Saturday, October 27, 2007

Revamped research project

Well, with only 6 weeks left in the semester, I'm finally getting down to some kind of research project I can take on with at least a modest level of interest. I've sort of given up on excitement. Maybe as I get better at coming up with ideas and translating them into doable projects, I'll be able to preserve some of the initial excitement, but for now, I just need to get started.

Of the 5 or so things that I noted in my last post that were interesting to me, blogs as scholarship was the one that simultaneously satisfied the requirements of rtf and drt (radio, television and film and doctoral research and theory), allowing me to do one research project that supplies the base for a paper on state of theory and research on the topic, and for actual field research after I finish my own experiment in blogging a research paper (The effects of mass digitization on copyright law and policy). So here's how it came down:

How are blogs affecting legal scholarship?

Legal scholars pursue different strategies to communicate with their peers and the public about their research during its various stages. Some methods of communicating are very informal; others, such as journal publication, are quite formal. Some are better adapted to early stages, for example, vetting ideas and finding collaboration partners; others are designed to facilitate the later stages of formal communication of the outcomes of research to the public or to other scholars. How do the unique qualities of a blog including, among others, its public, interactive nature, the typically short length of blog posts, the informality of blog communicative style, the ability to link to other documents on the Web (perhaps instead of providing full citations), and the ease with which blog posts may be published (constituting “instant” publishing) situate it among the various modes of communication already in use by legal scholars? How are legal scholars using blogs today, and in what ways might blogs expand opportunities to communicate more effectively or efficiently? How might blogs affect the forms of existing legal scholarship, such as the law review article, amicus brief, academic press monograph, or treatise?

Strategies to investigate the state of research and theory
regarding how blogs are affecting legal scholarship

1. Review class readings for theoretical perspectives most likely to aid the determination of the state of theory with respect to research on the effect of blogs on scholarship.

2. Conduct searches within the UT Libraries' databases most likely to contain the results of research on this subject (upon recommendation of Library bibliographer for information studies and my own experimentation): Emerald Insight; ERIC; Information Science and Technology Abstracts; Library Information Science and Technology Abstracts; Library and Information Science; Library Literature and Information Science Full Text; Primary Search; Communications of the ACM; Westlaw (law review articles).

3. Conduct searches on Google and Google Scholar; review Web pages I have bookmarked on the subject, including scholarly blogs and blogs whose authors are writing about blogs as scholarship (searches limited to blogs, on subject of blogs as scholarship).

4. Review the abstracts of papers prepared for the recent Association of Internet Researchers conference in Vancouver, CA that address blogs as scholarship, and write to the authors for copies of their papers, if any.

5. I have been reviewing this literature for about three weeks. Most of the papers I have found on the subject of blogs as scholarship do not appear to report the results of research. I would characterize them as thoughtful, personal observations and descriptions, even those presented within the context of scholarly symposiums devoted to the subject of blogs as scholarship. Some even explicitly state that they are not the result of "systematic study or theorizing" (Solum, 2006). There does not appear to be much, if any, research on the subject at this time. Perhaps I will be able to draw some conclusions about what questions could be researched based on what has been written so far, and what theories might be fruitful ones through which to think about the phenomenon (see below).

6. More general research on related subjects applies to how blogs are affecting legal scholarship. For example, there is a large body of research on the subject of how new technologies become integrated into practice; established and changing patterns of scholarly communication (including the concepts of the invisible and virtual colleges); the evolving business of scholarly publishing; investigations into the ways universities need to manage the research process and related information needs in light of technological change; and research into virtual communities, virtual teamwork and social software/social networking (Ginoni, Merrick, & Willson, 2005). Because these areas are much too broad as described here, I need advice about how to learn something about them without its taking the rest of my life, or indeed, whether I should be looking into these areas at all.

Schools of thought that may be helpful for thinking about the topic

1. Social constructivist approach to the study of how scholarly community deals with new forms of communication; the dialectical relationship between the individual blogger and the socio-cultural academic milieu (Talja, Tuominen, & Savolainen, 2005, p. 85); how the legal scholarly community constructs its information (documentary) universe (p. 86); studying legal information by thinking of knowledge domains as thought or discourse communities (p. 87)

2. Constructionist approach to scholarly discourse analysis (differences between or among forms such as the journal article, legal listserv, conference papers, blogs); focus on rhetoric, argumentation and language use (epistemological constructionism) (Talja et al., 2005, p. 91); or focus on language and the "scholarly organization, technical artifacts, economic and ecological structures" (ontological constructionism) (p. 91); analyze the discourse about “blogs as scholarship” itself; focus "on the institutional practices governing the production, interpretation, organization, circulation and availability of knowledge, interpretations and documents" (p. 92).

3. Pragmatist and neo-pragmatist + sociocultural approach -- what are the goals of scholarly communication and does blogging help to achieve them; blog as community, representing shared beliefs, as much as a means of acquiring/sharing information (Sundin & Johannisson, 2005, p. 37); who and what determines the value of a scholarly communication tool (p. 24); how does the legal system of creating knowledge, and a blog's role in it in particular, shape the way scholars act and think (Willinsky, 2006, p. 9)?

4. Documentalist approach -- the social life of blogs (the role of blogs in legal academic life); the practices that specify which kinds of statements can be used in which types of documents, and that can legitimate blogs as stable authorship (Frohmann, 2002, p. 6).

5. Blogs as boundary objects (Van House, 2004, p. 56): "plastic enough to adapt to local needs; have different specific identities in different communities; robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites and be a locus of shared work." Sounds like a blog to me.


Frohmann, B. (2002). Discourse and documentation: Some implications for pedagogy and research. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 42(1), 13-28.

Ginoni, P. W., Merrick, H., & Willson, M. A. (2005). Scholarly communities, e-research literacy and the academic librarian. Electronic Library, 24(6,2006), 734-746.

Solum, L. B. (2006). Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship. Paper presented at the Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship.

Sundin, O., & Johannisson, J. (2005). Pragmatism, neo-pragmatism and sociocultural theory: Communicative participation as a perspective in LIS. Journal of Documentation, 61(1), 23-43.

Talja, S., Tuominen, K., & Savolainen, R. (2005). “Isms” in information science: Constructivism, collectivism, and constructionism. Journal of Documentation, 61(1), 79-101.

Van House, N. (2004). Science and technology studies and information studies. In B. Cronin (Ed.), Annual review of information science and technology (Vol. 38, pp. 3-86). Medford, N.J.: Information Today.

Willinsky, J. (2006). The access principle. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Documents In-Stream

Another inspiring post by Peter Brantley, this time commenting on the observations of Rob Weir that our need for and understanding of documents is dissolving... Documents In-Stream. I'll go read the referenced post in a minute, but this brought into focus some uneasiness I was feeling over the weekend about where my research project was headed. I conferred with Sharon Strover on Friday and I just was not at all enthusiastic about what I was committing to spend the next several months thinking about and reading about and writing about. Perhaps any subject, even one that's very interesting, has a tendency to get tedious and boring when you "operationalize" it down to the level of a single research question and a method for making observations about the phenomena described in the question.

Whatever the reason, I am just not interested in surveying people about what kind of reception a blogged paper gets at a refereed journal. Yes I wrote the question, but more as an exercise to see how you derive questions from general problem statements. What really interests me is not that level of detail ("uh-oh" I hear a little voice in my head saying...). What interests me is the idea of the gradual evolution of the form of the book, the article, the document, as Peter notes. How does the blog change scholarship, not as some endpoint, fait accompli observation, but what exactly happens, one scholar at a time, over time. How does change happen? How does the need for and understanding of the document dissolve? Surely Peter knows that for about 99.999% of people, the document is as solid as Gibralter. But the fact that someone realizes it's dissolving signals a phase in the process of its dissolution. It started dissolving a while back (when?); people are beginning to notice now (some people); it will be some time before the next signal of a new phase appears. What will the signal be? What will the phase be?

How do I operationalize that, and if I do, does it lose entirely the character of the question that interests me? So far, the answer appears to be, yes, if you operationalize anything, its character changes radically. That's the trigger for the "uh-oh" I mentioned above. I am getting it, that you can't just write about things, make observations based on your own experience. No, that's not what research is about. It's about observing other people's experiences, and then bringing your experience to bear on the interpretation of your observations of others. But setting up and gathering those observations -- that part seems incredibly boring. Is this, "welcome to research," or am I missing something? Ah, maybe this is why faculty get grad students to help them with their research, that is, do this boring stuff. Now that makes sense.

I do feel rushed into doing research, certainly. But it seems to be expected that I will get started right away. To me, that makes about as much sense as having been expected to try cases as a first year law student. That's about as absurd as one can get. Real things are at stake in a trial. You don't send in a 1L to act where consequences matter. Is it different in research? Is there a lot of inconsequential research, such that if a 1L Ph.D. student does some stupid research, who the hell cares? I think that's it. No one cares. You just have to get in the pool, as I often say. But I don't want to do stupid research. It's too much of a waste of good time to do stupid research.

Ok, enough complaining. I read several things this weekend that sounded interesting, in addition to Peter's note. First, an article by Kenneth Fleischmann, "Digital libraries with embedded values: Combining insights from LIS and Science and Technology Studies" (2007 Library Quarterly 77(4), pp. 409-427) in which he recommends some comparative projects to look at the values embedded in different types of digital libraries, using the boundary object with agency framework from SST. I could instantly imagine a study comparing the values embedded in our Google Book Search Latin American Collection digital library, with Brewster Kahle's digital library of pd works, and our Texas Digital Library (an institutional repository). I would love to get into that. The article even suggests methods and none of them turned me instantly off the project! I have written a little review of the paper with a sort of proposal to take the author up on his recommendation that someone needs to do this research.

I reread the post from if:book and DLF last weekend, the Really Modern Library, because even though I can't participate in the symposia they are organizing, if this project goes anywhere, it's likely to be ongoing for awhile and at some point I may be able to get involved when I am a bit further along in becoming a social scientist (or whatever). This part really appeals to me:

* most analog works were intended to be experienced with all of one's attention, but the way we read/watch/listen/look is changing. even when engaging with non-networked media — a paper book, a print newspaper, a compact disc, a DVD, a collection of photos — we increasingly find ourselves Googling alongside. Al Pacino paces outside the bank in 'dog day afternoon' firing up the crowded street with "Attica! Attica!" I flip to Wikipedia and do quick read on the Attica prison riots. reading "song of myself" in "leaves of grass," i find my way to the online Whitman archive, which allows me to compare every iteration of Whitman's evolutionary work. or reading "ulysses" i open up Google Earth and retrace Bloom's steps by satellite. while leafing through a book of caravaggio's paintings, a quick google video search leads me to a related episode in simon schama's "power of art" documentary series and a series of online essays. as radiohead's new album plays, i browse fan sites and blogs for backstory, b-sides and touring info. the immediacy and proximity of such supplementary resources changes our relationship to the primary ones. the ratio of text to context is shifting. how should this influence the structure and design of future digital editions?

And this part dovetails nicely with our Google pd project at UT, and with the comparative research I suggested I might be interested in above (see how tentative I am about even things that are appealing?):

* for reasons both practical and political, we've considered restricting this contest to the public domain. practical in that the public domain provides an unencumbered test bed of creative content for contributors to work with (no copyright hassles). political in that we wish to draw attention to the threat posed to the public domain by commercially driven digitization projects ( i.e. the recent spate of deals between Google and libraries, the National Archives' deal with and Amazon, the Smithsonian with Showtime etc.). emphasizing the public domain could also exert pressure on the media industries, who to date have been more concerned with preserving old architectures of revenue than with adapting creatively to the digital age. making the public domain more attractive, more dynamic and more *usable* than the private domain could serve as a wake-up call to the big media incumbents, and more importantly, to contemporary artists and scholars whose work is being shackled by overly restrictive formats and antiquated business models. we'd also consider workable areas of the private domain such as the Creative Commons — works that are progressively licensed so as to allow creative reuse. we're not necessarily wedded to this idea. what do you think?

And this comment, wow:

James W. Marcum on October 11, 2007 08:53 AM:

I'm glad to see 1) you are moving beyond "mass digitization" -- which is still working largely with the "information transfer" model rather than social knowledge construction, and toward interactivity and the visual/multi-media ecology of our time. And 2) That the analog item warrants attention. We must focus on those functions of the book (primarily reading, with consideration for preservation) where it has clear advantage and keep those vital. The other functions, for which the codex has been overused, such as compendiums of articles and data, should be cleared away. An unread book taking up space on a shelf for decades is a hole in the air that collects dust, gets moldy, costs money better used elsewhere. 3) While the important book is a powerful technology and social phenomenon, the format can no longer represent human knowledge (consider the human genome project or google maps) as it did for 500 years. Bottom line: we must encourage reading--a different project from building collections--AND move on.

I am simply not ready to commit to put my energy into something I don't care about. So, here's the roundup from this week: things I give a damn about:

1. The values that are embedded in different types of digital libraries: whose interests are supported and whose are neglected?
2. How does change takes place when new technologies make different forms of communication possible? How does the need for and understanding of the document dissolve? How does the blog change the nature of scholarly communication?
3. What forms of human knowledge can no longer be represented in physical form? What does this mean for the future of the book, the future of publishing, the future of libraries?
4. Is the public domain becoming more attractive, more dynamic and more *usable* than the private domain? What is the ratio of freely available and usable Web-based representations of information to published representations in which copyright is asserted and enforced? And yet, the demand for copyright-asserted materials remains strong (dominant). What is going on here?
5. The ratio of text to context is shifting (reading an article or a book now *requires* that I be by my computer to enable follow-through on questions and interests that reading triggers). How should this influence the structure and design of future digital editions? What are the opportunities for publishers if only they would wake their damned asses up?

Back to the drawing board...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kalanchoe aurora borealis -- remembering my first plant

I had a very nice day on campus Friday, though it was a day that started out to be a real bear (too much to do, not enough time to prepare, one meeting after another, etc.). Each event went better than I had expected, but the real treat was that near the end of the day, in the midst of a hike across campus (the 40 acres, as it is called, spans 8 blocks from north to south currently, but is expanding across what used to be thought of as traditional barriers), I came upon a plant sale sponsored by the biology department.

The department has a greenhouse, and students nurture their projects there. As I looked over the selection, I recalled that nearly 35 years ago, 1971 to be exact, my (then) soon-to-be husband, John, brought home two little plants from the very same departmental sale, a begonia and a kalanchoe, and those two plants sparked a life-long love of gardening and growing houseplants. With as much as I love gardening today, it is hard to imagine that time before the kalanchoe and the begonia, or how two little 2" pots could so affect a life.

Well, I bought two plants from the students yesterday -- $1 each -- a kalanchoe (aurora borealis, pictured above) and a jade plant. Both were tiny, but huge in reminding me of how much pleasure can come from being introduced to something you don't yet know you'll love for the rest of your life. The two plants I bought yesterday will remind me again of how wonderful John was to give me those gifts.

Monday, October 08, 2007

if:book: the really modern library -- and why starting over makes me want to scream sometimes

The Institute for the future of the book just announced at if:book: the really modern library an initiative in conjunction with the Digital Library Foundation (Peter Brantley). It encompasses an amazingly ambitious and complex set of ideas about how to explore the future of the book within the concept of the future of the library in a digital world. The articulation of the ideas takes the form of a series of questions that will be asked and pondered at 3 meetings, starting this week in LA. Even if I weren't pretty much overwhelmed trying to get a handle on the idea of research outside law (as I discussed in my last post), the enormity of this undertaking would still astound me. Maybe these folks are the equivalent 'people from another planet' that I used to encounter at law school (who's grasp of it all was simply beyond anything imaginable by the ordinary mind (mine))! Geez, I hope not. I would love to take part in this kind of discussion (nevermind that I have classes, papers, book reviews, etc. to do), but I just have so many conceptual pieces of the puzzle not yet in place. Starting over is so frustrating at times -- challenging in a very good way, but it just makes me want to scream sometimes. Reminds me of what it was like being a kid and not being able to do the things the big kids got to do...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Getting a handle on non-legal research

The last couple of weeks have taught me quite a bit about the world of social science research. I really didn't understand how very different what we call research in law is from research, well, pretty much everywhere else. Now I get it. I still have some ways to go to have any real facility for connecting the dots between an interesting idea that I'd like to know more about and a research question, a theoretical lens through which to view the question, methodologies for exploring it, observations to make about it, etc., but I am getting there.

I have refined my research question for my Web 2.0 class, and as it turns out, I have to do something in the nature of a literature review for Doctoral Research and Theory, and so I think that the lit review I need to do for my Web 2.0 research and DRT's lit review can be one and the same. That would be nice.

The idea I want to explore generally is blogs as scholarship. Not a lot has been written on this yet. What has been written suggests that legal blogs are in the forefront of the trend.

I could explore the subject from any one of many different directions. Do I want to count scholarly blogs, do a survey of the field, characterize bloggers with respect to their status within academe, find out how long they spend on blogs each week? Follow their careers for a year or so and see what effect blogging is having on them?

Or do I want to explore the character of blogs as more subjective communications situated within the array of more formal scholarly publications and communications media: law review or journal articles, conference proceedings, public access repositories such as Social Science Research Network (where early drafts appear, often before articles are even accepted for publication) and personal Website postings, among others?

Perhaps I might look at the power relationships evidenced by resistance to blogs as scholarship within academe, for example by looking at tenure and review committees' standards for what publications count and why. Or I might deconstruct blog-related discourses (how blogs are discussed in academe) to discover what's really going on below the surface.

Or I could don a constructivist's perspective to look at how the blog may be changing the process of peer-review in the making scholarship.

It's late. I need to get some sleep. Tomorrow starts another hectic week.