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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

On the Humanities and the Innovation Adoption Curve

I've been catching up on my reading and am currently up to:

Herrera, G. (2011). Google Scholar Users and User Behaviors: An Exploratory Study. College & Research Libraries, 72(4), 316-330.

which looks at usage data about Google Scholar cunningly culled from link resolver logs. There's some really interesting stuff, but something they quote in their conclusion made my mind go off on a tangent:
On the other hand, the 2009 Ithaka faculty survey concluded that humanists "have been later and slower to change in many ways than their peers in the sciences, to be sure." --Schonfeld and Housewright, "Faculty Survey 2009," 34.
Which is an observation that comes up time and again, and often it's implied that this is because the humanities are inherently conservative. But is that really the case? Correlation doesn't mean causation.

Could it instead be simply that new technologies are designed by computer scientists for computer scientists? Engineering and physical sciences work similarly enough that they can adapt their usage pretty easily. But the humanities -- a few of us have been doing some mini sessions on scholarly ebooks for faculty, and what we're hearing from faculty is that in the humanities they have completely different kinds of texts which need to be used in completely different kinds of ways, and these ways are not supported by the technology.

So I rather suspect that it's rather less to do with the people than commonly implied, and rather more to do with systematic bias in the technology.