Eamon Tewell is Reference & Instruction Librarian at Long Island University Brooklyn, home of the Blackbirds, where he supports the teaching and learning activities of the campus. He can be reached at @eamontewell.
A colleague of mine was recently wondering which journal she should submit her article to. There were a few possibilities, and she knew wanted to publish in an open access journal. My colleague is near the end of her tenure clock and she wants to contribute her hard work to open access journals instead of publishers making obscene profits off of scholars’ free labor—labor which encompasses creating scholarship, reviewing it, and editing it. My colleague’s email made me wonder: where is the line we draw for our participation in a scholarly communication system that is predicated on, and profits immensely from, the unpaid work of researchers? That line will be different for everyone, and it is worth considering for all librarian-researchers.
“Charlotte Roh asks: ‘Are we perpetuating the biases and power structures of traditional scholarly publishing? Or are we using library publishing to interrogate, educate, and establish more equitable models of scholarly communication?’”
When we talk about the necessary work of forming a research agenda, selecting a journal for publication, or dealing with the feedback from Reviewer #2, what else goes unsaid? What systems does our work ultimately support and uphold? Is it possible to change or at least question these systems while participating within them? As Charlotte Roh asks: “Are we perpetuating the biases and power structures of traditional scholarly publishing? Or are we using library publishing to interrogate, educate, and establish more equitable models of scholarly communication?”
I’ve heard very compelling arguments that the only answer is to publish open access, and there are lots of open access LIS journals to choose from. Up until very recently, there hasn’t been a single comprehensive listing of the many librarianship-related journals out there—I would often refer to the article Core Journals in Library and Information Science (especially pages 76-81) for a list of relevant journals, along with the LIS Publications Wiki. This recently created list from the Centre for Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, however, not only lists peer-reviewed LIS journals, but notes which are open access. I also skim the bibliographies of articles I’m consulting to find possible outlets for my work. As useful as a good list can be, the real problem here won’t be solved by a comprehensive list of LIS journals, in the same way that fake news won’t be solved by exceptional LibGuides. The issue is much larger. What can we do to align our values with our publishing practices?
“Someone isn’t compelled to publish in a paywalled journal because they are a bad person; they publish in a paywalled journal as part of a long-established system of incentives and rewards for doing so.”
Ultimately, the choice comes down to the person publishing. Different expectations, personal goals, readerships, and incentives shape where one will publish. Whether the journal you publish in is owned by an evil corporation, an open access labor of love held together by one or two editors, or somewhere in between, the decision can only be made according to your circumstances. Someone isn’t compelled to publish in a paywalled journal because they are a bad person; they publish in a paywalled journal as part of a long-established system of incentives and rewards for doing so. Instead of scolding scholars on where they did or did not draw a line, we should direct our energy at changing the larger scholarly communication picture.
Changing the picture
“…ask yourself what your position affords you in pushing back against corporate publishers. Commit to pushing further as you progress in your career and comfort with publishing.”
This work can be conducted on two levels. First, we can do only so much when publishing on others’ terms, particularly within the constraints of the tenure track. Consider how demanding your tenure process is, who your ideal audience would be, and whether there is a well-received open access journal that fits with your topic. If you’re not sure, ask your colleagues, supervisor, or put your question out to a listserv or Twitter. If you publish in a paywalled journal, be sure to deposit a preprint in a repository, whether your institution’s or a disciplinary repository like E-Prints in Library and Information Science or the LIS Scholarship Archive. Interested librarians across the world will appreciate it, and the preprint will appear in search engine results, increasing your work’s readership and reach. More generally, ask yourself what your position affords you in pushing back against corporate publishers. Commit to pushing further as you progress in your career and comfort with publishing.
Secondly, we should imagine and work towards the ultimate goal I believe many librarians seek, which is a major rethinking and restructuring of scholarly communication. We can’t do this in one go, but we can continue to nudge the system towards openness and becoming the scholarly environment we wish it to be. We should publish in open access journals, but we can go much further than that. We can:
- Advocate for our key professional journals to go open access
- Support publications with alternative forms of peer review (such as In the Library with the Lead Pipe and Journal of Radical Librarianship’s open peer review processes)
- Serve on journal editorial boards and help them go open
- Contribute our work to journals that reflect our professional goals and ideals
The system won’t change without us pushing against it, yet at the same time, we have to reconcile that with the daily realities of our jobs. I don’t know what journal my colleague chose to send her article to, but I’m confident she made the right choice.
Featured image from theilr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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