11 Mar 2014

The future of blogs, the future of journals

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 These pieces are typically not peer-reviewed anyway, and so apart from the loss of the skilled hand of an editor (which is certainly a loss), there is limited difference.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.


  1. Hi Michelle. Really enjoyed your post. Thanks.
    I too believe that blogs are going to play an increasingly important role in the future dissemination of research. For me the exciting thing about blogs is their democratic nature - both in the production and the accessing of material. They create a space for people to experiment with writing material for a wider audience. It does away with the gatekeepers - & I don't want to ignore the role that editors and publishers play - but when it comes to access of information and contingent knowledge the freer the better I say.
    Look at our profession - So many recent MLS grads have exciting blogs examining issues in an accessible way that even us hardened more experienced librarians can learn a thing or three from. These bloggers would probably never ever think of submitting to a 'traditional' journal at this stage in their careers. And would they be published if they did submit? Most likely not. But say in a few years, when they have five years of blogging behind them they will more than likely have the confidence to submit to a traditional journal. In this way I believe blogs will support the traditional journal model - if that still exists. Blogs can be a laboratory, a play pen, for people to learn their craft.
    Apologies for the length of the reply - slightly longer than I had planned :)

    1. Thanks Martin! I definitely think the peer review system in traditional journals is the best we have (at the moment), but blogs provide a great avenue for report/review/commentary/discussion type pieces - and, as you say, have the added advantage of being more accessible also. Also a very valuable way to build and develop the habit of writing as you suggest.

  2. I agree totally Michelle - the peer review system a la traditional journals is the best we have at the moment. For me the important phrase is 'at the moment'. But I also believe that we are probably at ground zero in terms of a new model of research dissemination and a generation not so tied to the traditional model of research publication are being created. Call me naïve but I believe the Blog is going to be central to this new model.