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Cloning Juan Cole

I’ve spent the day working on My Craft and running household errands, and tonight we’re having caesar salad with grilled shrimp as a healthy but celebratory dinner to mark my return from Five Trips in Two Weeks. (That means “we” have to be in the kitchen by 7:15 to pull together the salad, which I make a la Mark Bittman–it’s the perfect caesar dressing.)

I’m going to give myself half an hour to write on this topic (blogging, not salad), and hope to return to it in days ahead.

If I could twist a kaleidoscope so different colors and designs from yesterday’s meeting fell into place, the pattern I would keep coming back to is one of enrichment of the public information commons through sharing the many prisms of wisdom we have hidden behind academic citadels. (Some newer citadels, such as online courseware, came in for well-deserved if tangential drubbings yesterday.)

Or, more simply, how do we clone Juan Cole and replicate him throughout the blogosphere?

In Professor Cole’s case, we have a tenured professor of history who is resolutely and consistently blogging on Iraq. His blog accomplishes several things (beyond the most obvious function, informing people about a hot-spot location of high interest):

* Informed Content invests the public information commons with valuable content from a trusted source–a palliative and counterweight to all the “spin”

* Cole’s participation in blogging helps pave the way for blogging to be respected within academia as a publishing medium (though it’s a long, long way to Tipperary for this challenge)

* Cole’s blog makes his work as a public intellectual more transparent

* Cole’s participation in the public commons gives us great return on our investment in his knowledge, which (I know I’ll get this wrong, and I’ll have to fix it later, but I include this for you Daily Show fans) “we paid for, with our money, that we earned.” All joking aside, we as the public do invest a lot in academia, and having some of it trickle back so directly and immediately into the public commons is very satisfying.

* Finally, very long view: the more good content we invest in the blogosphere, the better our historical record. One hundred years from now, when people are examining the archives of this decade, Cole’s commentary will have infused the public discussion with an intellectual rigor otherwise largely missing from the online discussions.

The problem of cloning Juan Cole (or, in less Orwellian terms, the dual problem of encouraging and aggregating respected academic voices in blogging) isn’t the only issue we tackled yesterday, but it’s one that most resonated with me, as a librarian. The more voices we bring to the table, the better; the more balance in the discussion, the healthier it is for all of us; the more good stuff we add to the gigantic content pot in the sky, the better it is for us right now and for the historical record we leave behind.

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