Saturday, February 21, 2004

Serendipity on-line

Also in Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson comments on the on-line availability of the article by Annette Yoshiko Reed:
This brings me to one of my favorite points. Had her article not been freely available on-line, I probably would not have come across it recently while I was looking for something else, read it, and then recalled it when commenting on Irenaeus. Serendipity often plays a role in scholarship, but the chance discovery of another's important work requires access, and free availability on-line of articles is a good way to provide that access.
I could not agree more -- there are many articles that I have run across on-line in the last few years that I would never have seen if they had not been on-line. One of the odd things to me about this point is that there was a ferocious debate recently in my institution when some of the current periodicals were removed from the open shelves of the library to the stack on the grounds that these could now be accessed on-line via our institutional subscriptions. Several academics in the debate tried to explain to the library people that this meant the end of serendipity and the casual browsing of recent journal articles. It was odd to me because it was the exact opposite of my own experience -- I have read the journals more regularly and more up-to-the-minute since they've been available electronically. But the best way to get your stuff known remains to put it on-line yourself, available for all. The journals usually give permission to do this and it gets your stuff read far more widely than if it is only in the journal. Long live academic serendipity in the internet era!

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