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How-to LibParlor Contributor Series

Picking a Journal, A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

LibParlor Contributor, Nina Exner, begins her series talking about how to pick a journal to write for.

Nina Exner is the Research Data Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She is also a part-time doctoral student at the University of North Carolina’s SILS, and delighted to be able to say that she is in her candidacy stage. She likes talking about librarians’ research challenges and successes, which is also the topic of her dissertation. You can find her on Twitter @Z669_E9 or see her ORCiD vita at 0000-0002-8746-8364.

Your Ideas Influence the Journal Choice

“There’s no journal deadline like there is with book chapters. It’s a rolling system, so we roll on whenever we can.”

Let’s talk about where to publish an article. We all want to find a journal that has a good chance of accepting our article and getting it out in front of interested readers. But that’s not easy when starting out. Like most librarians – like you, maybe – I started out familiar with lots of textbooks, a few journals full of elaborate statistics or theories, and a lot of articles that I never noticed where they came from. You don’t come on the job knowing about journals. But they don’t always get explained on the job, either. Why? I’m not sure. Assumptions, I suppose. So I’m here to tell you that there are dozens, probably hundreds of journals you can submit to, whenever you like.

Yes, the first thing I want to let you know is this: you can submit any time. Journals usually do not solicit manuscripts (that’s journal jargon for articles before publication). There are exceptions: state associations, new journals, special theme issues, and smaller journals with low publication queues. Listservs and blogs like Library Writer’s Blog and Dolores’ List will often have submission proposals for these solicitations.

So how do they get articles? We just send them in. Whenever we’re ready, we go to the journal’s submission instructions on its homepage, follow the directions, wait a couple months, and get our feedback. So, whenever you’re ready, that’s your initial submission deadline. Or set yourself a deadline, which is a good practice! There’s no journal deadline like there is with book chapters. It’s a rolling system, so we roll on whenever we can.

But then without deadlines or topical calls for papers, how’s a librarian to choose? Like I said, we each usually only know a few. But there are ways to find new journals that might suit the paper you’re going to write.

Journals Differ

Let’s start with this: Each journal typically focuses on a specific type of article. Some journals purposefully try to share the top research or theories emerging across the discipline. Many focus on trends within specific jobs (from the budget office to services for distance learners and more). Some focus on specific types of articles; some discourage non-research “case studies” of programs in the library while others encourage them. Some journals also publish review articles. As a side note, review articles may be more comfortable for new LIS writers because they’re more like really good class papers: summaries of the current state of things, synthesized from the literature.

“…think about what you want to write. Let that guide your journal choice.”

Which leads me to an important topic: write what you like. Patron behaviors are not the only area of interest to LIS journals, no matter what impression you got in library school. Those are very important, but we can publish other things too. Did you get into libraries because you like digging through archival materials? Then do that. Check your tenure guidelines first if applicable! Your tenure guidelines might support publishing in history journals – which are a great place for archivally-based articles – but even if it has to be a library journal there are places. And as I mentioned, there are places for review articles, if you are asking yourself (as I have) why you can’t just publish a really good overview of what’s going on without having numbers to go with it. If you don’t have to do in-discipline research then don’t do a student or librarian survey unless you want to. We’ve got plenty. Instead, think about what you want to write. Let that guide your journal choice. There’s probably one that will suit your interests, and your article will be better for it.

Metrics Lists as Possibility Lists

So how do we find journals that suit our interests? You can search the web, but be cautious because there are predatory journals that will charge you money and hurt your CV/resume. So I’d suggest starting with a more controlled environment. That means using some sort of list, and various lists exist that try to rank or rate journals by citations or other metrics.

If you have access to the Cabell’s database or the old Cabell’s Directory books, that’s a great place to look. Or, you may have access to Scopus, which has a large list under Sources. But even that depends on what subscriptions you can access. Since you might be relying on the free web only, I’ll suggest CWTS’s Journal Indicators. It’s a little dated in the journal names, and leans towards international journals. But hey, it’s free! So visit, hit the Indicators tab, and set the Subarea to library and information science. Bam, 141 LIS journals for you to consider. Skim the titles for ones that look interesting. Some have topics that are obvious from the title, like Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. Others don’t, so you might find a lot of possible titles to consider. You can’t just click through, so keep a list of possible titles.

You might wonder what order these are in. Journal Indicators (and Scopus) provide lists ranked by the impact of the journal, as based on citations. So widely-read and widely-cited journals, particularly in broader fields like information science, drift to the top (the issues in various metrics are a different topic; we’re just here for the list). But the top is not the best place to start, even if you just look at the library-focused titles. The top journals assume you’re putting your top work there. If you have something you’ve worked on for a long time and polished up, then you should go for it! But I definitely wasn’t there for my first articles. They were OK and had some useful insights, but they were just OK. If it’s my junior work, I want to aim for a junior sort of journal. So in this list, I’ll want to scroll down. How far down? Well, it depends on how junior I’m feeling. For all but my most interesting stuff, I usually ignore the top 10% or so of a list. For my early work, I might have wanted to go past the top 25%. But if you’ve brought your A-game, then shoot for the top! Blind review means they’ll never know it’s your first time. Once I’ve scrolled down a bit, I start skimming for interesting titles.

Exploring Your Possibilities

The next step is to check out the journal’s scope. Like I said earlier, journals differ. Think about what’s important to you, in terms of your professional ethics, goals, and writing. Then visit the journal’s website. Most of them have a page that will either have a summary of their purpose on the front page, or else will have a link somewhere like a sidebar that says About this Journal or Aims and Scope or something like that. Occasionally it’s hidden in an Authors link. If you can’t find a description or scope, for now, just strike that journal off your list.

The “scope” is the range of things covered in the journal. It will probably be written in a high scholarly style, but hidden in the phrasing should be a mention of the topics and types of articles they publish. Look for key phrases about the article type, for example “current research” (which means they like data-based studies) or “descriptions of programs” (which means they want to hear how you did something and what you learned).

Once I’ve decided if the scope fits my article, I also like to look at the Author Guidelines link before I start writing. The guidelines address a lot of structural and technical details that will come up while writing. Especially if you have strong preferences about APA versus Chicago or active versus passive voice, this section is important to look at.

So there you go! Skim through, make a list of possible titles, check their websites, and hone in on a top choice. I recommend also finding at least one second choice backup with the same citation and writing style. Once you’ve picked a journal, you can do a deeper dive into it, to help guide your writing towards that journal’s audience. In part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about that deeper dive into your top-choice journal.

Share Comments and Keep the Conversation Going…

  • Where do you look for ideas on what journals to publish in?
  • Do you think it’s better to get rejected with feedback from a big journal, or accepted to a smaller one?
  • What journals have you had positive experiences with?

Featured image [CC0], via Pexels

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3 comments on “Picking a Journal, A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

  1. Excellent article. I’d add to also contact the editor with any questions including “I have an idea about researching XX topic and wondered if you think it fits your journal?” or something along those lines. As a former assistant editor, I frequently was asked questions like that, especially from new faculty just starting their research process.


  2. Pingback: Picking a Journal, Part II: Your journal choice influences you, A Librarian Parlor Series – The Librarian Parlor

  3. Pingback: How Do You Even Do Analyze & Publish? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part III – The Librarian Parlor

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