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The Resignation of the Editorial Board of the JLA

Posted on 23 March 2013 at 8:59 pm in Musings.

There’s a breaking story in the world of scholarly journals and library science that’s worth tuning into. It kicked off with a post by Brian Mathews on his Chronicle of Higher Education blog The Ubiquitous Librarian, in which he revealed that the entire editorial board of the prestigious Journal of Library Administration (or JLA) had resigned due to the publisher’s onerous author requirements regarding copyright and access.

Mathews is the Associate Dean for the Virginia Tech Libraries, and had been asked to serve as guest editor for a special, speculative issue of the journal on the academic library in fifteen years. This is how he described it:

  • “This special issue explores the possibilities of what libraries might become or cease to be. Experts from different sectors of academia, publishing, technology, and design will share their thoughts, dreams, fears, and hopes about the future. The intention is to produce insights that ignite the imagination — to leapfrog the adjacencies of the coming years and land on a strategic plateau of the near future. This is an opportunity to speculate on the arriving advances as well as to warn of potential loss due to these changes.”

Invited authors included not only academic librarians such as Kelly Miller (UCLA), Michael Levine-Clark (University of Denver), and Steven Bell (Temple), but also Google engineer and search educator Dan Russell, Lennie Scott-Webber, an educational environment expert at Steelcase Furniture, and two authors affiliated with electronic resource vendors. It’s a compelling mix, but with the resignation of the JLA’s board, it’s not going to happen — at least in that venue.

Mathews had also invited Jason Griffey to contribute, but in a move that anticipated the decision made by the editorial board, he declined participation due to the publisher’s restrictions. After Mathews broke the news, Griffey posted on the subject himself:

  • “On Feb 14, I got an intriguing email from Brian Matthews [sic] about a special edition of the Journal of Library Administration he was editing. It was a request for a chapter for an edition of the journal called Imagining the Future of Libraries, and the Brian’s pitch to me was enough to make me very interested: [Brian]: ‘I’d love for you to contribute an essay around the topic of technology. Beyond most digital collections. Beyond everyone and everything mobile— what unfolds then?’ I mean, if I have a specialty, this is it. I love nothing more than I love a good dose of futurism, and told him so. My one concern was the Journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, and the fact that I refuse to sign over my copyright on work I create. I’m happy to license it in any number of ways that gives the publisher the rights they need to distribute the work, but I won’t write something for someone else to own.”

The final post covering the story (so far; there will be more, I’m sure) is from Chris Bourg, who had recently joined the editorial board of the Journal of Academic Librarianship and resigned along with her colleagues. She describes the lengths editor Damon Jaggars had gone to convince the publisher to change its practices:

  • “In the meantime, Damon continued to try to convince Taylor & Francis (on behalf of the entire Editorial Board, and with our full support), that their licensing terms were too confusing and too restrictive. A big part of the argument is that the Taylor & Francis author agreement is a real turn-off for authors and was handicapping the Editorial Board’s ability to attract quality content to the journal. The best Taylor & Francis could come up with was a less restrictive license that would cost authors nearly $3000 per article. The Board agreed that this alternative was simply not tenable, so we collectively resigned.”

Look for more to emerge on this subject, as librarians start to assert their demand for change in the world of scholarly publishing. And hopefully, somewhere, Brian Mathews’ special issue will find a home — since it sounded fantastic.


This post has also been mirrored on my tumblr.

    Investigating Journals: An Information Literacy Workshop for Science Students

    Posted on 25 February 2013 at 5:56 pm in Musings.

    Earlier this month I orchestrated an information literacy workshop for our senior capstone Biology colloquium. The students in this course are conducting field research on a local urban freshwater stream, and their professor hopes that the students will submit the data they are collecting to a scholarly journal. She mentioned that ambition when we discussed having a library workshop for her students, and it planted an idea that sprouted into a unique (to me) lesson plan that I felt was very successful.

    Since these students were seniors, they had already experienced at least some level of database interface instruction. I decided to skip that entirely. Instead, I wanted them to focus on journals, and the process a researcher might embark on individually if they were looking to publish in one.

    Investigating Journals

    After I launched the presentation with a short introduction, I broke the eleven students into three groups, and had each group research one (pre-selected) journal in freshwater biology (which, sadly, did not lead to a wave of hashtag enthusiasm. I was looking forward to #teamamericanmidlandnaturalist, #teamjournaloffreshwaterecology, and #teamfreshwaterbiology tweets). My institution subscribes to two of the three journals, and each of the journals is hosted on a different platform, published by a different organization, and they collectively span different levels of prestige — a perfect mix to show off the spectrum of published content.

    The teams had worksheets that directed them to look up certain things on their assigned journal’s author submission page (they looked for citation format, directions regarding headings, whether the author should supply keywords, whether there was a standardized dictionary, etc.) Directing the students to the journal’s webpage led to some interesting questions that have never come up in other workshops I’ve led. One student asked what an “impact factor” was, which sparked an interesting discussion of citations, notability, and other related metrics (and quickly got one group bragging about how their assigned journal had the highest of the three); the need for authors to submit keywords led to a discussion about database-driven article retrieval. Both of these are hard points to make as an instructor talking about database interfaces, but once these students saw the author submission pages, it really seemed to click for them — they could see the raw materials from which article databases are built.

    Investigating Articles

    After a short discussion period, where the groups announced their findings to the other students, we went into the next segment. The teams had to determine if our institution subscribes to their assigned journal, and download one article of their choice (I knew the one journal we didn’t subscribe to made a sample issue available on their website). This exercise got our students to use the journal finder feature on our website, another tool that students don’t always understand (undergrads frequently confuse article titles for journal titles, and using the former doesn’t work in a journal finder).

    Once each team had an article in hand, I had them outline their article’s section headings (to see to what degree they matched the posted author instructions, and hopefully give them some guidance for their proposed journal submission) and count the list of references (to give them a sense of the depth of research on published articles, and again, a better sense of the expectations for them). They also looked up their articles in Google Scholar to investigate the “cited by” feature — which circled back to our earlier conversation about impact factor and the notability of articles. The team whose journal had the lowest Impact Factor turned out to have the most cited article, which gave them a chance to brag in return (the camaraderie between the students was a lot of fun).

    We finished off the workshop by using Google Scholar to import their articles into a RefWorks account (our library is an institutional subscriber) and a brief overview of RefWorks use.

    Crossing the Threshold

    What struck me about the workshop — and part of why I felt it was so successful — was the curiosity it generated in the students. Students asked unprompted questions about not only Impact Factors, but open access journals, pay-to-publish journals, journal subscription fees, author reimbursement (or lack thereof), and tenure in academia. These are subjects that have almost never come up in my experience as an instructional librarian (with undergrads); the fact that these were student questions driven by their own investigative experience felt like a breakthrough, as if we crossed a threshold point in their understanding of scholarly resources. I feel like the minutiae of database search will now come more naturally to them despite the lack of any direct discussion of the subject — a win-win if there ever was one.

    Now, if this colloquium does indeed get published, I hope I get included in their acknowledgements — another subject that came up through student questions!