Monday, June 14, 2010


If you've seen the recent announcement for the PRT meeting in D.C., you know that the broad topic of discussion for PRT at Annual will be Online Publication. PhilPapers is an interesting resource to consider in this regard. It is an aggregator of online publications in philosophy with several services built around the online content. It was created by David Bourget and David Chalmers, incorporating a similar, earlier project by Wolfgang Schwarz that was known as Online Papers in Philosophy.

PhilPapers uses automated processes to monitor and harvest indexing content of online journals (including subscription-based ones; full list is here). They also harvest papers on philosophers' web sites, certain online archives of papers, original submissions from users and papers inherited from an earlier project, Mindpapers. While all papers are indexed and searchable by their respective metadata, subscription-based journal content is only accessible if the user has the appropriate permissions (via personal or institutional subscription). The result of all this aggregation is an impressive, centralized index of philosophy content - not unlike what Google Scholar would be if scoped only to philosophy and curated by academic philosophers.

PhilPapers is a step beyond online philosophy archives thus far, and in many ways. It aggregates much more content than other archives have, and does much more with that content to make it accessible and meaningful. One of the key features of PhilPapers is its categorization of papers into philosophical subfields and sub-subfields based on an original taxonomy of philosophy. The librarians among us are likely to appreciate the value that controlled vocabulary, taxonomy and /or tagging can contribute to an index. Some categorization of materials is automated in PhilPapers, but users are also encouraged to use the taxonomy to supply categories to papers.

This isn't the only contribution that users are encouraged to make. As mentioned earlier, PhilPapers also accepts original content from users, if the original content is "professional-quality work in academic philosophy." The submission can be a link to an online paper hosted elsewhere, or the file itself.

PhilPapers also hosts an online forum for users to interact on professional or philosophical issues (noted as being intended for professional philosophers and graduate students). These forums tend to be a vibrant space for discussion, refinement of argument and sharing.

All in all, PhilPapers seems to be getting it right. They've created a highly useful and highly used service for a defined user community, leveraging the flexibility of online publication to make materials accessible in an interactive context. As a service to academic philosophers, the defined scope will likely be appealing: it fulfills a digital-savvy philosopher's expectations while also eliminating the non-philosophical "noise" that would have been encountered on the open web, in Google Scholar or in institutional library catalogs and repositories. The "good stuff" is here and PhilPapers' criteria for inclusion seem to indicate that if materials aren't peer-reviewed, they will at least be vetted as "professional-quality."

In terms of service to the public at large, PhilPapers is susceptible to the same criticism leveled at Google Scholar by librarians, namely that indexing of subscription-based items is misleading since users not affiliated with a subscribing institution won't have access. But the intended audience for this resource - professional philosophers - generally doesn't have this problem.

So what do you think? Are you impressed with PhilPapers? Unimpressed? Are faculty at your institution using it? How might we engage PhilPapers in outreach to faculty? How might we use it in instruction? Are their other open web resources you're aware of doing similar things, especially any in religion and theology?