The Relevance of Libraries

Disruptions In Many Directions

If I were a sociologist of the blogosphere, I might find a fine case study in the comment thread to Michael Clarke's excellent post, Why Hasn't Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted Already?, which showed up on The Scholarly Kitchen just after the start of the new year.

Clarke starts with the observation that, despite nearly two decades of chatter about how the web was going to revolutionize scholarly publishing, and despite the tremendous disruptions that have occurred in so many other areas of modern society and communications, scholarly publishing "does not look dramatically different..., at least in terms of the major publishers. The industry has been relatively stable."

He then goes on to hypothesize why that might be, and suggests that it has to do with the fact that the major roles that publishers play are cultural ones, and that "these are not technology-driven functions."

He goes on, "Given these 3 deeply entrenched cultural functions, I do not think that scientific publishing will be disrupted anytime in the foreseeable future. That being said, I do think that new technologies are opening the door for entirely new products and services built on top of—and adjacent to—the existing scientific publishing system."  And he gives some examples.

I think that Clarke is right on target here.  I've long argued that while the technological changes that the internet represents are indeed profound, it will take at least a generation or two before we begin to see the beginnings of a mature digital culture that parallels the mature print culture that we all grew up in, because it takes a considerable amount of time for society to fully absorb and adjust to the sociological, cultural, political and legal changes that are required.

The post has garnered 75 comments -- relatively few of which actually address the core of his argument.   As is usually the case with blog discussions many of the commenters use the occasion to expand on their own pet issues, which may or may not be tangentially related to the core of the argument being put forth.  Then there are the little side arguments that take place among different commenters which often go very far afield. 

Overall though, it's pretty interesting discourse, even if it doesn't take Clarke's argument very far.  It's like being in a bar with a group of semi-sober, smart, opinionated, occasionally cantankerous, and sometimes slightly lunatic folks who really do care very much about the issues, even if the evening is wearing on rather past the point where anyone is thinking clearly.   At any moment somebody is going to climb up on a table and start declaiming, "It is so being disrupted!" just before he falls over and passes out.

But Clarke's essay deserves more serious attention than just as fodder for barroom conversation, no matter how occasionally brilliant and illuminating some of that conversation can be.  I hope that it gets it.



Thanks for pointing me to this article. I found it fascinating.

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