Moveable Types of Information Literacy: Emerging Electronic Genres and the Deconstruction of Peer Review

Moveable Types of Information Literacy: Emerging Electronic Genres and the Deconstruction of Peer ReviewLiteracy Weblog)

Vannevar Bush, writing in 1945, lamented that the volume of scientific knowledge being published each year forced researchers to spend unprecedented time and energy searching for relevant information (and choosing what to ignore). His solution, the Memex, was a photocopier crossed with a microfilm storage and access device. A Memex user would theoretically create links between documents, annotating those links, add those annotations to the filing system, and share the resulting “trails” with other researchers. In some sense, what Vannevar Bush was trying to accomplish with his annotated “trails” has been implemented through the weblog genre (specifically, the research blog or “edublog”).

Traditional textual scholarship aims to construct a specific, ideal, “correct” text. But computer science — the discipline that generates the technology that drives (or hampers) information literacy — aims instead for abstraction. In the open source software development model, particularly as described by Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” individual programmers contribute their labor freely to a common project made available to the general public for free.

Given the financial pressures publishers of journals exert upon libraries, and the brewing rebellion against what some activists characterize as a cabal of print publishers, some emerging electronic forms have radically altered the dynamics of the scholar-publisher relationship, without necessarily reducing the filtering value provided by peer-review. Electronic journals such as First Monday offer cutting-edge, peer-reviewed scholarship on a timeline of weeks. Even more radical is the Wiki, a form of electronic authorship that decentralizes authority and encourages all readers to annotate, expand, edit, or completely revise a common text.

In such genres, peer-review (in the form of inbound links, e-mailed or posted corrections/refutations, revision, or even deletion) is expected to happen after a text is published, thus making the process of peer review visible, instead of simply the product. Popularly-edited texts online typically summarize general knowledge, rather than offer a forum for the presentation of new knowledge or controversial opinion; further, emerging electronic genres also typically over-represent particular opinions espoused by technorati who manipulate the system (an effect which inspired the term “Googlewashing,” and illustrated by the recent online prank that now causes a Google search for “miserable failure” to point first to George Bush’s official biography on the White House web site). Developing strategies to compensate for these anomalous effects is a vital skill for 21st Century information literacy.