I tried to post a comment on Scott’s blog about this, but it seems to have gotten lost in the ether. Probably because I’m not a LiveJournal user. Damn proprietary applications… 😡

Scott posted about an article in Library Journal by Carol Tenopir, in which Carol writes about a recent article of Scott’s (how meta). This article of Scott’s is a study of the readings used in library school courses on searching.

Scott's Zipf curve

Carol reports that Scott reports (can you tell I’m enjoying this?) that there is no core set of required readings in these courses. But Carol didn’t report on what I think is the most interesting finding of Scott’s study: there is no core set of readings, but there is a core set of authors. The most widely read author in searching courses? Why, Carol Tenopir, of course. Actually the frequency of authors appearing in reading lists follows a Zipfian curve, which I have to gloat about just a little, since Scott gave me such a hard time about Zipf curves appearing on every third page of my dissertation.

No core set of readings, but a core set of authors. Scott offers 2 hypotheses for why this may be the case:

  1. As syllabi get updated, more recent works by authors are substituted in place of older works, creating a patchwork when you look across syllabi.
  2. Since this is a new field, core works have not yet emerged.

I suggest a 3rd hypothesis: as a profession we may not agree on which specific works are seminal, but we agree that certain topic areas or research agendas are important. I suspect that topical areas are a more important unit of analysis than authors anyway. You want to have a discussion in class on metadata, for example? Which of the zillion articles on the Dublin Core do you assign? Who cares? Choose one and move on. You don’t need the perfect reading, you just need a reading, as an illustration of the broader topical area. If you’re citing an article in a paper you’re writing, you need just the right article, with just the right quote or conclusion to support your case. But for a course reading list, all you need is to start a discussion on the topic. The criteria for what’s appropriate as a course reading is fuzzier than the criteria for what’s appropriate to cite. Anyway, that’s my hypothesis.