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Old Reports Are New Again

November 12, 2012

(Lisa Brooks is a co-founder of IssueLab and director of knowledge management systems at the Foundation Center.)

Old is the new NewOften when talking with folks who contribute content to IssueLab, we encourage -- indeed, urge -- them to share all their publications regardless of date published. More often than not, we get a response along the lines of "that report is so old we don't want to include it. It's not relevant anymore."

Well, reading the New York Times on a recent weekend, I came across an editorial titled "The Struggle to Cast a Vote: Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders." A timely article, given that the 2012 elections were at that point only two days away. So, I started to read and what did I notice? A 2005 study by the Sentencing Project, an IssueLab contributing organization, was cited. I repeat: the editorial cited a 2005 study. Total word count of the piece? Four hundred and sixty-seven -- and more than a quarter of them were dedicated to a seven-year-old study. How's that for legs?

In that same issue of the Times, another editorial, "How Romney Would Treat Women," also zeroed in on a key issue in the election and mentioned a fact sheet published in August 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute, another IssueLab contributor. While that publication was of more recent vintage than the Sentencing Project report, I couldn't help but wonder whether it would still be available to the public a few years from now. Yes, the Times will archive its editorial in perpetuity. But will the link to the institute's fact sheet still be live in, say, 2019?

We can't know the answer to that, of course. And perhaps the more interesting question is one that focuses on decentralized vs. centralized knowledge sharing and management. You may not know this, but using the IssueLab platform to share your knowledge resources doesn't lock those resources up in a single centralized location; instead, they become part of a constellation of networked services. In fact, everything collected by IssueLab is included in our Open Archives Initiative-compliant data provider service, which, in turn, pushes those resources out to Worldcat, which, in turn, makes them available through catalog searches performed at more than ten thousand brick-and-mortar libraries and online library networks around the world. And here's some more good news: We're working hard to expand this network in an effort to provide IssueLab contributors with a comprehensive distribution solution for their knowledge resources and end-users of that knowledge with multiple ways to learn about and locate such resources. All a knowledge provider has to do to get in on the action is to create a free IssueLab account and start adding resources. We take it from there.

That's because we believe there is no expiration date on social change or attempts to understand, analyze, and explain it. Indeed, everything we collect through IssueLab contributes to a more accurate picture of the efforts of the social sector -- where we've been, where we are, and where we might be heading. Older publications are a vital part of that picture.

If you are a knowledge provider and have older works you believe are no longer relevant, please reconsider. And know that at IssueLab, we value these works and want to preserve and share them with others.

(Image: Design Inspiration)

-- Lisa Brooks

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