Heft vs. Googlehole: Scholarship and the Print Pit

Heft vs. Googlehole: Scholarship and the Print Pit (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I love the heft and feel of a book. So do academic tenure and promotion committees, I am told.

In “The Book as the Gold Standard for Tenure and Promotion in the Humanistic Disciplines,” Estabrook notes that only in history departments do a majority of faculty members support preserving the lofty position of the scholarly monograph. Further, a majority of faculty across divisions feel that their own scholarship does not need to be published in book form in order to be effective. Libraries spend more money on expensive databases, which must (unlike a book) be renewed annually (see “Use It or Lose It: The MLA Bibliography Database“), the print runs of scholarly books drops to the hundreds, and The Crisis in Scholarly Publication continues. Meanwhile, my own handful of printed publications sit on my shelf, patiently waiting for members of a future tenure and promotions committees to thumb through them.

When I had to cancel my trip to BlogTalk (billed as the first European international conference on weblogging), I considered sending my orphaned paper (“Meme(X) Marks the Spot“) to Into the Blogosphere, an online peer-reviewed collection. But the proceedings of BlogTalk would appear as a physical book — something that will add heft to the milk crates in which I plan to put my tenure and promotion review materials when my time comes. My free copy of BlogTalks — with my adopted paper in it — arrived from Europe a little wrinkled on the spine, but it looked nice on the shelf next to my dissertation and a few other printed publications.

I contacted the publisher because I wanted to use BlogTalks in my Writing for the Internet course. This summer the contract for the bookstore changed hands, which caused a bit of chaos. For whatever reason, after four months and dozens of e-mails and consultations with the bookstore manager, here we are, six weeks into term, and BlogTalks still isn’t in the bookstore.

Meanwhile, the full text of every peer-reviewed article in Into the Blogosphere — which I initially rejected as a less-prestigious venue — is readily available for my students and me to consult online (and link to, if desired). The site is run with weblog software, which means that visitors can post comments and the authors can respond.

While my decision to submit my article to BlogTalks rather than Into the Blogosphere had consequences, the online-print relationship is not a simple binary opposition.

I was asked to help peer-review Into the Blogosphere (something that wouldn’t have happened, had I contributed to it). When the collection first came out I posted lengthy reactions to several of the articles. As a result, I have insinuated myself partially into the permeable boundaries of Into the Blogosphere.

About half of the authors of the BlogTalk papers chose to publish their work on their own websites. But, as viewed through Google, online presence of the collection is not as strong. While this might be a momentary glitch, a Google search for “BlogTalks” turns up links to blank pages on my own online syllabus (indicating days I plan to devote to talking about BlogTalks, if the copies ever arrive in the bookstore) before it turns up the table of contents that features the list of those BlogTalk contributions that are available online.

After blogging about how humanities professors aren’t reading and citing the works their tenure committees and chairs reward them for writing, I admitted I am apparently part of the problem. Because I use my blog as a research tool, I am more likely to pursue a particular line of inquiry if I know I can make the full text of the source available for further discussion on my blog. The articles in a library database of journal articles are available for free to almost anyone with a library card, but I can’t post a working link on my blog that calls up the article. The linkable and the Googleable ascend — probably faster than they should. (See “Digging for Googleholes,” Johnson’s critique of Google’s inherent pro-geek bias.)

Proprietary methods of online delivery (such as the PDFs served through EBSCOHost) use formats and methods that may not stand the test of time. For all but the small handful of academic authors whose work has crossover mass-market appeal, publishing scholarly work in a print-only venue makes it harder for readers to locate, consult, and cite.

Well, unless those readers are on a tenure and promotions committee… in which case, milk crate technology is extremely useful for delivering that desired heft.