Like institutional repositories, e-journal publishing programs have been treated by all too many libraries as “install software and forget” services. In her more cynical moments, the Loon thinks that libraries believe it more important to say they have a publishing program than to have a useful and viable one. This rarely ends well; faculty need more than a bare Open Journal Systems install, and without a clear sense of service boundaries, libraries have been known to find themselves stuck catering expensively to individual prima-donna editors.
The issue is gaining attention of late, as ARL publishes a milquetoast report on existing practices and the Chronicle blogs the first THATCamp publishing meeting. Moreover, a few libraries have chosen to shelter financially-faltering university presses, and others have at least had to consider doing so.
The question that seems to be percolating throughout the discourse is where the narrow path lies between a so-called “service” that no one uses because it doesn’t solve anyone’s problem (which is frankly what most libraries with any offering at all in this arena have), and a disastrous unending money pit with minimal if any return on investment.
The Loon comes at this with experience on several sides of the question. She’s written and reviewed for journals, of course. She’s also tried to start a library-based e-journal program, and watched as one she wasn’t directly involved with hit the skids. Long before she was a librarian, though, the Loon worked as a markup monkey and (briefly) a typesetter for what publishers call a “service bureau.” Librarians: if you don’t know what that is, look it up.
(This seems an opportune moment to remind folk who happen to know the identity of the Loon’s Boring Alter Ego not to draw lines between the two in public, please. It’s all right that you know, but the Loon prefers to dissociate herself from the BAE as much as feasible. Thank you.)
In approaching this question, the Loon will leave aside library-press collaborations—digitization, online backfile access, and the like. She’s assuming that the library’s angle is to help faculty publish open-access journals, soup to nuts, and if the local press doesn’t like it, the local press can lump it. This means, of course, that at a minimum the library has to offer a service more attractive than the local press!
Where both librarians and would-be journal editors tend to fall apart around publishing is their lamentable ignorance of just what the journal-publishing process entails. Pressfolk know all this, of course, but they tend to err on the side of assuming that everything they do is vital to the process because they do it. The truth, as always, lies someplace between these extremes.
So let’s take the problem apart this way: Faculty know about and will ask libraries for some pieces of the publishing process. They don’t know about other parts; some of those parts they will quickly realize they need, some they’ll never miss (sorry, presses, but it’s true).
A few journal-level sine qua nons, first: Any half-decent journal will want an attractive, usable, distinctive web presence. Sorry, OJS, but without considerable tweaking you provide none of the adjectives aforementioned. Libraries: don’t start a journal-publishing program without web-design expertise on tap, and if you’re using OJS, you probably want to be able to call on a PHP hacker as well. Willingness to purchase and manage a domain name for the journal is a good idea.
Presses make much of their journal marketing; the Loon thinks it’s too much, and faculty won’t know about or miss most of those so-called services. (Most of them are aimed at selling subscriptions and individual issues anyway, obviously less relevant in an open-access context.) Still, a library publishing program should know enough about subject-area indexes to be able to submit a new journal to the appropriate ones, and it should assuredly offer to do so on behalf of the journal editors. Finding and using the appropriate mailing lists should also be a no-brainer, but chances are the journal editor can (and should) help with this.
Faculty have Pavlovianly learned to associate DOIs with quality in electronic journals. (This is admittedly dumb; just work with it.) DOIs are not free, monetarily or technically. Library publishing programs should buy into them anyway. Don’t try to palm off handles (yes, yes, the Loon knows that DOIs are handles behind the scenes), PURLs, or ARKs; they don’t have the DOI mystique. An ISSN should, of course, go without saying.
Now let’s follow a single article through the process at the Journal of Unrecognizable Results. Let’s also assume a themed issue, just because it adds an extra wrinkle or two.
The first trick is obtaining manuscripts from which to choose. If this is done via a call for papers, a journal editor will have to write that call and ensure that it is circulated where desirable authors will see it. Alternately or in addition, specific individuals may be recruited to write articles. Some presses help with this, but faculty who approach libraries probably expect to do it themselves.
Next, the Journal needs a way to gather submissions. Open Journal Systems makes this fairly straightforward. (The Loon assumes that the Journal has been around long enough to have developed a stable of reviewers. Even without this assumption, this isn’t a task that journal publishers typically take on, so libraries needn’t be concerned with it either. OJS tracks reviewers quite well, so that’s even one less problem to be concerned with.) Onward.
Next, usually, is an editorial once-over to reject obviously-inappropriate submissions and assign the remainder to peer reviewers. Reviewers review, authors revise and resubmit, the editor makes final acceptance decisions. Again, none of this is the press’s (or library’s) problem, and OJS manages this process decently as well.
Next comes editing, one of the commonest disjoints between library publishing programs and faculty. Speaking quite broadly and largely inaccurately, editing comes in two varieties: content editing, which asks all the hard questions about the content of the article, and copyediting, which cleans up spelling, grammar, ambiguity, and lack of clarity, as well as checking mechanical issues such as figure/table numbering and adherence to house citation style and other house rules.
Faculty with the gumption to start a new journal are in the Loon’s experience often willing to undertake content editing. “Often” is not “always,” however; sometimes they want funding for Someone Else (often a put-upon graduate student) to do it. As for copyediting, which is time-consuming and finicky work—even faculty willing to do it are frequently unable, due to time constraints or even flat incompetence. (The number of native-English-speaking Ph.Ds who write sentences the Loon’s sixth-grade English teacher would have bled red ink all over… ah, well. And let us pass over the question of citation styles in silence.)
As this post has charged well past “long” toward the ineffable teal deer, the Loon will pause for now and continue in a separate post, noting only that just the editing hurdle has been the barrier between a faculty journal and the library more often than the Loon cares to recall.
Library publishing programs and faculty needs, part one by Library Loon, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.