Building Scholarly Networks

I meant to get this posted right after I got back from NOLA, but you know how things can go.

While at the CCCC I saw an interesting panel, "Digital Research Ecologies: How Journal Web Sites Are
Answering New Media’s Challenges," with Derek Mueller, Douglas Eyman, Colleen Reilly, Bradley Dilger, and Collin Brooke. The central issue was information design/management both internally to a journal and among journals (and the rest of the academic infoscape).

It comes down to this. Think of a combined "Google-Amazon" where you get information harvested from across the web with the user experiences of Amazon. Now imagine this for rhetoric and composition: every journal article, book essay, monograph, conference paper, webtext, blog, syllabus, podcast, etc. Obviously "every" is a kind of idealized notion, and even if you could hypothetically have "every" piece of content, the important, functional issue would always be what you could find.

But in any case, if that’s a kind of vision, what are the practical possibilities?

As was articulated on the panel, one might think of four angles or roles: authors, editors, users, and automated processes. Authors and editors can contribute metadata as pre-filters. This would include bibliographic information along with keywords, abstracts, works cited, and so on. The idea would be to build this upon existing standards like Dublin Core, as Bradley mentioned. (Btw, if I sound even remotely knowledgeable about these things, it’s only b/c I was at this panel!) I call these pre-filters as I imagine they would precede publication, though they could certainly be updated.

Then you have post-filters from users who could tag, comment, trackback, link, and so on. Here there was discussion of facilitating user experience including applications like delicious and zotero.

All of these practices are hypothetically separate from the "debates" around web-based journals and open access journals. That is, any journal or publisher that maintained at least an online database of their works could participate. Of course there is a fundamental value here that sharing information is a good thing. We might like to think that information-sharing is intrinsic to academic work, especially academic work that is publicly funded. However we also place many restrictions on publishing, like peer review, and I imagine there are still academics who try to keep their work secret until it is ready for any number of semi-paranoid reasons. I’m not going to say we shouldn’t do these things, but we need to recognize that the discipline works by controlling the production and distribution of disciplinary knowledge.

Any individual initiative, like the one discussed at the conference, might succeed or fail for any number of reasons: the people involved, getting the word out, getting funding, etc. CCC Online works as a kind of "proof of concept," or at least as the starting of one. Overall, however, the construction of scholarly networks of accessible journals is more likely to succeed or fail based on their market viability rather than on any principled/ethical argument. That said, part of the market appeal is resonating with the values of scholars.

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