Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scholarship in the Internet Age

The latest issue of The New York Review has an article by Robert Darnton entitled "A World Digital Library Is Coming True!" The piece is basically a paean for the growing empowerment of scholarly practices enabled by the Internet with little care that those actually engaged in those practices are declining in number at a painful rate. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see mention of a software tool that "makes it possible for a reader to go from a Wikipedia article to all the works in the DPLA [Digital Public Library of America] that bear on the same subject." Such an endorsement by Darnton carries far more weight in accepting the legitimacy of Wikipedia than any anecdotal evidence from yours truly.

Indeed, I read Darnton's remark shortly after learning that Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG) just announced plans to go digital. Considering how long Grove Music Online has been available, the obvious question is, "What took them so long?" The other question will be, "Will this make any difference?" The fact is that, when writing my thesis, I made no use of either of these encyclopedic sources. I started from full-length books on the topics I was pursuing and then used their bibliographies to seek out primary sources. As Wikipedia authors take the practice of writing more seriously, Wikipedia readers will take the practice of reading more seriously; and those great minds that once labored over producing qualities entries for both Grove and MGG may need to recognize that there are better ways in which they can spend their time.

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