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LibParlor Contributor Reflection

Advocating for Open Peer Review in LIS

LibParlor Contributor Sarah Hare reflects on her experiences with open peer review (OPR), and makes the case for early career librarians to pursue OPR.

Sarah Hare is the Scholarly Communication Librarian at Indiana University, where she leads several open and library publishing initiatives. Sarah’s research interests include Open Educational Resources (OER), open pedagogy, and scholarly communication outreach to undergraduate students. Find Sarah on Twitter @SarahEHare or check out her online portfolio at www.sarahecrissinger.com.


Last fall, I taught a for-credit undergraduate course on academic editing and publishing basics. For one of our sessions, students were asked to read about different peer review models so that we could have informed discussion about double blind, single blind, open, and post-publication peer review. While there is not a standard definition of open peer review or OPR, it is generally understood to be a peer review model where the identities of the author and the reviewers are known to each other. Throughout the course, I found that students were hesitant to embrace open peer review, even after we discussed the many flaws of closed peer review and the ways in which open peer review models address these limitations. Again and again, students equated open peer review with bias and a lack of rigor.  

A few months ago, during a conversation about open peer review, a colleague asked me what I thought the future of peer review in our field was. I replied cynically, stating that while librarians are committed to open access and experiential research models for their constituencies, I haven’t seen many LIS journals embracing open peer review. In 2016, Emily Ford identified less than five LIS journals using OPR, including In the Library with Lead Pipe and Journal of Radical Librarianship. Ford noted that “there are very few experiments and discussions regarding OPR in LIS publications” (pg. 2).

I don’t see this changing in the future. Like so many other fields, I believe that part of the problem in our field is that OPR is seen as biased or ineffective, and generally not “good enough” for the most reputable publication venues to pursue. Carole Lee, Cassidy Sugimoto, Guo Zhang, and Blaise Cronin (2012) concluded that, “[d]espite the potential advantages of open peer review, researchers and scholars seem somewhat reticent to adopt it,” citing two different studies where less than 30% of the researchers surveyed thought that OPR could be an “effective form of review” (pg. 11).

As an early career researcher and librarian who has personally and professionally benefited from the transparency, rigor, and community building that is inherent in the open peer review process, I am passionate about dispelling these misconceptions. Lee et al. (2012) note that “[c]ontrolled studies have found that open review is associated with a higher refusal rate (on the part of reviewers) and an increase in the amount of time taken to write reviews” (pg. 11; emphasis mine). Ford (2013) states that “crowd-sourced review generates and disseminates new ideas that strengthen communities of practice” (pg. 319).

“As an early career researcher and librarian who has personally and professionally benefited from the transparency, rigor, and community building that is inherent in the open peer review process, I am passionate about dispelling these misconceptions.”

Ford also cites Maharg & Duncan (2007) and Gould (2010)’s claims that OPR has the potential to “flatten the hierarchical nature of closed peer review systems” and “[challenge] elitism” (pg. 319). This has been my experience.

I wrote my first peer-reviewed article the fall after I graduated from my LIS program. I was still getting acclimated to my first professional, full-time librarian position. I pitched an idea about critical open educational resource (OER) and open pedagogy outreach to In the Library with the Lead Pipe and, to my surprise, they were interested. Lead Pipe assigns authors to an internal editor (i.e. someone on the journal’s team) and works with authors to identify an external editor. Both editors review the draft article twice all while having access to each others’ comments and suggested revisions, thus building upon one another’s feedback. The internal editor has experience with Lead Pipe’s standards and voice. The external editor usually has extensive expertise in the subject that the article addresses.

I know that many gawk at this: authors help select an external reviewer?! They assume that this breeds bias, and maybe in some cases it does, but it also flattens hierarchies, increases access, and builds authorial voice and confidence. At the time I was drafting the OER article, I was following Robin DeRosa on Twitter. Robin was one of the only people I knew of passionate about moving the conversation about OER past cost and toward pedagogy. I read every piece she tweeted about open pedagogy and I followed the other scholars she mentioned, slowly building expertise in critical OER practices and thinking through their application to librarianship. In short, Robin taught me how to think about OER outreach critically and with nuance. When the time came to identify an external peer reviewer, I knew who I wanted to ask.

“…hearing an expert whom I deeply admire lift up my work as valuable was an absolute game changer.”

I cold e-mailed Robin and, generously, she agreed to be my reviewer. Not only did Robin help me refine the article’s argument, she helped me build confidence. As a new researcher writing my first peer-reviewed article, hearing an expert whom I deeply admire lift up my work as valuable was an absolute game changer. I was empowered. Not all of Robin’s feedback was positive, but all of it was constructive. The point of the review wasn’t to tear me down; instead, it was to build me up and enhance the article. Moreover, I was able to ask for in-depth clarification on critiques Robin made because the review was open. Robin has become an integral professional connection for me. She continues to shape my professional stance, but she also shares my work and has commented on how it has shaped her own thinking on OER. None of this would have been possible without open peer review.

I have since gone through another open peer review process and I’m convinced that OPR is particularly beneficial for early career librarians. There are various OPR models; however, most OPR processes share some basic commonalities. Ross-Hellauer (2017) has identified seven traits many OPR models share:

  • Open identities: Authors and reviewers are aware of each other’s identity.
  • Open reports: Review reports are published alongside the relevant article.
  • Open participation: The wider community are able to contribute to the review process.
  • Open interaction: Direct reciprocal discussion between author(s) and reviewers, and/or between reviewers, is allowed and encouraged.
  • Open pre-review manuscripts: Manuscripts are made immediately available (e.g., via pre-print servers like arXiv) in advance of any formal peer review procedures.
  • Open final-version commenting: Review or commenting on final “version of record” publications.
  • Open platforms (“decoupled review”): Review is facilitated by a different organizational entity than the venue of publication. (pg. 7)

“My experience has centered on what they would categorize as “open identities” and “open interaction,” which I have found to be particularly useful for early career authors, as they encourage discussion, facilitate mentorship, and make community building possible.”

They note that “the ambiguity of OPR [is] a feature and not a bug. The large number of possible configurations of options presents a tool-kit for differing communities to construct open peer review systems that reflect their own needs, preferences and goals” (pg. 15). My experience has centered on what they would categorize as “open identities” and “open interaction,” which I have found to be particularly useful for early career authors, as they encourage discussion, facilitate mentorship, and make community building possible. It is worth noting that OPR is complex and varied. Open final-version commenting or open participation might intimidate researchers embarking on their first peer review process, for example.

OPR is not the right model in every publishing circumstance. Still, giving early career librarians either the option or even several potential venues for pursuing OPR continues to be a gap in our profession’s publishing ecosystem. Tennant, et al. (2017), citing Rodríguez-Bravo et al. (2017), rightly note that “[e]arly career researchers…may be afraid that by signing overly critical reviews (i.e., those which investigate the research more thoroughly), they will become targets for retaliatory backlashes from more senior researchers. In this case, the justification for reviewer anonymity is to protect junior researchers, as well as other marginalized demographics” (pg. 9). Thus, I’m not advocating for blanket OPR across LIS publications. Instead, I’d like to see more LIS publications offer OPR and the powerful learning experience that it can provide to early career librarians as an option.

I encourage early career librarians to pursue OPR whenever possible. The OPR process is valuable for improving the specific article that you submit. But it’s also an opportunity to expand your professional community and refine your scholarship in a way that is both manageable and approachable.


Emily Ford is one of the leading voices in research on OPR in LIS. Emily is currently conducting a research study called “Stories of Open,” which will capture, make sense of, and disseminate human stories relating to Open Peer Review in Library and Information Sciences. Stories included in the project may come from people who identify as authors, editors, reviewers, publishers and/or readers of LIS literature. Contact Emily to participate in this timely and important project.


Acknowledgements

Thanks to Chelsea Heinbach for revising and refining this piece. A special thanks to anyone that has served as a open peer reviewer of my scholarship: your expertise, passion, and generosity continually inspire me.


Featured image [CC0], via Pexels


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


The expressions of writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

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