This year's Medical Library Association annual meeting was refreshing in many ways. Last year I wasn't able to attend, after six straight years. It was good to be back, and besides that this year's meeting was in Washington, DC, my home from 2002-2004. Today's Leiter lecture at NLM looks compelling, not least because it will bring me back to the place where I began my career as a health sciences librarian.
On Sunday I moderated a panel about "informal publication methods" such as blogging, trying to understand how blog posts can and should intersect with formal peer-reviewed literature. Much of the content that makes a big impact today arrives informally, and most health sciences librarians do not have the inclination to write formally peer-reviewed articles. Academics like me are in a much better position to contribute to the traditional literature, as Eric Schnell (one of the panelists) pointed out during the forum. Expanding the definition of what counts as scholarship in our field--which Eric noted is a decision we can make, without automatically perpetuating the models of scholarship found elsewhere--could greatly increase the number of people able to contribute to our knowledge base.
Well, hopefully. As current JMLA editor Susan Starr pointed out during the forum, formal publication continues to serve many vital functions--namely, archiving and certification of an idea's validity. There is a barrier to peer-reviewed publication for a reason. And besides that, many of our colleagues would not be comfortable with the idea of posting an idea publicly and throwing it open to post-publication peer review. Rachel Walden, another panelist, reminded us that many librarians appreciate the current process as a way to work through the implications of an idea before it goes public.
Melissa Rethlefsen, speaking on behalf of MLA's Social Networking Task Force, pointed out that developing a good blog post is not trivial. Sure, anyone can blog anything. But there are ways to tell the wheat from the chaff--page views, comments, retweets, etc. Fully developed blog posts, in my view, rise to the level of the Brief Communications that regularly appear in JMLA. Gail Persily and I have a Brief Communication set to appear in the July 2010 issue of JMLA, and we worked hard on it. But I'm working just as hard on this post, and in all honesty I care about this more. So there has to be a way to recognize and reward the effort it takes to maintain a solid professional blog. Melissa pointed out that AHIP points are available for managing a blog, but not for creating the posts themselves. That seems weird, not to mention wrong.
This was the best kind of panel to moderate, because all the speakers were excellent and I didn't have to do anything. Susan proposed the creation of "MLA Notices," a section linked from JMLA that would highlight the best blog posts by Association members and have a lighter form of peer review than formal papers. This was a great idea, and similar to a suggestion that Eric, Charlie Greenberg and I made a while ago for JMLA to leverage the capabilities of ResearchBlogging to highlight outstanding posts. Rachel proposed that all articles that will appear in JMLA become pre-publications, to negate the problem of delays caused by print publication. Melissa noted that she's shying away from extensive blogging now in favor of formal publications, because there are less provisions for archiving good blog work and the perception remains that blogging is child's play. Eric rounded it out by reminding us that we're in charge of what counts as scholarship in health sciences librarianship--we can solve all these challenges ourselves. Compared to researchers in many other fields, I'd argue that librarians are at greater liberty to be experimental and bold in how we conceive of our professional communication.
This blog post is now concluded, and you can be sure that I'll include the link to it on my CV. It's not the most impressive contribution ever made to health sciences librarianship, but I wasn't blogging in my pajamas either.