Thursday, December 27, 2007

Third week of five of vacation

I'm finding time to read things that got onto my back burners over the semester, take walks on sunny winter Austin days, hang out with Dennis at the coffee houses we like, even cook some, bake a little bit, see friends, watch movies. Life on vacation at home.

I pulled up the Association of College and Research Libraries' Establishing a Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication, which I had been meaning to read since it came out in November, and it includes several sections that touch on the issues I've been thinking about writing about. In particular, the sections on How Scholars Work, Authorship and Scholarly Publishing, and Adoption of Successful Innovations look like very good fits.

The report is in the form of a wiki, which makes it amenable to immediate input. It feels a bit odd to me to just go in and change what the ACRL has written, but discussion seems fine. I guess I need to read it more carefully, think about which of their proposed research projects comes closest to what interests me, and maybe make a proposal that would dovetail with ACRL's brainstorming, and the various factors that affect what I can and will be able to do this semester. It's like putting together a big puzzle. At least it's an interesting picture that's likely to emerge.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age � That Was Then, This is Now: What a difference a decade makes

Early Sunday morning, cup of coffee in hand, comfy chair at the table (table my wonderful husband Dennis made -- it only took him 4 years, but it was worth the wait), and I see this story in the Google Desktop sidebar: Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age � That Was Then, This is Now: What a difference a decade makes. Click. I'm there. And this story pretty much captures in a few short paragraphs something that's at the heart of what I'm thinking of writing about next -- university press/library mergers that have the potential to explore the changes in the publishing industry that Print is Dead author, Jeff Gomez, claims the Internet has irrevocably launched. As I read his post, I'm just so amazed at the potential, the excitement, the path leading off into who knows where. On the other hand, it really concerns me that the commercial publishing industry appears to actively resist this unbelievably exciting future. Makes you just want to cry.

I am so hoping that the university presses and the libraries will have it more together to experiment. Where is the sense of wonder at the possibilities, the courage to take the leap? Does a press have to die and be reborn, like Rice University's Press? Geez, I hope that is not the only way. So, anyway, I've got three locales I'm considering for in-depth study: UC (press/Cal. Dig. Lib.); Michigan (Schol. Pub. Off./press); and N. Carolina. Got to find money to travel and lodge, eat, etc. And I have to hope that there really is a story there. Lisa (UT Press) came back from a week in Michigan so jazzed about what they were doing there that it will take a lot to persuade me that nothing much is going on, so I am optimistic. Lots of work to do to even get started though, and here it is, 2 days before Christmas. I am already well into spring in my thinking. And this was the time I was going to slow down a bit, recover from the steam roller that was the first semester in the Ph.D. program. Not gonna happen...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Well, it’s official: We have launched our documentary blog for our public domain and orphan works project, free*the*books. We invite you to view and post comments! Our new blog is focused on research by the University of Texas Libraries about international copyright laws that control the use and distribution of digitized books online.

As a Google Library Partner, UT Libraries will digitize over a million books from its rich collections within the next six years. Digitization of 800,000 books in the Benson Latin American Collection began in June of this year followed by this companion project to develop an authoritative process for determining the copyright status of books published in various Latin American countries and to identify foreign works in the public domain.

We have found little guidance to help us reliably identify which of our books are already in the public domain so we are piloting a project to develop new tools for ourselves and for anyone who wants to tackle these difficult public domain problems. We will document our process, our progress and our results on the blog’s pages along with links to web resources we find useful.

The initial pages of the blog include online resources to determine critical author birth and death data, prototypes of legal evidence tables and draft guidelines by which books, wherever published, may be determined to be in the public domain.

We will be adding features, more pages and new posts to the blog on a regular basis and from time to time will also have guest contributors to add variety and fresh perspectives. We invite suggestions and comments from other Google Library Partners and anyone undertaking similar or related projects.

Email us at or IM us at our Meebo widget in the sidebar of the blog. We are here; we are building an evidence base and we are looking for virtual partners!

Monday, December 10, 2007

if:book: flight paths: a networked novel

Fresh off the end of a very long, very intense semester, I am not missing a beat. I am starting today on several projects I've reserved time for over the winter break (the online course I'm conducting for UMUC's Center for Intellectual Property, finishing up the work on Mass Digitization), and I've begun to think about my next project, one I think might be a good one for the big D -- dissertation. It seems to go this way so often, as soon as an idea starts to take form in my mind, suddenly I see links, connections, maybe tangents, everywhere. So it begins this morning at if:book: flight paths: a networked novel.

I checked this out and was just amazed to see how closely the experimental, social, creative aspects of this fiction project parallel what I was entertaining in a dissertation (nonfiction) project. Similarly, last night I was revisiting Lisa Spiro's site, Digital Scholarship, to review the impressive project she has begun, to remix her 5 year old dissertation into a work of digital scholarship. It reminds me of how when you buy a new (to you) car, suddenly, you see that type of car everywhere. Maybe it's part of how we seek to be connected, I don't know.

Anyway, this flightpaths project is something I will enjoy watching as it unfolds. We are sure to learn an awful lot from such a courageous undertaking. Siva commented just the other day about this kind of thing -- e-book readers are not "the ball" we need to keep our eyes on -- let's see what we can do with these here computers and keyboards. Let's see, how did he say it...

I say we route around them and use these here devices -- personal computers -- to forge better reading and writing processes.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Collecting experiential data: Blogging self-study

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research This is the last part, part 7, of a multi-part post on the subject of blogs as scholarship. It discusses a blogging self-study that I undertook using CommentPress. The last post discussed underlying assumptions and theoretical frameworks within which one might view the phenomenon.

Collecting experiential data: Blogging self-study

The literature about blogs as scholarship suggests many promising areas for investigation, but as a preliminary matter, I experimented with academic blogging myself. The use of a researcher’s own experience and skills, or “data in the head” drawn from personal, research, and literature-reading experience can lead to much better theory building, the ultimate goal of qualitative research (referring to Strauss 1990) (Alston & Bowles, 2003). The University of Texas at Austin’s Libraries installed a WordPress blog on the Texas Digital Library Website for me, using the CommentPress theme to encourage commenting. I serialized a first draft of an academic paper about the effects of mass digitization projects on copyright law and policy (Mass Digitization), posting one section each week for six weeks. I announced the experiment on other blogs I host, on listserves, at a conference I attended during the experiment; and asked friends to announce the experiment on their blogs. I used Google Analytics to monitor traffic to the site and correlate it with the announcements and weekly postings, and kept a journal of my thoughts about and reactions to the experience throughout the six weeks. I actively reviewed the literature reported above while I conducted the experiment, and utilized the themes emerging from the literature, and my experiences with blogging Mass Digitization, to begin constructing a survey for later administration to help broaden my understanding of how bloggers experience blogging.

Blogging Mass Digitization in light of the revelations in the existing literature enabled me to examine aspects of the experience to which I had not attended in previous blogging. My experience suggests that bloggers idealize blogging in some respects. I doubt that all of their observations and opinions will hold up to systematic observation and scrutiny, though some are likely to be supported.

Nevertheless, the academic power hierarchy and the publishing industry’s hegemony will make the future for academic blogging difficult, despite its benefits. Because of these dynamics, blogs present interesting objects of study for those who wish to better understand the politics of academe. One can say the same about every computer-mediated, networked form of communication today – they all challenge existing power relationships and will eventually reconfigure institutions and scholarly publishing. No aspect of the community is likely to emerge unchanged.


Installing CommentPress

Installing CommentPress is “tricky,” according to the U.T. Libraries’ Dustin Slater, who installed it for me. He completed the installation over about a two-week period. He reports that the code contained many deviations from standard procedure and best practices, complicating the adaptations needed to situate it within the Texas Digital Libraries environment. The blog also needed significant debugging over an additional period of two weeks once Slater invited me to begin testing it. I was able to launch the blog on October 18, 2007 with my initial announcement on Collectanea. This was Slater’s first blog installation, so he believes it will be easier to bring up blogs in the future, based on this experience.

Drafting in public

I chose a subject for this experimental public drafting about which I have formed opinions over a long period. Initial drafting did not require additional research. I had been collecting the evidence to support my arguments for most of 2007. I drafted an overview first, setting out a series of arguments that I would later expand. Each week I posted a new section, building on earlier sections supported by evidence from the Web, to which I linked on a “Project resources” page. I tried to time announcements to new posts, when possible. The Resources page acted as a repository for links to all the Web-based references I will eventually include in the final draft. In this early stage of drafting, however, I did not link directly to the resources from the text; rather, I referred readers to the Resources page to explore the resources in context groupings (orphan works, mass digitization projects, legal resources, retreats from DRM, etc.). I thought that a lot of textual linking could distract from the theme of each paragraph, and might reduce time on the blog and the likelihood of commenting.

Monitoring data

Google Analytics provides a wealth of data about blog visitors and the Libraries already had an account for the Texas Digital Library, so it was easy to add the Mass Digitization blog to the account. I spent about an hour each week exploring the tool and the data to become familiar with all the facts that I could bring to bear on the story I want to tell about my experience. The data is permanently retained on Google’s servers, but can also be saved in various file formats to illustrate points I may wish to make.


I wrote in a journal each week, and more often when particular events occurred that were noteworthy, for example, when I received two spam comments. I wrote from a personal perspective, commenting mainly on how it felt to be drafting publicly, how this experience compares to other drafting experiences, how I am affected by seeing the locations where readers came from, how long they stayed, what they read, what they didn’t read, and how colleagues reacted when I talked with them about the experiment.


Without data, my impression of blogging would have been very inaccurate because it would have been based on the presence, or rather, absence of comments. Few or no comments would have suggested few or no visitors, but that was not the case. The comment rate on my blog for the 40 days ended November 26, 2007 was .25%, but an estimated 250 visitors[1] viewed pages 790 times. The blog welcome page, containing no substantive information, garnered the most views (324), followed by the overview page (156). Each successive section was viewed fewer and fewer times, partly because each page was present on the blog for shorter and shorter periods as the experiment wound down. For example, visitors viewed the conclusion page only 4 times, but I posted it on the day before the project ended. They viewed the resource page 51 times; the comment pages, 46 times. Small numbers of visitors viewed the category pages (fair use, irrelevance of law, business models, creative commons and orphan works).

Once they arrived on the blog, visitors tended to stay for a while, spending, on average 6 - 11 minutes on the site, depending on the pages they viewed and whether they were new or returning visitors.

Visitors came from 93 cities, including Austin, Washington, New York, Albany, Ann Arbor, Chicago and London, and from nine countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. They were referred by or came from nine sources (including of course, the ones from which I announced the experiment) including the Copyright Crash Course, Collectanea, Lifelong learning (my personal blog), Google, bloglines (an rss subscriber), The Googlization of Everything (where I commented on one of Siva's posts), Moodle, and the Texas Digital Library. New visitors slightly outnumbered returning visitors but returning visitors spent four to five times longer on the pages they visited, and viewed nearly twice as many pages per visit.

There were clear correlations between the announcements and visits. It is probably safe to conclude that some, although not all, announcements increased traffic to the site. For example, I made 14 announcements over the course of the experiment and visitor tracking recorded above-average numbers of pageviews on about half of those days or the day immediately following. Graph 1 shows the overview of traffic to the blog annotated with the announcements, numerical totals for the peak days and the average number of pageviews per day, for comparison. Once published, the sections received most of their pageviews within 2 weeks. After that, traffic fell off, but did not disappear entirely. For example, graphs 2 and 3 show the traffic pattern for post numbers two (All quiet on the legislative front) and four (Ok, ok, DRM and contracts were a big mistake; now what?).

Interpretation and discussion

The blogging experience may be very different for those just starting out from the experience of those who have been blogging for years (Hoffman, 2007) or who were well-known before they began to blog (Volokh, 2006). This particular experiment only lasted 6 weeks, so the Mass Digitization blog was not likely to become well-known. Bloggers who report amazing numbers (“stunning” numbers in one case referenced above) (2007; Rodrik, 2007, pars. 4-5; 2006, p. 1) can leave the impression that everyone will experience that kind of readership. Clearly, I did not.

More surprising, however, is the absence of substantive comments. The presence of modest numbers of comments about many blog posts attests to the fact that comments are or can be a significant feature of a blog, but apparently, only at much higher overall numbers of visitors, or only within certain communities built around certain bloggers. At least I am not alone in being alone: over the summer, University of Michigan’s Office of Scholarly Publishing collaborated with the authors of The Ithaka Report (Brown, Griffiths, & Rascoff, 2007) and the Institute for the Future of the Book, to publish the Report in CommentPress, about which Maria Bonn, Director, Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library commented recently (p. 1):

We are watching this experiment with interest. In the first three weeks that the Ithaka report was available in CommentPress, this version of the report was viewed thousands of times. We received dozens and dozens of e-mails and verbal reports from members of the academic community noting their enthusiasm for the projects. And yet, the discussion the report invites has been relatively quiet. We look forward to seeing if the level of discussion remains constant or increases and to performing some analysis to see what this experiment can teach us about the appropriate alignment of content, user communities, and technology.

Beginning academic bloggers may not be the only ones who need to exercise patience and perseverance if they want to join the ranks of those who really are able to build community through conversation and commentary around a blog. These experiences suggest that the time it takes to build community could be a good subject for investigation through longitudinal study, and should be included among the questions I ask in my survey.

If it were generally the case that providing feedback for new ideas is not one of the blog’s strong points for a novice academic blogger, what are the advantages of blogging, if any? The same data that tends to dash the hope of commentary, exalts public distribution. Two hundred fifty people have looked at one or more of the pages that constitute this early draft of Mass Digitization. Even though I plan to polish it, run it through the site a second time with links and citations, and submit it for publication (open access, certainly), it may be that the style of the blog post, short, informal and timely, attracted some viewers who would never have looked at the article in its final polished form. If so, these readers constitute a new audience. But does the blogger lose the legal scholars in the process, those who could be counted on, at least, to note that the article was published (they’ll see it in some index or table of contents service if it’s in their area of interest) and perhaps even read it in its polished form? Might those readers also peruse the draft in blog-style? If so, it might be reasonable to assume a net gain of readers. And that’s just from the perspective of the value to the scholar (since public dissemination of one’s work is one of the academic’s responsibilities). If we assume that the non-legal reader would not likely read the same argument in formal, lengthy law review-style, those readers probably have gained some benefit as well.

But there may be other benefits to be considered: I simply had a very good time blogging the Mass Digitization article. On November 20, I commented in my journal:

Reading an interview with Cory Doctorow just now, in which he talks about how O'Reilly tolerates piracy b/c the most pirated of his works is also the most profitable, and seeing how that quote will fit in with what I'm writing at Mass digitization, and how I can link to the interview in the writing resources page --- wow, this is just so cool. I love this writing/reading/remixing from the real world. It is so much fun! The relaxed pace of one section each week for a first draft – very doable. This process is much more creative and involves so much more fortuitous discovery than the way I would have written an article before, based entirely on law review articles, cases and statutes. Those will still be part of the story, but only as background. I don't plan to use them to support my argument really. Maybe a little, but quotes and real stories from the public that illustrate the points seem to me a lot more persuasive to the audience I want to reach, not just lawyers. It is a public audience that probably includes many more non-lawyers than lawyers.

The subjective experience of pleasure in crafting an argument “in the flow” of the network may be a more important key to the future of blogs and other Web 2.0 forms of interactive communication than it might seem. All things being equal, why wouldn’t scholars prefer to perform their duties in a manner that they enjoy if they have that choice? Increasingly, they will have more choices about how to publish their research findings. Thus, the questions related to who determines what counts for scholarship, who will win and lose if traditional forms of publishing diminish in importance, and how the scholarly community will reform itself around more open, shorter and disintermediated documentary forms are the most interesting ones. Blogging scholars themselves are taking steps to identify works of and about peer-reviewed scholarship reported on blogs. The Website, BPR3 (Bloggers for Peer-reviewed Research Reporting), offers both a way for bloggers to identify their serious posts and a way for readers to find them. The BPR3 icon, affixed to posts about peer-reviewed research, creates an aggregation system like the Creative Commons that links all the posts bearing the icon back to the BPR3 Website and soon-to-be search capabilities. What will they think of next?


The literature about blogs as scholarship reports mostly people’s opinions about the benefits and disadvantages of legal scholars’ blogging. Research based on systematic empirical observation of any kind is sparse. Nevertheless, clear themes emerge suggesting promising areas for investigation, including,

  • studies designed to systematically document qualitative as well as quantitative aspects of the scholarly blogosphere,
  • studies about attitudes towards the bloggers’ assertions among bloggers, their non-blogging colleagues and institutional administrators,
  • studies that look at the larger environment of which blogs are a part, that investigate the transition occurring within the academic publishing milieu and its effect on the use and acceptance of shorter, open, disintermediated forms of scholarly communication, such as blogs, and
  • the eventual reformation of the scholarly communication network in light of the changes resulting from its full integration into networked environments.

The state of research on these subjects invites a wide variety of studies that can deepen the discussion and inform the analysis of what effect scholars’ blogging is likely to have on academe, over what time horizon. Because it is so preliminary, not yet addressing any major concern in the field of information studies, the literature sets the stage for research from a variety of perspectives. To extend my own observations, I will identify a group of legal academic bloggers in the spring to survey regarding the themes discussed herein, the observations from my self-study and hypotheses about the acceptance of blogging as scholarship.


Alston, M., & Bowles, W. (2003). Research for social workers: An introduction to methods (2 ed.). New York: Routledge.

Bonn, M. (2007). Encouraging public commentary on the Ithaka Report. ARL: A Bimonthly Report July/August 2007(252/253 ).

Brown, L., Griffiths, R., & Rascoff, M. (2007). University publishing in a digital age. New York: Ithaka. (Ithaka o. Document Number)

Hoffman, D. (2007). Our 2,000,000th visitor [Blog post]. Concurring Opinions, November 30, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from

Rodrik, D. (2007). Why the econ-blogosphere is here to stay [Blog post]. Dani Rodrik's Weblog: Unconventional Thoughts on Economic Development and Globalization, October 19, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from

Volokh, E. (2006). Scholarship, blogging and trade-offs: On discovering, disseminating and doing. Paper presented at Bloggership: How blogs are transforming legal scholarship. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from

[1] It is not possible to determine how many unique visitors visited just the Mass Digitization pages. I applied the site ratio of visitors to pageviews (.32) to the number of pageviews for the Mass Digitization pages, which could be determined, to arrive at 253.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Discussion: Blogs as scholarship

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research This is part 6 of a multi-part post on the subject of blogs as scholarship. It discusses how to extend the conversation, underlying assumptions and possible theoretical frameworks through which to view the phenomenon. The last post discussed themes that emerged from the scholarly literature. The next section will describe my self-study research on blogging.

Extending the conversation

With only a few exceptions (Herring, Scheidt, Wright, & Bonus, 2005; Saper, 2006), discussion of this topic reflects very preliminary, personal understandings of the status of blogs as scholarship, with little if any attention to definitions, concepts, theory, data or critique. This is normal for legal research. Typically, authors state their opinions about a subject, based on their observations of primary and secondary legal source materials, and analysis. I have always wondered why most legal scholarship seemed to have little effect on law or policy, but from a social science perspective, mystère résolu. The force of mere opinion, even logically drawn opinion, is not by itself very persuasive, compared to problem statement, theory, method, empirical data, analysis and conclusions (Czarnezki, Heise, Eisenberg, & Ford, 2007), and compared to clear, straightforward relevant explication (Berman, 2007; Liptak, 2007).

But this data-lite reportage also seems normal from the perspective of social science scholarship. The discussion is simply at its beginning. Authors provide personal observation and opinion from which others may easily identify the need for quantitative and qualitative documentation, tease out underlying assumptions and values, and speculate about fruitful theoretical constructs and questions for future study.

Clearly, this discourse gives us a starting point for asking questions. We can simply test the assertions.
• Where do blogs fit within existing forms of scholarly communication;
• how might they be synergistic with other academic duties;
• what are their qualities;
• do they build community and provide feedback for early-stage ideas;
• are they hurting scholarship;
• how is their authority established; and
• are they part of a wider move towards more open, disintermediated and shorter forms of scholarship?
Because the literature is descriptive, but not based on systematic observations (with exceptions noted above), content analysis would be helpful. The opinions expressed hint that even on the best academic blogs, perhaps only one in 100 posts meets the criteria of scholarship, however defined. Many authors situate blogs within an array of other types of scholarly communication. A comprehensive survey and description of scholarship venues now available, and what, if anything, blog posts might add, would aid our understanding of the roles blogs are playing or could play. The legal literature is already widely available openly on the Web. Only treatises remain locked up. In fact, most of the articles I reviewed for this paper were available on SSRN or otherwise freely over the Web. The Bloggership symposium papers were available a full 18 months before being published in a subscription-only law review. Also available online for free: "friend of the court" briefs in important cases, most news stories, op-eds, all federal cases, and most if not all federal and state regulations and statutes. So, what might blogs add? Perhaps Solum is correct that blogs are just a result, rather than a cause, of the changes described herein (2006).

Examining underlying assumptions

Exploration of certain assumptions that underlie the discussion could enrich it considerably as well. If we addressed the paucity of definitions, we would quickly find ourselves immersed in the beliefs and values embedded within the system of scholarly communication. For example,
• what is legal scholarship;
• what are the criteria for tenure and promotion;
• what does blogging lack, if anything, with respect to those criteria, and relative to a law review article (what are blogging’s disadvantages);
• what might the academy gain by blogging (what are its advantages);
• what is (are) the mechanism(s) for validating blogs; and
• what might be blogging’s role in addressing current problems in scholarly publishing?
Current forms of legal scholarship reflect assumptions about the nature of information that may not be compatible with assumptions underlying blogs. Interactive Internet applications, such as blogs, explicitly reflect an atomistic view of information, that it is separable, unattached to and unaffected by its various modes of transmission. Academic documentary practices, on the other hand, are deeply embedded in institutions that impose training and discipline on scholars to maintain them over time, and that give authority to the documents themselves (Frohmann, 2004, pp. 396-397).

As a result, the history and structure of an academic discipline’s scholarship will reflect a set of practices and a system of institutional relationships that shape its genres of writing (Agre, 1995, par. 5). The style of the text reveals a conceptual framework, an orientation towards the intended audience, the audience's cognitive situation, and the audience's uses of the information (pars. 20-22). “It is in function of the assumed abilities and expectations of the targeted readers that the author, publisher, or printer decide on the forms that texts will be given”(Chartier & Fagan, 2004, par. 44). Do blogs affect or reflect significant changes in practice, institutional relationships, conceptual frameworks and assumptions about readers?

Further, information exchange plays a role in maintaining social groups and representing shared beliefs (Sundin & Johannisson, 2005, p. 37). Sundin & Johannisson would suggest that people visit blogs to participate in a virtual community, as much as seek information. Rioux’s studies of information acquiring and sharing behaviors extend the scope of that suggestion to bloggers themselves (2005).

Theoretical frames of reference

Only two authors set forth even a rudimentary framework for discussing the question of whether blogs are scholarship (Solum, 2006; Volokh, 2006). No one explicitly theorizes, thus the opportunity for enriching the conversation through theory development or application is obvious. One could, for example, propose a model for how the scholarly community validates writing as scholarship, identify possible relationships between the form scholarship takes and its acceptance, and formulate on that basis a testable prediction regarding acceptance of blogs.

We could also ask whether blogging may reflect a logical response by members of the academic community to publishers’ resistance to change. Academics have begun to put pressure on publishers to modify business models so that scholars may take better advantage of the digital environment (Chartier & Fagan, 2004, par. 35). One could hypothesize that the blog features described in the literature, such as instant, inexpensive, easy, world-wide publishing, address serious shortcomings of traditional publishing. Applying Pickering’s (1995) model of the mangle to scholarly practice, we might explore whether and how scholars’ responses to the publishing industry’s resistance will change the forms of scholarship and scholarly publishing, if, as Pickering suggests, all aspects of the system of scholarly communication are subject to change in the plane of practice. Similarly, actor-network theory could help to explain how a shift to shorter, more open and disintermediated forms of scholarship threaten to disintegrate and reform the various elements (scholars, universities, libraries, technologies and publishers) of the scholarly communication network.

Sundin & Johannisson emphasize the need to focus on questions of power that may be especially interesting in this context. For example, we might ask how the scholarly community will determine the relevance of blog posts to scholarship, or how publishers and authors will negotiate the move to open, disintermediated communication. Sundin & Johannisson also alert us to examine how blogs (all technologies) mediate certain perspectives and viewpoints, reminding us that scholarly communication cannot be studied in isolation from the tools scholars use to communicate (2005, p. 34).

Broadly conceived theories of information behavior or information practice (Savolainen, 2007), for example, the social practice approach that “sees a mutually shaping relationship between information and collaboration practices and the tools developed for purposes of communication and knowledge sharing” (p. 123), suggest interesting investigations. One might study to what extent blogs facilitate scholarly communication beyond the boundaries of the scholar’s primary practice group, where she is part of a larger community that is interested in the law but whose members do not read literature they view as too long, too dense and irrelevant (Liptak, 2007; Reed, 2007). Or, just as institutional practices define proper information seeking (Savolainen, p. 125), one might study how institutional practices formalize rules governing proper information development and dissemination, how such rules affect the forms of new scholarship and how new forms such as blogs may come to affect those rules.

One could explore the blog as a boundary object. As Van House observes (2004, p. 56), boundary objects must be "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." It may be that law professors themselves become a sort of boundary object when they blog to communicate beyond academic boundaries on a regular basis, especially to the public. Are they, in effect, translating between/among two or more communities?


Agre, P. E. (1995). Institutional circuitry: Thinking about the forms and uses of information. Information Technology and Libraries, 14 (4), 225(226).

Berman, D. (2007). More grist for the blog-scholarship debate [Blog post]. Sentencing Law and Policy, March 19, 2007. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from

Chartier, R., & Fagan, T. L. (2004). Languages, books, and reading from the printed word to the digital text. Critical Inquiry, 31(1), 133-152.

Czarnezki, J., Heise, M., Eisenberg, T., & Ford, W. (2007). Empirical legal studies: Bringing method to our madness. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Frohmann, B. (2004). Documenation redux: Prolegomenon to (another) philosophy of information. Library Trends, 52(3), 387-407.

Herring, S. C., Scheidt, L. A., Wright, E., & Bonus, S. (2005). Weblogs as a bridging genre. Information, Technology and People, 18(2), 142-171.

Liptak, A. (2007, March 19, 2007). When rendering decisions, judges are finding law reviews irrelevant. New York Times, from

Pickering, A. (1995). The mangle of practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reed, A. (2007). The future of reputation, part I [Blog post]. Deliberations, November 14, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from

Rioux, K. (2005). Information acquiring-and-sharing. In K. Fisher, S. Erdelez & L. E. F. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 169-173). Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

Saper, C. (2006). Blogademia. Reconstruction: Studies in contemporary culture Retrieved October 12, 2007, from

Savolainen, R. (2007). Information behavior and information practice: Reviewing the "umbrella concepts" of information-seeking studies. Library Quarterly, 77(2), 109-132.

Solum, L. B. (2006). Blogging and the transformation of legal scholarship. Paper presented at Bloggership: How Blogs are Transforming Legal Scholarship. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from

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.

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.

Volokh, E. (2006). Scholarship, blogging and trade-offs: On discovering, disseminating and doing. Paper presented at Bloggership: How blogs are transforming legal scholarship. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Continuation: Themes emerging from the discussion of blogs as scholarship

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research This is part 5 of a multi-part post on the subject of blogs as scholarship. It is the second part of the discussion of the themes that emerged in the journal and law review literature. The last post recounted the first part of this section. The next section will discuss possible research suggested by the state of the literature.

Blogs have disadvantages. Not all commentators thought blogs had or ever would have value as legal scholarship. Orin Kerr (2006) began his essay by suggesting that those who were enthusiastic might simply be trying to legitimize their activity: "At the very least, it’s tempting to use these essays to legitimate the importance of blogging for law professors. We law professor bloggers often spend several hours a day on our posts, and it would be nice if we could celebrate that time as essential to our scholarly mission as academics." Leiter warned that because even mediocre blog posts can generate “buzz,” that is, a cascade of positive attention based on a few laudatory comments from non-expert, but influential, bloggers (2006, pars. 3-4), blogs lower academic standards and contribute to the degradation of legal scholarship generally. Berman is generally positive, but closes his essay by listing a number of disadvantages of blogs: they can waste time and be addictive; they can become a popularity contest; and they can become a burden if they seem to demand constant updating (cite).

A question sometimes raised in the wake of a well-publicized failure to get tenure, be promoted or hired, is the extent to which blogging of controversial opinions may have contributed to such possibly devastating career decisions. After Yale declined to hire faculty applicant Juan Cole, a prominent expert and blogger on the Middle East, and a tenured professor at the University of Michigan, The Chronicle of Higher Education commissioned short pieces by eight bloggers, including Cole himself, addressing the question whether blogging can derail a career (Althouse, 2006; Berube, 2006; Cole, 2006; DeLong, 2006; Drezner, 2006; O'Connor, 2006; Reynolds, 2006; Vaidhyanathan, 2006). While the consensus was that it very well could, the reaction to that fact was not what one might expect. Most bloggers were unsurprised by the possibility and accepted it as part of being an academic. As Leiter observed (Leiter, 2007), and most of these authors agree, speaking out on matters of public concern comes with the academic territory (Althouse, 2006; Berube, 2006; Cole, 2006; O'Connor, 2006; Reynolds, 2006; Vaidhyanathan, 2006).

Finally, as noted above, Litvak all but entirely dismisses the value of blogs as scholarship.

Blogs are part of an emerging system of computer-mediated authority and validation. The recognition that bloggers cannot define what, as a practical matter, scholarship is, underlies much of the discussion. The tenure and review committees still determine that definition, and there seems to be little suggestion by these scholars that their committees will count blogs for tenure any time soon. But Michael Jensen (2007), director of strategic Web communications for the National Academies, believes that is changing. He explores how the measures and meanings of authority are evolving out of an environment of scarce information in to one of abundance. Some new forms of authority have already taken root in the non-scholarly community: Google's page rank, group participation news and trend-spotting sites like Slashdot,' collection of favorite sites where authority results from community tagging, and voting on posts and comments at sites like Daily Kos. These and many others engage participants to filter super-abundant content.

Jensen claims that what he calls Authority 3.0, built on algorithmic filtration, is just around the corner. National Academies Press already utilizes several examples. Jensen summarizes the elements from which Authority 3.0 draws, and details the implications of the inevitable shift for authors, universities, and scholarly publishers (par. 31-32).

[C]onsider the preconditions for scholarly success in Authority 3.0. They include the digital availability of a text for indexing (but not necessarily individual access — see Google for examples of journals that are indexed, but not otherwise available); the digital availability of the full text for referencing, quoting, linking, tagging; and the existence of metadata of some kind that identifies the document, categorizes it, contextualizes it, summarizes it, and perhaps provides key phrases from it, while also allowing others to enrich it with their own comments, tags, and contextualizing elements.

In the very near future, if we're talking about a universe of hundreds of billions of documents, there will routinely be thousands, if not tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of documents that are very similar to any new document published on the Web. If you are writing a scholarly article about the trope of smallpox in Shakespearean drama, how do you ensure you'll be read? By competing in computability.

Discussion of new ways to validate scholarship occurs in the blogosphere as well, with librarians among those discussing the alternatives (Cohen, 2007; McKiernan, 2007; Siemens, 2007). Laura Cohen, in particular, recommends that libraries take an active part in accelerating establishment of new models of authority for what she terms, “social scholarship” (2007, slides 18-20).

Ultimately, however, it’s not just the blog. One Bloggership participant felt that asking whether blogs were legal scholarship framed the wrong question. "The relationship between blogging and the future of legal scholarship is a product of other forces—the emergence of the short form, the obsolescence of exclusive rights, and the trend towards the disintermediation of legal scholarship" (Solum, 2006, p. 2). Lawrence Solum refutes Litvak's assertion that blogs have nothing to do with and will have no effect upon scholarship with examples illustrating their value (citations by courts, in law review articles, qualitatively exceptional posts, etc.) (pp. 2-3), but also argues that blogs are simply one of many exponents of larger trends that are changing legal scholarship.

While pre-existing forms of scholarship will continue (mediated, long form journal articles requiring assignment of exclusive rights to publishers), new forms are becoming popular, even preferred (p. 12).

That’s the world as it existed before the Internet, before Google, before blogging. Law review articles and treatises. Exclusive publication rights. Card catalogs. The Index of Legal Periodicals. Even things that were new, not so long ago, are now like familiar pieces of furniture. Academic press books and peer-reviewed journals. Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis. J-stor and Hein Online. But that world is giving way, Radical change is already upon us.

Solum suggests that short forms such as idea papers, blog posts and even wikis may replace some types of law review articles, or serve as first drafts for later publication (pp. 13-14). He notes that the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) serves admirably as an open access venue for idea papers and even the full text of articles, but because SSRN is a closed system in that it does not allow full-text searching of its contents, it still plays the role of mediator in a way that inhibits full access (p. 15). Solum identifies the growth in popularity of Google as the driving force behind complete disintermediation (p. 16):

And the new role of Google has an enormously important consequence. There will come a day when the saying, “If it isn’t on the net, it doesn’t exist,” is true. Open access legal scholarship will be the only legal scholarship that is actually read. Closed-access legal scholarship will be the tree that falls with no one in the forest. The correct metaphysics will confirm its existence, but the best epistemology will question the significance (but not the truth) of that judgment.

Solum examines the concept of readership, the driver for the changes he has described and the economics of legal scholarship. Readership is the key to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Short forms, open access, disintermediation, reduced costs, and reduced time to publication drive up readership. Blogs are a paradigmatic example of a cheap, quick, disintermediated, open access, short form. "Their importance, if any, is as the medium (or technology) through which the incentives and institutional forces that are pushing legal scholarship towards the short form, open access, and disintermediation are doing their work. If it hadn’t been blogs, it would have been something else" (p. 23).

Opinion outside the legal academy

Scholars in other fields express similar opinions on their blogs and in the scholarly literature. Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes passionately about a future for scholarship that embraces blogs. And why not? "[T]he very purpose of scholarly reading is the discursive exchange and development of ideas amongst peers" (2007, anti-hypertext, par. 3). Fitzpatrick, associate professor of English and media studies at Pomona College, explains her experience with CommentPress, a type of blog implemented as a "theme" (a modification of the look of standard blog features) for the basic open source WordPress blog. CommentPress changes several blog components to emphasize the importance of commenting. She believes this is a positive modification, especially for younger scholars. “[T]he generation celebrated by Time magazine as the 'person of the year' in late 2006 -- 'you' -- expects that the reader will likewise be allowed to write" (scholarly discourse networks, par. 2).

Comments in CommentPress appear alongside the segment of text to which they refer, not at the bottom of the page in typical blog form, suggesting an elevated role for the commenter. Indeed, Fitzpatrick observes, "[a]s Richard Lanham noted in an early review essay on work in electronic textuality, 'Digital electronic writing is a volatile, interactive, nonauthoritative medium which, of itself, alters the whole idea of scholarly originality, research, and production and publication' (Lanham 2003)" (scholarly discourse networks, par. 2).

Not surprisingly, Fitzpatrick’s article cites blogs – lots of blogs – in addition to more traditional forms of scholarship. Perhaps surprisingly, the article is a blog. It appears, section by section, as a series of linked posts in CommentPress, inviting comments to sections, paragraphs and the entire article. The author indicates that she blogged an earlier draft to solicit comments. So she authored the article in conversation with others, and she stays in conversation with others in this CommentPress version, while a simultaneously published version appears in the peer-reviewed Journal of Electronic Publishing. Her overall message is clear: blogs facilitate interaction around a text and are expanding scholarship, just as scholarship is expanding the blog.


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