Monday, October 26, 2009

99. On the Insularity of NCA Journals.

(I post something like this, somewhere, every six months. Is there someone out there who can suggest a place to write this idea up (if it has legs)?

Tim Levine raises a good issue from the wrong direction.

Impact and citation are only secondarily a result of excellent, cutting-edge research. They are also a result of the availability of the texts through Google, Google Scholar, and the widely held databases in academic libraries.

The quality of NCA journals relative to other communication journals has not declined. Indeed, I think that it has remained stable or improved. (Hooray for good editors and peer reviewers, without whom this field would collapse!0

But the accessibility of those journals, relative to other communication journals, HAS declined, I think.

As little as 12 years ago, it would have been common for a scholar to consult the Matlon index (for those too young to remember, a paper index of communication journals), then painfully walk the steps to the paper copies in their libraries or interlibrary loan fuzzy xeroxes. Every journal in communication required a similar research process.

Eventually, NCA produced a CD-Rom with largely the contents of the Matlon index, with fulltext of the NCA journals. This was both a good and bad thing. It made it possible to access NCA journals without going to the library-- a good thing. It did so by dsconnecting much of the NCA content from other sources. CommSearch became a kind of "all you need" for grad students beginning comm research -- you could start a project by using the creaky keyword search in CommSearch and feel like you had the most relevant sources.

The contents of CommSearch have become the NCA Journals Archive, where NCA members can get historical access to the NCA research of the last century. However, that same material is not widely accessible to nonmebers. Indeed, when I teach "Research Methods" (an introductory class for advanced UG & MA students), I often find articles FOR my students, simply because they will not use an NCA journal if they have to walk to the library to get it when there are databases full of journals with the word "Comm" in the title that they can access from home.

It is my belief that the NCA Journals Archive is the best benefit to being a member, but that the failure to make NCA journals more widely accessible to non-NCA members via other databases may inadvertantly result in an apparent irrelevance of NCA research, by the measures that Levine suggests.

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