Thinking about Library Literature

By Crawford, Walt | Online, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Thinking about Library Literature

Crawford, Walt, Online

I believe that gray literature--blogs, ejournals, and some lists--represents the most compelling and worthwhile literature in the library field today. To a great extent, the formal literature now serves as history, explication, formal results of formal research studies, and background. The action is in the informal literature.

I don't think I would have said that a decade ago, and maybe not 5 years ago. If I had aspirations to be a respected scholar, I might not say it today.

"Compelling and worthwhile" doesn't necessarily imply scholarly or authoritative. Are blogs either scholarly or authoritative? A good question, one I may not be qualified to answer.


The four paragraphs above (with slight changes) began "Perspective: On the Literature," the lead essay in the August 2007 Cites & Insights. At the time, I thought it was a controversial lead for a controversial issue. It was also what I believed.

I was wrong on one count: The essay raised little controversy, although it did generate feedback. The essay was well read, with more than 5,000 downloads through June 2008, so it isn't that people didn't see it--it's that, by and large, they agreed.

I believe I was right in my conclusion: The gray literature of librarianship is the most compelling, worthwhile, and--I'll add--important literature in the field at this point. I doubt that librarianship is the only field where this is true--where the gray literature has become more compelling, worthwhile, and important than the formal literature. Think of fields where practice may count for more than formal research, where changes in real-world conditions tend to outrun the review-and-publish cycle of scholarly literature, and where academic recognition of change may lag behind the realities of the field.


It's not as simple as gray literature on one side and refereed scholarly journals on the other. Consider the magazine you're holding. It's part of the literature of librarianship, but, as with American Libraries and Library Journal, it's neither gray literature nor scholarly literature.

Articles here aren't refereed and don't generally follow scholarly patterns, but they are more likely to be edited carefully (maybe even fact-checked) than most of the gray literature. You'd expect the tone here to be less formal than journals but more formal than typical gray literature. ONLINE and similar trade magazines also typically have shorter lead times than most scholarly journals--but much longer lead times than most gray literature.

What about books? Books within the field can have even longer lead times than scholarly journals--it's rare to see a book emerge less than a year after the writer completes the manuscript. But books make statements that articles and posts don't.

Situations can change, to be sure:

* It's possible to reduce the publication lag for scholarly articles to zero, by changing from a traditional issueoriented print journal to an overlay electronic model, where articles appear online as soon as they're fully reviewed and edited. That doesn't eliminate the time needed for proper peer review, revision, editing, and markup--and it doesn't eliminate the extra time involved in preparing a traditional scholarly article.

* Some gray literature isn't immediate. Some bloggers report spending days or weeks on a post to get it just the way they want. Some articles in Cites & Insights are delayed for months, and other articles deliberately cover material gathered over a period of a year or more. It's possible that some people prepare list posts offline and edit them for a long period, although that seems rare.

* There have been instabooks for many years--books published within a few days of the events they cover--and, given print-on-demand/publish-on-demand technology, self-publishers can have a book ready to sell within a day of completing the manuscript, if they've been adding index entries as they go and writing within a book template. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Thinking about Library Literature


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.