I’ve long been a believer in the power of blogs to drive and aggregate conversations at every level. Frivolous, for sure. But also serious and scholarly.
The rise of science blogs over the last few years has certainly demonstrated that. In librarianship as well, blogs are a powerful source of comment, theory and practical advice. I’ve always thought that the practical side of the library world was ripe to be the first field to truly leave journals behind and embrace blogging as a kind of replacement. It would be messy, sure, but it would be democratizing and re-invigorating.
The kinds of discussions we see in the best of the library blogosphere are as good as anything we see in the formal literature. In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a great example of one of the ways it could work, with Research Blogging or PLoS Blogs as an example of how meaningful aggregation or community could arise.
Impossible, you say?
Let’s see what Paul Krugman has to say about economics blogs:
Second, even for more academic research, the journals ceased being a means of communication a long time ago – more than 20 years ago for sure. New research would be unveiled in seminars, circulated as NBER Working Papers, long before anything showed up in a journal. Whole literatures could flourish, mature, and grow decadent before the first article got properly published – this happened to me with target zones back in the late 1980s, where my original 1988 working paper had spawned a large derivative literature by the time it actually got published. The journals have long served as tombstones, certifications for tenure committees, rather than a forum in which ideas get argued.
What the blogs have done, in a way, is open up that process. Twenty years ago it was possible and even normal to get research into circulation and have everyone talking about it without having gone through the refereeing process – but you had to be part of a certain circle, and basically had to have graduated from a prestigious department, to be part of that game. Now you can break in from anywhere; although there’s still at any given time a sort of magic circle that’s hard to get into, it’s less formal and less defined by where you sit or where you went to school.
As you can see, I think this is all positive. The econoblogosphere makes it a lot harder for economists to shout down other people by pulling rank — although some of them still try — but that’s a good thing.
For one thing that I have found really interesting about the turn to speculative realism is that is has clearly been fuelled by online communities which have turned above all to blogs as an important means of swapping material, revealing first thoughts, and making revisions. I doubt that the growth of speculative realism would have been so insistent without these communities scattered all over the world, or so rapid. Why?
First, they are a key preserve of particular communities like postgraduates and early career researchers, not least because so much activity can go on below the radar, so to speak, outside the attention of the kind of disciplinary policing that journals and other institutions tend to impose.
Fourth, they allow all manner of researchers to communicate with each other, establish reading groups and the like, often concerning intellectual alleyways which might prove of the greatest importance. There is real debate.
Fifth, new material reaches an audience much more rapidly than it would through the normal means of communication.
So did these blogs have an effect? I think that they did. In the case of speculative realism, they allowed the field to agglomerate more quickly than it otherwise would and to gain momentum faster than it otherwise would have…
Of course, the revolution won’t happen over night. And it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have a scholarly communications landscape that is only or even primarily populated by blogs.
But on the other hand, blogs are certainly a way that scholars can take back their scholarship and control how it is disseminated. As the great philosopher once said, it is time to #OccupyScholComm.