amplifying scholarly communication

As I mentioned the other day, I’m trying to learn more about digital humanities. It’s a topic that I’ve assumed I’d be interested in (after all, I like most technology and one of my majors was philosophy), but I’ve always felt that I had kindof a nebulous grasp of the concept.

Luckily, just as I’m trying to learn more about it, there’s been several interesting things happening in the digital humanities world, at least as far as the Modern Language Association goes. So I’ve been paying attention to some of the aftermath.

As an aside… One thing I’m noticing about that very behavior is that it’s much more challenging for me than following a library related conference (for example, Internet Librarian, Computers in Libraries, or Code 4 Lib). Since I’m not part of the MLA or digital humanities community, I’m not familiar with the channels they use, which ones are the most important, or who the “big” names are. This type of knowledge about the library world makes it easy for me to do this type of following for our conferences. It makes me think a lot of reference librarianship. I need to find the librarian for this type of work who can tell me what channels to be tuned into for the best information!! :)

Back on topic: In learning what I can about the digital humanities, I’m seeing a lot of interesting discussion about the impact of social networking on scholarship. It’s lovely! From the clear impact of Twitter (though this post has tons of other great stuff in it, too… I’m referencing that later) to story of Rosemary Feal, executive director of MLA, inviting her Twitter friends to a late-night gathering of MLA leaders to discussions of digital literacy being as essential as information literacy and critical thinking…. it’s really fun to see Twitter taking form in this community the way it has taken hold in library conferences and dialog. In fact, reading a lot of this reminds me of ALA just a year or so ago, when it was first transforming the way that Twitter users could participate in the conference: “attending” multiple sessions at once, contributing from home, sharing information in real time, and enabling face-to-face meetups.

But the part of the conversation I’m enjoying most can be found in Amanda French’s Make “10? louder, or the amplification of scholarly communication. It. Is. Awesome. She pulled together a spreadsheet of Twitter use at several different conferences and archived the conference tweets as well. Using this data, she found that “only 3% (at most) of MLA attendees were twittering, while almost twice as many people twittered about THATcamp as actually attended it.” Looks a lot like some of our conferences, no? She pointed out how she had hoped to follow along at a distance this time, but Twitter still hadn’t saturated the community of folks attending MLA… meaning the content didn’t make it out as she had hoped. Again, like some of our gatherings.

And French noted that since Twitterers were the ones reporting, those playing along at home mostly got the news that Twitterers reported. People at home might think the conference was mostly about the digital humanities if those were the sessions Twitterers reported on. They might think that Brian Croxall’s “The Absent Presence: Today’s Faculty” was the most influential as it was discussed by those at home and online at great length, though at the conference it might not have been such a hit. And because of all of this online discussion, the paper was picked up by several mainstream websites (including the Chronicle). And as French says,

Let me put it this way: Brian’s paper was big news only on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Which, however, means that it was big news. Period.

And here’s the leap I love: over at academhack, Dave Parry suggests “The real influence should be measured by how many people read his paper.” Rock. On. Where in the past, only those in the room had the experience of hearing a paper, now the reach can be much, much greater. In this case, it looks like Croxall’s paper was read by around 5,000 people, which is half the total size of the conference. It’s a huge number of people for an academic product.

But, as Parry points out, Croxall’s success comes in part because he has built a lot of social network capital through Twitter, educational technology work, as well as having done a lot of traditional academic networking and scholarly production. Which I have seen (and been fortunate to experience) time and time again in librarianship.

Anyway, enough rambling. Again, here are the two main posts I’ve been reflecting on:

I think we (in libraries, as well as in academia) should be thinking a lot about the issue of “amplification in scholarly communication.” We need to have more discussions of what this means for tenure and what counts in as scholarly communication and participation. I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation…

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