Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Building an Online Library


One of the things I would like to have access to is an online philosophy library, with a large number of primary texts, secondary essays and multimedia. In short - I would like a rich set of research texts available to me at my slightest whim, all fully indexed and free to all.

MelbournePhilosophy was an attempt to build something of this kind by hand, hoping that general interest would help it to achieved the critical mass necessary to become such an archive. To date, this has not happened. The prime interest has been in the news page (which I myself use regularly), and in this blog. As it turns out, the effort of maintaining a wiki in a dynamic environment has proved to great for most.

I had envisioned a site which would slowly gain momentum until, like wikipedia, it would be maintained by an army of philosopher-hackers, all of whom were interested in putting quality content online. Philosophers, by and large, are there for love of the game, and I had hoped that a general community interest would be sparked. Sadly not.

I wonder why? Perhaps it is the academic mind-set of lecturers. Most of them are technical morons, able to use their university email, perhaps manage to put PDF handouts on a web page someplace, and use the library search index. But their brains are still wired up for poring labouriously through primary texts, walking the shelves and thumbing through journals for just that obscure article they are interested in. How last century!

I have a dream, that one day I will be able to perform a Google search through an index of a thousand primary texts, automatically build an associative network of content, allowing me to move to related areas as easily as clicking links of a web page. Instead of having to log onto a proprietary network to search through a subscription-based academic journal accessible only to those few who are "in the circle" to research my essays, I will be able to download respected philosophy with joyous freedom, tailored to just precisely my needs. Information *wants* to be free.



Blogger alex said...

There is also the consideration - an important one, I think - that academic philosophers tend to be rather busy with the academy. But, maybe they are just good fakers, and are slackers in reality.

I like the idea of the Philosophy-Wiki, quite a bit. The problem I encounter with projects like this, is the question, "Why not just contribute to Wikipedia?" Doing so, you broaden the base of your authorship. As a downside, you may have some of the problems associated with large-scale access to the entries. Though, cases of related abuse seem to center mainly around current political cat-fighting, and maybe not so much around the annals of philosophical tradition.

Anyhow, hope springs eternal. I'll be first to sign up if a philosophy wiki ever really takes off.

4/12/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger mh said...

There is already a lot of philosophy content available through the internet.

I've linked a couple of quality clearing-houses from the main page of my blog (don't forget: marxists.org is much broader than the name might lead you to suggest, and provides some high quality renderings of classic texts).

I also pointed out a few others here (classical modern philosophy) and here (references to texts online by Theodor W. Adorno, who happens to be a particular object of my interest).

Beyond access to primary texts, and perhaps the odd bibliography or reading guide, I'm not sure that much more could be asked about the internet, which is, in the context of philosophy, a kind of badly organized library-rubbish-heap hybrid.

The internet has its uses, but I tend to be a bit wary of it. I find it too easy to spend my time browsing, linking, organising, and generally fetishising texts, rather than actually thinking. The internet still can't do that for me.

4/12/2005 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Thanks for the responses guys!

I'm coming to the conclusion that there is less value in the philosophy wiki as a collection of articles because wikipedia fills that nice, well, perfectly. However, wikipedia is *not* an academic journal, nor is it a great archive. What you can't do with wikipedia is read lots of essays on a particular topic. So while it's good for "tell me a little bit about X", it's not so good for "give me 5 essays about X".

What I want is a public research tool, or equivalent reliability and usefulness to the library system. Which means not just articles, but books, essays and theses.

As for the wiki at MP.com, what it offers is a uniquely australian "portal" (to resurrect that old buzzword) into philosophy. If you live in Australia, and want to find out about where to go and who to ask, then I quite confidently claim that there is no better resource.

I think the Australian brand is a good one, and that even in virtual-land, a stronger representation of virtual nations (i.e. the logicians, the analysts, the religious philosophers etc) would be a Good Thing...

There is indeed a huge amount of philosophy content on the net, but my research typically boils down to two or three major and trustworthy sites. It's like trying to find a piece of hay in an enormous pile of needles - difficult and painful.

4/12/2005 06:55:00 PM  

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