraph could read – with apologies to Clay for the change:

The Internet doesn’t make everyone a librarian. It undermines the value of being a librarian at all, by fixing the inefficiencies librarians are paid to overcome finding things one at a time. Search engines fix the inefficiencies traditional information workers are paid to overcome, and in a world where information retrieval is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.

Inherent in my edits above are some blind spots: libraries and their staff also serve as collectors, selectors, marketers, conveners, institutions of democracy/social justice/equality. And information workers – broadly writ – are needed more now than ever to sift through information, analyze it, and make sense of it.

So what? I’m not sure yet. I love my field because, largely, I feel it is embracing the massive changes and blending of disciplines that are happening. I love the kind of people attracted to LIS for their diverse backgrounds, and I love the ideas I’m exposed to in school. So in the spirit of these thoughts, I’ve renamed my blog, and look forward to continuing to explore this library without walls with you.

Written by nicolibrarian

November 9, 2009 at 5:10 am