Is there a lesson to be learned from a University of Minnesota project? Could the same methodologies be applied to new genealogy books that become available for free on the Internet?
As a new University of Minnesota project expands, open-source college textbooks should become more readily available and easily vetted. Open source books have long been considered a promising way to cut costs. However, significant disadvantages have slowed the adoption of open source (free) textbooks: they are hard to locate, and they are of indeterminate quality. Few professors have adopted the cost-savings books because of the lack of quality control.
The University of Minnesota has launched an online catalog of open-source books (at https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/) and will pay its professors $500 each time they post an evaluation of one of those books. Minnesota professors who have already adopted open-source texts will also receive $500 per book, with all of the money coming from donor funds. You can read more at Inside Higher Ed at http://goo.gl/VhSSz.
I'd suggest you first read the article at http://goo.gl/VhSSz and then let's switch topics: is there an opportunity to do something similar for traditional family history books? These books that document thousands of members of a particular family over the centuries have traditionally been difficult to find and also have varied widely in quality. The books usually are written and even self-published by the authors strictly for the love of doing so. Authors of family history books rarely expect compensation. Does this sound like open-source books?
Like college text books, traditional family history books have been difficult to locate and expensive to purchase. Older books that are out of copyright often appear on Google Books, BYU's online books, and elsewhere. However, more modern and up-to-date books are usually not available online due to copyright issues. Is there an opportunity here to emulate the University of Minnesota example?
Perhaps authors would be willing to publish online. After all, most authors are not expecting compensation anyway. If they wish, they could still publish on paper in the traditional manner or not, as each author wishes. Assuming each author publishes to an online account which he or she controls, that author is then able to update the book as often as desired, or even to remove a book at any time. Each author remains in charge of his her own works. The online version would simply be one ADDITIONAL method of publishing and distribution that could supplement printed books, although it obviously would cut into sales of the printed books.
I don't see any need to publish all genealogy books on any one web server. The authors would be free to publish wherever they wish. All we need is one motivated person or organization to create a web site with a catalog listing that points to all the genealogy books available online. I'll call it "Cyndi's Books" although I am not drafting Cyndi Howells for the job. In this case Cyndi's List simply serves as an excellent example of how to locate and index genealogy information and provide a link to each resource. "Cyndi's Books" (or whatever name is used) could do the same.
Keeping the index should not be an overwhelming task. I suspect that only a few hundred genealogy books are published each year. I'd like to find a citation that gives a more precise count but haven't yet found a believable statistic. Whatever the number, it can't be huge. One motivated person should be able to keep and publish the list online.
Peer reviews of each book could be appended to its link. We might need some quality control of the peer review process, but I would suggest that eBay's ratings system works well with minimal quality control problems. Perhaps a similar method could be implemented on "Cyndi's Books" where the percentage of good reviews versus bad reviews becomes the most important factor. Even if one somewhat unqualified reviewer posts a misleading review, more accurate postings by 25 or more other reviewers would "drown out" the one bad one. The term for all this is “crowd sourcing.” Like eBay, "Cyndi's Books" should display the percentage of positive reviews just above the reviews themselves.
The one bigger problem I see with emulating the University of Minnesota project is the compensation of reviewers. Minnesota is planning to compensate their own professors for writing reviews but will not pay outsiders. The article cited earlier says "with all of the money coming from donor funds." I don't see any significant source of donor funds for genealogy reviews. I doubt if reviewers could be compensated for reviewing genealogy books.
Even the University of Minnesota is tightly controlling the payment process by compensating only their own employees. Presumably, these professors will either write meaningful reviews or else the University can stop compensating those few individuals that fail to meet academic standards. Outside reviewers are also invited to participate, but without compensation.
Could this be done in genealogy? Should all newly-published genealogy books be published online and reviewed by other genealogists? Should an index of available genealogy books be made available online, along with those reviews?
What do you think?
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