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Academics and Web 2.0

I was reading an interesting article from Research Information the other day, “Web 2.0 fails to excite today’s researchers” by David Stuart.  My job as a librarian is to help researchers at my institution do their research more efficiently and productively, and technology plays a big role in that.  There is a number of useful tools that can help research, and I am planning regular workshops on those for researchers at my library beginning next semester.

But the nagging question is how much interests it will draw from the target audience, that is, academics.  Librarians often worry about marketing and outreach. But there is also the undeniable fact that researchers like to do their research themselves.  Also, they tend to think that they already know what the best way of going about doing their own research.

Once I was told by a colleague that ILL requests are highly confidential because that may reveal what a researcher is currently working on. That is, nobody wants to be scooped in their research.

I often thought that the promotion guidelines for academic librarians in a faculty system should be changed to put less emphasis on traditional paper publishing and more on services and activities that vitalizes library services and the profession. Perhaps, should something similar take place for academic faculty?  There is no doubt that Web 2.0 technologies open up great possibilities for facilitating and promoting more fresh research agendas.

“Scholarly publishing 2.0 offers much more to the research process than the simple content management system of blogs and wikis. It does not just give the opportunity to help find collaborators for a project, and possibility of easing the communication process within a research group. It also offers the opportunity to publish new forms of data and can blur the barriers of the research group. The traditional research paper has obvious limitations in terms of the type of information that can be conveyed. It is not just video and audio that are unsuitable for the paper format, but also the huge amounts of data that may be collected in the research process. The open data movement is about sharing as much of the data as possible, while the open notebook science movement is about sharing as much of the whole primary record as possible. Both of these are focused on enabling others to use the mass of information behind a journal article to inform further research. The web also offers new opportunities for more open peer review, widening the opportunity for those who want to provide and receive feedback on research.”

Mutual Sharing

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But academics have been quite slow in adopting Web 2.0 technologies. Much of it can be blamed on the over-emphasis on the traditional research paper in academia.

“Academics worry as much about being scooped and not getting credit for their work as the potential for slipping standards in scholarship.”

There should be a way to give credit to academics who try an alternative way of scholarly publishing such as blogs, wikis, etc.  Ideas only get better through feedback and open discussion.  Publishing traditional research papers can’t be the only means to contribute to scholarship.  On the other hand, researchers should know that like in any other groups, if you won’t share with others, others’ won’t share with you.

Also, think about the amount of work that goes into writing up one small research paper.  There is a long literature search process.  Large sets of data are often compiled.  Interesting but not necessarily relevant papers are discovered, read, and then set aside.  If these pre-research work can be shared among scholars, how much more effective can research be?

Now, what kind of systems can help us to store, organize, and share such pre-research work?  It is a fertile ground for research.


  1. Keeping with the spirit of Open Notebook Science that we use in my lab, I have asked students in my cheminfo retrieval class to keep a “Research Log” on a wiki page as they flesh out their ideas and get feedback about where to direct their projects and search. Since these pages are kept on publicly a public wiki they get indexed fairly efficiently on Google. Thus well before the projects are completed others can benefit from the partial work.
    A few examples are highlighted here:

  2. Library Hat says:

    Thanks so much for pointing to the Useful Chemistry Wiki. It is fascinating to see and I wonder closer collaboration facilitates research (I would assume it would). Thx again!