The Future of Peer Review?

It’s still a few weeks until Open Access Week, but starting now you can help reimagine what scholarly publishing might look like in the future. Media Studies scholar Kathleen Fitzpatrick has made her new book manuscript available online for open peer review. While Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy will go through the traditional blind review process (it’s slated to be published in print next year by NYU Press), Fitzpatrick also plans to incorporate reader comments from the online manuscript into her revisions, asserting that “peer review will be a more productive, more helpful, more transparent, and more effective process if conducted in the open.”

The beginning of open peer review for Planned Obsolescence also marks the launch of MediaCommons Press, the latest project from MediaCommons (which Barbara first alerted us to a couple of years ago). MediaCommons uses the CommentPress theme for the popular, open source WordPress blogging platform. Manuscript text is displayed side-by-side with reader comments, facilitating paragraph-level discussion of the book.

Of course this isn’t the first experiment with open peer review of scholarly works. Fitzpatrick published an article about CommentPress in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in 2007, and also made it available online for comments. Noah Wardrip-Fruin opened up the manuscript for his book Expressive Processing to “blog-based peer review” on the group blog Grand Text Auto; it also went through the traditional peer review process before being published by MIT Press this year.

What’s most interesting to me about the Planned Obsolescence project is that the book itself discusses the process of peer review and scholarly publishing. Browsing the chapter titles and subtitles there looks to be lots of interest to academic librarians: discussions of authority, intellectual property, preservation, and the sustainability of university presses. I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few pages yet, but I’m looking forward to continuing (and commenting, too).

For the Hacker in You

Last week was the official launch of Prof Hacker, a new website devoted to productivity, technology, and pedagogy in higher education. A link to this group blog first popped up in my Twitterstream a couple of months ago and I immediately became a regular reader. While the main audience for Prof Hacker is college and university faculty teaching semester-length courses, there’s also lots here for academic librarians. (And of course we sometimes teach credit-bearing courses, too.)

Prof Hacker publishes at least one new post every weekday featuring news, advice, and how-tos. Posts are short and accessible, and cover a wide range of topics. Some of my favorites so far include:

  • A couple of posts about using and managing course blogs, including a review of the pros and cons of group vs. individual blogs and thoughtful discussion on evaluating and grading blog posts. Great comments, too.
  • A timely entry on managing stress over the course of semester (timely for me, at least, since it was published on the first day of classes at my college). Great advice that’s worth saving to reread on the first week of every semester.
  • One professor’s report on using iPod Touches in a class he taught over the summer. This one seems especially relevant for librarians as we investigate ebooks and the various ways that they (and other library resources) can be accessed by students.
  • And if you miss something and need to catch up, each week there’s a handy week in review post drawing together all of the previous week’s entries (the week I link to was particularly full of great posts).

Definitely a valuable addition to my feedreader. What blogs/sites are you reading this semester?

Damming the Information Streams

It’s incredible how fast the library gets busy again once the semester starts. This week started out quiet as I caught up on email after returning from vacation, but by the end I was spending my days attending several meetings and in the thick of scheduling classes. I generally prefer to be busier than not, so I’ve been happy for the increase in activity in the library and on campus.

But as my workdays fill up I’ve begun to worry that my strategies for keeping up with library and higher education news and scholarship are wearing thin. It’s so much easier during the summer. Not only is there more time to breathe at work – fewer meetings and classes, quieter reference desk – but there’s also less to read. The publication pace of everything seems to slow down, especially online information sources. My summertime RSS feeds are well-mannered and easy to control, my email inbox usually hovers near zero.

Now that the new academic year has started, there’s much more to read and browse. Items linger in my feed reader for days at a time and emailed table of contents alerts from library databases pile up. On my desk there’s a stack of articles I’d planned to read over the summer, and several books I requested from other libraries at my university have come in all at once. This week I realized that I’m suddenly swamped by my information streams.

Clearly this calls for a new strategy. This week I re-read Sarah Houghton-Jan’s excellent article on information overload published in Ariadne last year, which offers loads of good advice for keeping up and staying sane. Encouraged by her suggestions, I headed to my RSS reader and weeded feeds mercilessly. I also reorganized them by priority into several folders—critical, desirable, and optional—which I hope will make it easier for me to ignore less important items until there’s time to read them.

I also plan to cull many of my table of contents alerts, as I’ve found them to be something of a double-edged sword. It’s important to me to keep up with what’s new in the library literature, but ultimately I’ve printed more articles than I’ve had time to read (which accounts for the pile on my desk). So I’m going to cancel several of my alerts and let myself off the hook with the journals that remain. If an article catches my eye, I’ll try to take the time to scan through it before adding it to my To Read folder. I’m hopeful that this will help shrink my current stack of articles, and maybe facilitate more thorough reading of the articles I do print out.

Finally, I’m going to try and build intentional time for reading into my schedule. For many of us this time is built into the daily commute. That won’t work for me, but I still think I can carve some time out of my daily schedule to devote to reading. Once I’ve made all of these changes I’m not sure if I’ll end up reading more than I do now, or less. But if these strategies help me read more thoughtfully and feel less buried, then that’s a worthwhile trade.

Finding Topics & Time for Scholarship

Laura’s recent post about faculty book projects has me thinking about writing. Even though I’ve been at my job for over a year, I still feel lucky to have landed a tenure track position at an academic library that I truly enjoy. During my hiatus from the academic world between my time as an archaeologist and when I started library school, I hadn’t realized how much I missed research, and even writing. So I’m pleased to have a job in which research and writing are required.

Of course, it’s one thing to be happy that scholarship is expected of me, and another to actually do the research and writing. When I first started at my job my biggest stumbling block was about the What. What topics could I write about? What could be a subject for a research project, big or small? What ideas were better suited to more informal writing?

Many librarians write about aspects of their jobs: projects and programming they’ve worked on, issues or problems they’ve addressed. So looking to my job responsibilities seemed like a good place to start. At various points over the past year I’ve made a list of everything I’ve worked on at my job and used the list to pick out possible writing topics. As an extra bonus, the lists came in handy when it was time for me to fill out my annual self-assessment a few months ago.

I also keep another list, one I call “research thoughts.” This one’s for ideas that come up as a result of something I’ve read, heard, or seen in the blogosphere, journal articles, conference presentations, email lists, podcasts, and casual conversation. Sometimes they’re directly related to my job, and sometimes they’re not — these ideas are usually not much more than half- (or even quarter-) baked. I check in with this list every so often, and it can provide a much-needed jolt of inspiration during a dry spell. In fact, my current research project started out as an entry on this list after attending a particularly interesting presentation at a conference two years ago.

The other big factor affecting my scholarly goals has to do with the When. When do I research and write? How can I make the time? As a junior faculty member I’m very lucky to have reassigned time during the early years of my tenure track, as do junior faculty in other departments at my college. So I do have some time specifically set aside for scholarship, which has been an enormous help in getting research and writing done this year.

Over this year I’ve found that, for me, frequency counts: I need to write often to be able to write often. This is certainly not unique — many librarians, academics, and writers offer this advice. But it’s a realization I’ve come to slowly as I’m unsure where to fit near-daily writing into the rest of my life. Some days I can grab time in the mornings (I am definitely a morning person), but some days I can’t. Figuring out how to make space for frequent writing is a major goal of mine for the near future.

If you’re a librarian-researcher and -writer, what are some of your best sources of inspiration? And how do you find time for scholarship?

Social Networking News Roundup

Recently I’ve followed several interesting online discussions about social networking. Here are a few highlights:

  • Social media researcher danah boyd’s work involves interviewing teens across the country about social networking; she’s collected some fascinating data. In her recent talk at the Personal Democracy Forum Conference in New York she discussed class issues across various social networking sites. Boyd has found differences in the use of Facebook and MySpace in high schoolers of different socioeconomic statuses. Facebook is seen by many teens as more mature and higher status, a place where the “honors kids” hang out, while MySpace is often viewed as somewhat childish and lower status.
  • Ezter Hargittai of Northwestern University does similar research from a quantitative (rather than a qualitative) perspective. Last week she discussed the results of her survey of social networking preferences of first year college students in 2007 and 2009 on Crooked Timber. While her data shows that Facebook use is up and MySpace use down across the board, it also suggests that the class distribution found by boyd in high schoolers persists among college students. Facebook use is highest among first year students of higher socioeconomic status, and MySpace is most heavily used by students of lower socioeconomic status. Hargittai’s data reveal racial differences in social networking choices among freshmen, too.
  • Finally, a post last week on ReadWriteWeb discussed the analysis of Facebook user data by interactive agency iStrategy. These data show that while the total number of Facebook users continues to grow, the past six months has seen explosive growth in the number of users who are 55 and older: over 500%! On the flip side, the number of high school and college users has shrunk in the first half of 2009. Are new users simply declining to list their educational status, or has Facebook lost some appeal for students now that all of us “old folks” are there?

What does this all mean for academic libraries? Facebook has witnessed explosive growth in recent years, and many of us have created a presence on the site to promote our libraries and connect with students. But boyd’s and Hargittai’s research reminds us that we may be missing the opportunity to connect with an often sizable segment of our student population if we restrict our social networking efforts just to Facebook.

On the other hand, if college students are fleeing Facebook (a creepy treehouse effect?), perhaps it’s not the best place for us to be focusing our energies. And if students are leaving Facebook, and MySpace use is down, too, where are they going?