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Scholarly Communication and Paradigms

date: 2013-06-19 16:23

In the second chapter of From Documentation to Information Science 1), Farkas-Conn provides a table that summarizes Watson Davis' 2) ideas on the advantages of microfilm over print for scholarly communication. Before I list a few of these, I should note that Davis was the founder of the American Documentation Institute, now the Association for Information Science and Technology 3).

The reason I'm marking this is because many of Davis' advantages would, it seems to me, be strikingly similar to the kinds of things we'd say about the advantages of many of today's emerging technologies in scholarly communication. The understanding, then, is that while we might be experiencing a number of emerging technologies, we're not really experiencing an emerging paradigm, to apply, perhaps, an overused term. That paradigm began in the 1930s, when entities such as the ADI were founded.

According to Farkas-Conn's summary of Davis' advantages, microfilm offered the following advantages over print:

  • Chances of duplication error – none
  • Cost of producing copies – trivial
  • Tailored bibliographies – “As individual as desired” (p. 26).
  • Bridging new data to old data – much simpler

There are a few other listed advantages, but these seem to be the most pertinent in today's context.

Another instance that things today are not so new:

When I was working on my Ralph H. Parker (the first librarian to begin automating a library: in 1936) research, I was able to listen to an oral history recorded with him in the 1970s. (The entire interview is only accessible on site but excerpts can accessed at MU Archives 4).) There was a part of the interview where he discussed technologies that he and others at the time thought would be available in the not so distant future. He was referring, by today's names, to tablet and desktop computers. But more than that, he thought that these things would be important communication devices (connected by satellite) and would not only be able to retrieve bibliographic references but entire texts. The main obstacles, he noted, were economical constraints and copyright issues (the interview took place just before passage of the Copyright Act of 1976 5), which he and other librarians were concerned about at the time). The emphasis on communication is an important one – because at that time, and before, computing devices were not commonly thought of as communication devices (the Internet existed but not the web).

If there is a so-called paradigm shift due to the availability and use of today's emerging technologies, the question I keep coming back to is what will that shift mean for academic libraries. In 1981, Arthur T. Hamlin (who referred to the 1930s as the research libraries' *mirabilis*) wrote in his book, The University Library in the United States: Its Origins and Developments 6), that,

As long as universities continue to be instruments of research, to extend man's knowledge, their libraries will grow in size. Means will be found, possibly not to house tens and hundreds of millions of books in their present form, but certainly to preserve the findings, the talent, the wit and wisdom, and the records of the future (p. 109).

If this is to be the mission of today's research and academic libraries, how will it be carried out in an age where users searching for and retrieving scholarly documentation can do so without the benefit of an academic library: e.g., using something like Google to search for and retrieve something like an open access article? Because that ability entails that libraries do not necessarily have to be involved in either preserving or providing access to these records. So, does it mean that the mission of these libraries will have to change in response to these new developments? A fundamental revision of this purpose would be, I think, an instance of a paradigm shift.

  • categories:
    • scholarly communication
    • documentation
    • lis-history
    • academic libraries
blog/scholarly-communication-and-paradigms.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/06 16:28 by seanburns