A few years ago the University of Oslo used to print its own telephone book. Some professors didn’t like that everyone could find them so easily, so they demanded to not be listed in the book. The campus is a pretty big place, and without a telephone number and address it could be really hard to find these people. Hence, they could go on with their research undisturbed. Nice!
The anecdote comes to mind as I’m searching for relevant literature for Project Undercurrent, which is now going into a more active phase. So how do you find the most interesting and relevant texts – articles, books, blog posts, texts of any type that might be of interest – about blogging/personal publishing and its relationship with journalism? I know the old, hard way – try to identify the seminal works in the field, check the authors’ sources, find new must-reads there (a process described by University of Chicago sociologist Andrew Abbott as an ape swinging through the trees. Via Daniel Drezner). There’s also the requirement to locate and read what your local scholars have been doing on the subject (even if you end up not being overimpressed by them, you should at least know their work). I am dutifully doing these things, and have indeed found interesting recent writings on journalism, for example work done for the Norwegian Power and Democracy research project.
There is however a structural problem with this established system of knowledge distribution. The web has something to do with it, and with the web, Google. With Google Scholar you suddenly have a very tempting possibility to bypass the old system, or swing through the trees at supersonic speed, if you like. The results you’ll get aren’t good enough yet, or should I say complete enough, but I still believe many people searching for thoughts and inspiration on a subject, at least those not about to write doctoral theses, will start with Google Scholar, or even the regular Google. Being visible there will then tremendously increase a scholar’s real impact factor, if not her academia-sanctioned impact, especially if the article/paper is immediately available in full text.
Cue the ongoing debates about the availability of research literature. The Open Access movement is gaining momentum worldwide, and the visibility effect of Google Scholar will only accelerate the process. It won’t be fun not to be found – hiding from the telephone book may have worked for some, the punishment for hiding from Google will be more severe. It took me much less time to find the fine Into the Blogosphere collection of articles than I had to spend to locate the University of Oslo’s Media Department project Participation and Play in Converging Media (where a blog was created in 2003, but has never been updated). The University of Minnesota is on another continent, the University of Oslo next door, but invisible.
A media studies classic from the 80’s is called “No Sense of Place”. The title was even better than the author could have imagined.