Lessons From 20 Years of Current Cites

With the publication of the July issue of Current Cites we are celebrating 20 years of continuous monthly publication. Standing alone, that statement is not all that impressive in a world of publications that have much longer publishing histories. But I think there are two things that make that statement into something much bigger than it appears: 1) it is produced by an all volunteer team, and 2) the publication has been freely available on the Internet for nearly the entire 20 years (predating the Web). It was distributed on the PACS-L list by October 1991, and on the MELVYL online catalog before that. Here is an early message about it on PACS-L.

I’m the only one left of the original team, largely because I founded it and it has had my enduring personal commitment. But there have been many contributors who have stayed on for years, contributing citations of current literature that they believe are worthy of attention with insightful commentary written in their personal voice.

In thinking about how to celebrate this anniversary, I thought I would do a couple things. One was to create a web page that described how the publication came to be. Another was that I would write about what I’ve learned over the 20 years of doing this kind of thing. The former is now up on the Current Cites web site. The latter I am doing here. These are some of my lessons:

•Current awareness continues to be important. The changes that are battering our profession are many and substantial. It is more important than ever to keep up with what is going on not just in libraries, but also in the societies within which we work. What we should never do is stick our heads in the sand.
•Current awareness continues to be difficult. When I started Current Cites it was with the belief that it was difficult to keep up with rapid technological change in librarianship. If anything, with the advent of the Web it has sped up and diversified. We have a tremendous number of channels through which we can receive information, with precious few ways to filter them appropriately for our own purposes. Therefore, the need for a publication like Current Cites has only increased, although it must be acknowledged that it adds yet another channel to the diversity of information sources.
•The most important ingredient to keeping something going for 20 years is a responsible individual with the will to make it so. I’ve often thought that if the publication was managed by a committee, or even an organization, it long ago would have ended. I believe this to be true for a couple reasons. It is hard for a group of individuals to have enough personal buy-in to do what needs to be done to keep a publication like this alive. And organizations, in these trying economic times, would find it hard to justify keeping a free publication going. In the end, the personal commitment of a single individual who felt responsible for its continued existence was probably the single biggest factor in its longevity.
•Contributors come and go, but the publication remains. Over the years we’ve had 34 contributors, but probably no more than a dozen active ones at any one time — often only about half-a-dozen. Periodically, as enthusiasm wanes or the call of other responsibilities increases, I need to find new contributors. This not only renews the enthusiasm, it can provide different perspectives and/or a different set of publications that are watched.
•Editors come and go, but the publication remains. Current Cites has had three editors in its life: first David F.W. Robison, then Teri Rinne, then me. I doubt anyone would discern much difference in the publication during each of our tenures, but having someone in charge is important. When I decide to step down I’ll be looking for someone to take it over. I’m certain I will be able to find that person and that it will go on.
•Hosts come and go, but the publication remains. Although Current Cites started at UC Berkeley, when it was clear that support for the server where it was hosted was waning I moved it to WebJunction.org. This was long before I joined OCLC, or even thought to do so. I just needed a logical home for it that would be stable and long-term. My personal server doesn’t qualify.
The last 20 years have been interesting, engaging and challenging. The next 20 promises much more of the same, but faster. My sincere hope is that you will continue to have Current Cites help you find the gems in the information technology literature so that you can focus on not just getting libraries through the next 20 years, but enabling them to thrive.

I also hope that by sharing this story it might inspire some young librarian to take on a similar task, and to apply themselves to draw in other talented individuals to make their project successful and useful for a long time. I know they are out there; I’ve met them, I’ve talked to them, I am even privileged to mentor some of them. I really can’t wait to see what they come up with.

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