21 June 2006

Academics and the internet

In today's Australian Higher Education Supplement Andrew Leigh advises academics "Don't miss out on the world library":

Seventeen years on, the internet offers unprecedented opportunities for academics to engage with the world. With websites being used to post working papers and finished articles, and blogs to engage in discussions with the broader public, the internet may potentially represent the biggest change in the way academics convey ideas since the invention of the printing press.

He is well aware of the challenges these trends pose to some cornerstones of academia, including libraries and traditional research methods:

libraries could be going the way of their card catalogues. For those raised on the virtues of careful scholarly research, the declining patronage of libraries may seem a disturbing development.

His comments on academic blogging are also pertinent:

Academic blogging presents a difficult trade-off. On the upside, it provides a chance to engage with colleagues and non-specialists. A decent blog will have hundreds of readers each day; some have thousands. No Australian blog matches the readership of the nation's largest newspapers, but plenty have more readers than the average academic journal

I'm not an academic but am interested in reading what Leigh and others, such as John Quiggin, who write for a wide readership, have to say, and not least their willingness to engage in dialogue with their readers.

Whether libraries as we know them are on the path to extinction, I'm not so sure: even the article title suggests that Leigh sees reinvention rather than closure is a more likely future for them.

The author's cut of the article, which restores some passages excised by a sub-editor, is available at Andrew Leigh's website. That the correction is available online within hours of the print version appearing is further evidence in support of his argument. I wonder whether, and if so when, The Australian will publish a correction.

PS. Also in today's Higher Ed section is a piece by Bernard Lane which touches upon some of the same issues as Leigh's article. My attention was drawn to it because it was printed on the same page (p39) as Leigh's. Would I have found it, I wonder, it if it was only available online? On the online index it is not next to Leigh's article. Perhaps there is still something to be said for print sub-editors' eye for layout?

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