Making the past more accessible
David Carter-Tod evokes a very significant problem that exists in academia but also in large organizations of any kind that have been around for a while. He starts with a quote by Mark Bernstein:
I'm sick of papers and monographs whose authors are too busy (or too lazy) to build on what has gone before, to respond to what we already know, and instead spend their time coining new terms and hauling in new theoretical systems from outside
Right. Lots of stuff out there that we don't know that we know.
I think two reasons why we are prone to ignore past developments are that (1) we are often hardly socially connected at all with the people who were responsible for them; and (2) a proper reward structure for synthesizing lessons learned and keeping old fires alive does not exist, which has the effect of locking knowledge up in forms that are not sufficiently accessible to outsiders once its originators have moved on.
I really wish there were a good way to dig up the relevant stuff in the piles of material that were written five, ten, twenty years ago. Forget keyword search -- words shift too quickly. Right now pretty much the only way is to have an old-timer around with a good ear, a good memory, and time on his hands. (Good luck.) And if you don't, sadly, reinventing the wheel might actually be more efficient than digging through the haystack to find it.
A related older post of mine: "Don't throw away the past".