In the last few months I've attempted to lead the transition of the journal Biomedical Digital Libraries (BDL) from publication on BioMed Central to publication via the Open Journal Systems (OJS) platform. The critical difference now is that prospective authors owe no author fees. In its four years of existence BDL has published several articles that received buzz among people interested in digital libraries. It felt good to be part of reviving the flagging fortunes of BDL.
But something funny happened on the way to OJS: I became firmly convinced that the traditional journal model is antiquated for sharing research and knowledge among librarians. A better course is to develop and nurture excellent blogs, with multimedia capabilities and guaranteed preservation of the postings. This could be an entirely new blog that starts from scratch, or an established journal that evolves into a blog.
Once this belief sunk in, I didn't have the same passion for reviving BDL that I used to. As one of my goals for the upcoming Medical Library Association meeting in May, I hope to identify a new leader for BDL who will give it the attention and energy that it deserves. My own energy will shift towards getting this blog project off the ground--it could take years, but I think it's worth it.
1. As respected library commentator Walt Crawford notes, blogs are among the most vibrant library literature today. I agree with Crawford, and believe there is no reason why all of the rigor traditionally associated with journals could not be maintained on a blog contributed to by multiple authors.
2. Peer review should be a post-publication process, rather than a pre-publication process that sometimes drags out for many months. If physicists can post pre-prints that get discussions flowing quickly, why can't librarians?
The argument for pre-publication peer review is that it filters out poor research. This is a legitimate concern when the research in question is about a new and potentially deadly medical intervention. Library research is not like this; peer review can occur via community conversation.
1. Most people will prefer to publish in established journals rather than an unestablished blog. Of course this is true, which is why the evolution to a blog paradigm would take a long time.
2. All of the supporting structures--from PubMed citations to tenure requirements--favor the traditional journal. Blogs are still too new to be taken seriously as a venue for enduring research.
Rebuttal: This is certainly true now, but--ultimately--what is a scholarly journal but a means of communication among people of similar interests and backgrounds? Why can't blogs achieve the same goals?
3. Blogs are ephemeral; they come and go at the speed of light. In some cases, good journals have existed for hundreds of years.
Response: The proof of the viability of a scholarly blog will be in how long it lasts. But even if the blog failed, that would be a function of a lack of commitment among the people involved. There is no intrinsic reason why all of the functions served by a quality journal cannot be served just as well by a carefully designed and managed blog.