Following a presentation I gave recently at an academic writing seminar in NUI Maynooth Library, I have been thinking about what the future of blogging as part of the scholarly communication process might look like, and in particular, how blogs and journals can co-exist, and even support each other.
More and more we are seeing journal publishers embrace blogs as a tool for promoting their journal titles. In this way, I think blogs not only work well from a marketing point of view, by helping to reinforce and differentiate journal brands, but they also provide an "added value" service for authors by showcasing their research to a new audience i.e. those who may not necessarily read the journal in question but may be interested in its content from time to time (it may be outside their field for example, or they may not typically even read academic journals at all).
However, I think blogs can potentially play a much more significant role in scholarly communications than simply serving as a 'social advert' for the full-text. Since Melissa Gregg's discussion in 2006, we have seen blogging cement itself as a valuable part of the research workflow for many academics. I would go one step further than this. At present we see more and more research being produced, leading to longer journal issues and an increased burden on both editors and publishers. Outside of original research articles however, I think a lot of the supplementary content traditionally published in journals, such as conference reports, book reviews and even commentary or viewpoint-type pieces could easily migrate to blogs.
Before online publishing, it made sense to curate and package these items within journals, but with the emergence of new alternatives, I think some of these formats may even be more suited to the social space and context that blogging can offer. Firstly, the immediacy and speed of blog publishing allows reports and reviews to be published as soon as a conference is finished or a book is published. These pieces are typically not peer-reviewed anyway, and so apart from the loss of the skilled hand of an editor (which is certainly a loss), there is limited difference. Furthermore, opening up the possibility of post-publication review through blog comments and related channels may make a lot of sense for these types of contributions, as it allows others who have attended a conference or read a book to engage in the discussion (perhaps even the author or a conference presenter). Similarly, some viewpoint or perspective pieces may work most successfully when published within the zeitgeist they emerged from - a context that may be diluted or even lost with a lengthy publishing process. Many blogs are already publishing high quality, analytic pieces often comparable to those you might expect to find in the commentary section of a journal, and moreover, opening them up to an audience both scholarly and non-scholarly at once. Reducing the administrative and editorial load on journal publishers and editors would also be no bad thing, affording them more time to work on papers where they add most value, that is, through the co-ordination of peer-review and editing of original research articles. Allowing journals to specialise in what they do best seems like a win-win situation, and one that may even reduce the costs associated with publishing that are ultimately paid for by the end user.
The cross-over blog/journal format of Journal of Creative Library Practice may take the concept to an extreme, but it is an idea I find interesting. It fills an intriguing space that is 'not-quite-a-journal-not-quite-a-blog', and I think there is
potentially room for similar ventures, side by side with the traditional journal as we know it. In a world where new journals are born digital and those in print are increasingly migrating online, it offers us opportunities to look at how academic writing (and not just research) is organised, communicated and shared.