On Citing Blog Posts in Professional Literature and Discussion: How Seriously Should We Take Blogging?

I very rarely check out our stats, referrers, or things like that, but doing so just now reminded me of something minor but that always strikes me as somewhat odd: people citing blog posts as evidence in (our) professional literature. I’ve noticed now, a couple times, people having done that about things I’ve said on the blog, and it raises for me several I guess you would call “meta-issues” related to blogging and scholarship.

I suppose, in part, all of the issues stem from tension between (a) the seriousness and effort I put into what I’d call my “real” work: the things I put an enormous amount of thought into and end up publishing in peer-reviewed, professional journals and (b) stuff I blog about and just sort of write off the top of my head.

Maybe this is just me, but I, for one, don’t take blogging all that seriously, in the sense that it’s more like me thinking out loud: about stuff I’m thinking about, stuff that annoys me, stuff I want to get others’ input about, and so forth. I remember when I was a philosophy graduate student having drinks and dinner with a person who has a very famous academic blog. Someone was saying he should write about so and so serious topic and he replied “It’s just a blog.” This, I thought, gave the appropriate amount of weight and importance to an “academic” blog: yeah, it does have a level of seriousness because the subject matter is, after all,academic, but, on the other hand, it’s just a blog.

Now, maybe this attitude is no longer a viable one in 2015 as it was back when I was a philosophy student: blogs are just taken more seriously as part of the scholarly conversation now. That’s fine, and perhaps I should get with the times. I do think, though, that it takes away a lot of the point of blogging in the first place when we start elevating the level of scholarly importance that we often treat them in the library profession. One thing that’s nice about blogging as opposed to what I’d think of as real scholarship is precisely the fact that I don’t have to hold myself to as high a standard of rigor blogging as I do in a scholarly article. Blogging affords the blogger the chance to put ideas out there, to test them, and so forth, in a quicker, easier, more casual way than you can do with a peer-reviewed article. An average peer-reviewed article takes me at least a year; a blog post takes me anywhere from 30 seconds to an hour. So it always seems strange to me that people would cite stuff from a blog in a serious scholarly conversation, even though it makes sense to me for other bloggers to refer to other stuff bloggers say within the realm of the “blogosphere,” as it were.

So, one question might just be a sort of quasi-empirical one: why are people citing blogs as if though they’re actual, serious scholarship?

Another question: Does one have an obligation to maintain blog posts as part of the permanent record of scholarly conversation? For example, there’s stuff I’ve posted after about five seconds of thought that people have ended up citing, and I’m like … huh, I don’t even like care about this that much, and now it’s getting cited, and my inclination has been to delete it (because, frankly, I think they shouldn’t have cited it as evidence for what they’re taking it as evidence of in the first place). So do we have some kind of obligation to maintain that kind of thing? You, of course, can’t e-mail C&RL and be like, hey, just playin’ with you about that article, I’d like it back now. But I could delete this whole blog in like three seconds, and, let’s face it, the world wouldn’t be much worse off. I guess there’s always “Way Back” stuff where you can get old internet sources, but still.

Of course, the strangeness I experience over the blog-citing thing may have nothing to do with any of these objective issues of scholarship, and more to do with my own subjective experience blogging, where I don’t really ever consider the fact that someone is actually going to read any of this. This blog, for me, is more or less just a personal diary as it relates to our profession, and, as such,  I give very little thought to how it’s going to be recieved at all. But maybe that’s more of a 2001-era LiveJournalish view of blogging and I should get hip.

Or not.



Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

5 responses to “On Citing Blog Posts in Professional Literature and Discussion: How Seriously Should We Take Blogging?

  1. I’ve never really thought about this sort of thing critically – but I’m glad you write about it. Like you, I’ve always considered blogs to be this area of conversation, of ideas, but not research – even when some blog posts are extremely well researched, well-written articles – though not peer-reviewed.

    So, while some serious conversations take place in blogs (and other media), and considering the new framework for IL – specifically the frame scholarship as conversation – it still seems like a stretch to consider conversation as scholarship.

    • Kevin Michael Klipfel

      Chris, thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to hear your take on it, and to see that we have similar views on it. And, as you say, it wasn’t really something I would have thought much about, perhaps, until actually blogging.

  2. Kevin, this is a great question. For many of the reasons you give, I don’t think blog posts carry the weight or authority of peer-reviewed articles. But I do see them as part of the scholarly conversation: perhaps akin to hallway conversations at conferences, except that they’re accessible to people who might not have the funding to be where those are taking place in person.

    Blog posts can serve to try out ideas that are later presented at conferences, and/or further examined through academic research. They can be a source for berrypicking and for tracking current ideas that haven’t made it through the publication cycle, as I have blogged about. They offer a possibility of actual conversation, such as I’m engaging in by commenting on this post.

    We teach students to cite the sources of their ideas. If those ideas come from blog posts, should they not be cited? For emerging topics, blogs will sometimes be among the best sources available. I think this is something we will have to continue to engage with, as it’s not always black and white. I look forward to hearing what others think about this.

    • Kevin Michael Klipfel

      Lisa, thanks for your comment, it’s very insightful. I definitely agree with your hallway conversation claim, for sure. That’s a nice way to think of what a blog is, I think.

      I think the point you raise about emerging topics is the one that creates the difficulties. People end up citing stuff on blogs in these cases because, given the nature of how long it takes to get something published (or maybe simply because it’s easier? – another suspicion of mine), blogs are often the best thing to cite. If it ends up being the best evidence in support of a particular claim you’re making, I’m very sympathetic to that. After all, we cite not only not to plagiarize, but because we want to support our claims with evidence. Makes sense if that’s a blog in the case of an emerging topic.

      On the other hand, if a blog post is the best evidence in favor of a particular claim you’re making, maybe the particular claim you’re making isn’t a very strong one. That continues to worry me.

      Thanks for your take – very though provoking.

  3. Along the line of Lisa’s comment, you can also see blogs as conference presentations, emails, and interviews. These sources are not peer-reviewed, but are often seen as legitimate sources of information – mainly of opinions and ideas, not evidence. It all depends on who is using the information and for what purpose. For instance, if someone were tracing the thoughts behind instructional design, is that person not allowed to use blogs? Seems they’d be leaving out quite a bit of conversation.

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