Way back when we first started talking about talking about peer review, Kate made a point that has stuck with me ever since – that we talk being accessible a lot in libraries but we usually talk about it in one sense of the word. To be fair, it is the first sense listed by the OED:
1. Capable of being used as an access; affording entrance; open, practicable. Const. to.
This meaning gets at access to information – our ability to physically get our hands (or our eyes) on the information we want or need, our ability to get past technical barriers, bad interfaces, or paywalls. It also gets at our accessiblity in terms of open hours, our availability to answer questions and maybe even a little bit our openness in terms of friendliness.
What Kate pointed out that for our students, actually for a lot of us, the scholarly or scientific discourse is inaccessible in another way (OED’s 3rd)
c. Able to be (readily) understood or appreciated. Freq. applied to academic or creative work.
How many times do we teach students how to find scholarly articles by showing them the physical access points – the databases (or results limiting options) that will bring back articles that have been peer-reviewed, that will meet their professor’s requirement that for one, three or five “scholarly articles? while all the time we know that they will struggle with reading, understanding, and really USING these articles in their work?
How often do all of us begin poking around on a new topic to find scholarly articles that are too narrowly focused, assume too much about what we know about context and significance, full of technical terms, and just plain inaccessible to us, at least early on in our investigation?
And it’s not the articles’ fault. The authors of peer reviewed articles have an audience to consider, and it’s not us. Which is why I love the idea of these same authors writing for a different audience – and academic or science blogging is a great way to do that. I know I’ve made this point here before, and I’ll probably do it again, but I thought this post today at Dracovenator (by Adam Yates, an Australian palaeontologist) was such a great example of it that I wanted to put it out there.
I only clicked on the link today (out of ResearchBlogging’s Twitter feed) because the title of the post was SO inaccessible to me. I was just delighted by the post though – look how accessible it is, on every level. Quick explanations of technical terms, a short summary of the research, an explanation of the context. That context piece is one of my favorite parts, actually. But then also a critique of the research.
And you can tell from the first line of the post that this isn’t a dumbed-down explanation written for the uninformed – the author assumes we’ve all heard about the study. I think there is so much positive potential in scholars and experts simply showing how they interact with the work in their field, how they understand it, how they read it, and how they talk about it.