Friday 24 February 2012

Blogs as authoritative sources?

I attended a professional development event put on by Web Search Pacific with speaker Linda Moore from CCH on Monday.

Linda spoke about her findings from the research she's been doing on the information finding behaviours of legal professionals using mobile devices.

It was really enlightening, because what she found could be transferred to other client groups. The room was a mix of library & information professionals from various libraries, from academic to corporate to school and independent researchers, and I think everyone took something interesting away from the presentation.

While I took away some really interesting information on the research Linda has done around information behaviours when using mobile devices, what really piqued my interest was the discussion that occurred during question time.

One observation that piqued my interest in particular, which drove some of this discussion, was that a person in her study used to keep abreast of current issues (such as new cases, new legal decisions etc) via journals, but has now moved away from the journals to using blogs to fulfill this information need. 

This makes a lot of sense, because blogs are an example of synchronous forms of writing, whereby articles can be published pretty much in real-time.They don't go through a rigorous editorial and peer review process that journal articles go through, therefore the information is really up-to-date and fresh at hand. But it does mean that there are some issues with this, because it has not gone through a rigorous process of review. This is in contrast with the journal publication process. Peer review is still the gold standard for information in the research community, but some people are starting to use the information they find in synchronous environments eg blog posts, twitter streams etc. I'm interested to see the change in the way people are using or not using certain information for particular purposes.

 (Image source: CC BY 2.0)

Possibly due to the vast amount of information that people need to deal with, people are starting to rely on less lengthy information sources, or more chunked up pieces of information to fulfill particular information needs. Blog articles fall into this category of information. And this can be difficult, as people are often not reading both sides of a particular argument, or are looking for information that justifies or supports their point of view, without delving deeper to research different sides of a story or argument. (Sir Peter Nurse, from the Royal Society did an interesting bit on this in his doco 'Horizon: Science Under Attack' which aired on ABC (I think) a few weeks ago). This has an obvious implication on the information that is synthesised by the consumer, and implications for any ensuing product which is created, or even on influencing someone's opinion on something. Of course, someone reading strictly peer -reviewed articles could also choose to use articles that supported his or her point of view only, and choose to ignore the ones that don't, but you would hope that that's what the literature review process is used for. I've never written a peer reviewed paper before- do reviewers tell you that you're missing a glaring article in your area that you should include in your lit review if you haven't?

We also embarked on an interesting discussion on how synchronous writing has its place, but that there is an appropriate time and place for it. I love reading blogs, particularly for my own professional development (and of course personal enjoyment!), but ideally, these are used to supplement the journal articles that I print out to read. Often though, I don't have time to read as many journal articles as I'd like, so I do find that blog posts are a really good way to keep abreast of current trends. Luckily, many bloggers in the LIS blogosphere refer you back to the original source, so you can always go back to read the original article or report, which is really handy. Alternatively, if there's no link, you can usually follow up by finding the journal article or even slide share slides or other related material, that have been posted online that relate to the topic of interest.

I also find that blogs tend to verify anecdotally what I have read in the literature, so for me, blogs are a good way for me to join the dots, so to speak, and make connections between what I read in the research literature, and what is practised or observed in non research settings, which I find extremely valuable.

So where do you see the blogosphere fit into all of this?  How do you use the information you read in blogs? Has anyone ever cited a blog? Does it make a difference if the writer of a blog post is a renowned expert in their field? Interesting how these questions really relate to the authority of an information source. This is something that I try to teach my students when I talk about finding quality information in my information literacy classes- knowing the context of the information you're reading, knowing what level of information you need and for what purpose, and judging information based on when it can be useful and when it's not.

Another intersting point is that I actually got another ALIA Sydney committe member and colleague within the LIS sphere, to have a look at my post before I sent it out- just to see if it made sense (I drafted it V-E-R-Y late a few days ago!), and to ask her for any feedback. She rightly pointed out that this was in fact a form of 'peer review' which raises another question about whether or not blog posts actually do go through a more informal peer review process? I guess the point here is that the reader won't actually know, unless the author tells them that this has happened.

Sorry, what was originally intended as a brief summary of the event has somehow been hijacked by the ensuing discussion thread on blogs. If you're interested in finding out more about Linda's research you can find Linda's white paper here.

- Crystal Choi is a Faculty Liaison Librarian at the University of Sydney and the ALIA Sydney Convenor. She tweets @crystalibrary. All opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer or any associations I am affiliated with. 

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