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What is Old Becomes New

December 4, 2014

Written by Barbara Opar
Barbara Opar and Barret Havens, column editors

Internet giant, Google, reports that the impact of older journal articles is growing. This impact is being measured by citations.

Google Inc. researchers state that the impact of older articles is growing rather than decreasing. In 2013, 36 percent of citations referred to articles that were at least 10 years old, up 28 percent since 1990. Google staff determined nine broad areas of research and 261 specific subject categories when beginning their work. The subject categories were taken from the 2014 edition of Scholar Metrics.

Scholar Metrics is Google Scholar’s tool to measure the visibility and influence of scholarly articles in a specific field. Scholar Metrics lists the twenty top publications in each subject category,  generally  limiting them to English language publications.  The Scholar Metrics inclusion criteria requires a minimum of 100 articles published, at least one article from the journal between the years 2009 and 2013 to be cited, as well as adherence to Google Scholar’s  indexing guidelines.  Architecture is included as a subdivision of the social sciences. See the results at: http://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=top_venues&hl=en&vq=soc_architecture

According to Google, the impact of older articles has grown in seven of the nine subject categories and 231 of the 261 subject divisions. To quote the article:

“In the introduction, we mentioned two broad trends that have the potential to influence the fraction of older citations. First, finding and reading relevant older articles is now about as easy as finding and reading recently published articles. This has made it easier for researchers to cite the most relevant articles for their work regardless of the age of the articles. Second, there has been a dramatic growth in the number of articles published per-year. This has significantly increased the number of recent articles that researchers need to situate their work in relation to by citing.

Our results suggest that of the two trends, the ease of finding and reading the most relevant articles, irrespective of their age, has had the larger impact. For most fields, retrospective digitization as well as inclusion in a broad-based search service with relevance ranking occurred in the second half of the period of study. As mentioned earlier, this is also the period that saw a larger growth in the fraction of older citations.”

Perhaps not surprisingly the highest growth has been in the category of Humanities, Literature & Arts where 51 percent of the citations for 2013 were to older articles. The Social Sciences saw a 43 percent rise in the use of older citations.  Business, Economics and Management also saw significant change. Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, though, have seen a drop in the number of older citations used.

With respect to architecture, the journals included as well as the articles cited may be somewhat surprising to those in the education field. Certainly there is an emphasis on the technical, be it digital fabrication or sustainability. One would presume given this predilection that the user would be looking for the newest articles on the topic of daylighting.  However, coinciding with Google’s findings, the articles consulted in the included journal titles are on average at least four years old, many in the realm of the “older” distinction of ten years.

As the full article notes, there have been other and earlier impact studies, some with different results. But Google contends that online availability does not result in use only of recent materials, but rather makes for ease of use of all articles, thus allowing the scholar to find the best and most appropriate body of knowledge to support the research. Online repositories and other means of scholarly communication as well as groups like Hathi Trust have helped make this happen. Thus older articles are now being cited with far greater frequency.

To read the full article, go to:
http://arxiv-web3.library..edu/pdf/1411.0275v1.pdf

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  • AASL
  • Association of Architecture School Librarians

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