Tag Archives: Peer Review

Publishing Practice: Developing a Professional Identity

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Chelsea Heinbach, MLIS student at the University of Denver; Cyndi Landis, MLIS student at Emporia State University, and Alison Hicks, faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

How can we bridge the divide between learning about library instruction and engaging more concretely with a teaching librarian’s values and responsibilities? This was the question that drove the design of a writing assignment in our recent library instruction course at the University of Denver, and that we have been grappling with since the semester ended. Designed to mimic a core part of many academic teaching librarian positions, as well as to involve students more closely with teaching librarian communities, the assignment asked students to write a 3000 word essay that was peer-reviewed by librarians in the field, and published as an Open Access book.

Drawing from the idea of publishing as pedagogy, as well as sociocultural learning theories that emphasize participation rather than imitation, students were excited to mold the assignment on the first day of class. At the same time, the prospect of writing for a broad audience at this stage of a career was very different from previous LIS program experiences. This blogpost serves to explore the experiences of two MLIS students who participated in this project, Chelsea Heinbach (University of Denver) and Cyndi Landis (Emporia State University), as well as attempting to reflect on the role and nature of instruction librarian education today.

Merging practice and theory

The MLIS degree is largely practical in nature. As academic librarians in training we talk about publishing as well as open access, conferences, and peer review, but there is often little room built in for identifying our own place in these processes. While there are opportunities to publish as a student, there are rarely chances in class to simulate the peer review process and to treat our work as serious academic contributions. The future regarding our own publishing remains abstract for the entirety of our master’s degree and there are few chances to explore our professional writing goals and ideas. This assignment offered us valuable mentorship in academic writing, extensive and thoughtful suggestions for improvement, as well as an opportunity to explore our professional identity in a supportive environment.

Value

As a graduate student, there is pressure to have something on your resume to make you stand out among the pool of job applicants. We each scramble to find that extra separator to distinguish ourselves from others or at least to fill in the blanks of which accomplishments we think we should have by now. This assignment was something we could be proud of and use to prove ourselves.

Excitement and intimidation swept over us as we began to research and select our instruction topics. What did we want to know as a future teaching librarian? What could we research to make this open access book contribution count? This assignment was the opportunity we’d been waiting for throughout our graduate school experience – a professional introduction into scholarship that was guided and supported rather than just an assignment to be completed and tucked away in our personal portfolio.

Unlike most research papers throughout our LIS programs, this assignment would be shared with professionals beyond the student-teacher relationship. Not only would library professionals assist in the peer-review process, but the open access book would later be promoted within the LIS field as an example of this unique approach. This exercise was designed to emulate what research could be like in the “real-world”. Even the peer reviewers wished they had a similar opportunity when they were in school.

While we recognized this as a valuable opportunity that we were excited to engage with, we also grew nervous about the implications. With the permanence of this piece weighing heavy on each step of the writing and research process, we began to unravel the pieces of its potentially lasting effects. What topic would best fit our future career goals? Would it be something we could use to start building our curriculum vitae? Throughout the assignment, we felt the reality of this valuable opportunity sinking in, causing us to reflect hesitantly on the formation of our professional identity and our overall contributions to the field.

Editing

As we received feedback from our instructor and reviewer, the constructive comments revealed areas for improvement. Our wandering thoughts now had direction and our emphatic assertions were paired within the context of practicing librarians; we had a glimpse into our book’s audience and we could refine our papers with confidence.Throughout our academic careers, we had rarely received the opportunity to improve our scholarly writing within the assignment, or even within the course. The peer-review process gave us genuine, productive feedback to revise our paper before submitting the final piece for publication.

The feedback was two-fold, receiving detailed comments from Alison and our peer-reviewer. Comments ranged from pointing out areas to improve writing clarity, to making connections to concepts that we hadn’t seen before, and suggesting other sources to use for a broader perspective. As we are not yet practicing librarians, we found that some of the issues we wanted to discuss are already common knowledge in the profession. The reviewers’ comments provided the insight of instruction practitioners, helping us identify what truly needed further discussion and what research conclusions would prove helpful to our professional audience.

The level of detail in the feedback given in this assignment highlighted the lack of response have routinely received throughout our academic careers. With a few exceptions, we have rarely received suggestions for improvement on our work and instead have simply received a grade. After pouring hours into research and writing, a final grade isn’t as satisfying as encouragement and thoughtful recommendations for further development. Up until this point, some of our most demanding academic work stemmed from our expectations of ourselves and our future goals.

Identity

This assignment, therefore, provided a welcome break from the standard dynamic, as it gave us an opportunity to explore and assert our views in a way that felt more impactful than a simple class paper. It was encouraging to be taken seriously by a professional in the field and to have the opportunity to contribute to such a unique project.

However, after the excitement of the opportunity wore off, we realized we felt nervous about moving from passively reading the literature to owning our own viewpoints. This class is a mere ten weeks long and, as students, many of us are balancing multiple jobs, volunteer positions, job applications, committee obligations, and other classes. In addition, the academic library world can feel like an overwhelmingly polarized place where work is judged and dismissed openly and critically. While these conversations lead us to important awakenings regarding issues in the profession, we found it difficult to feel comfortable as students making assertions when we were still developing our own positions. Perhaps this was simply due to overzealous imposter syndrome, but it is why some of us ultimately focused on topics that were not overwhelmingly controversial, and decided against making an obvious political statement with our work.

In the end, this pressure to cultivate raw ideas and develop work that would be seen led to a more genuine interaction with the content than we have had in most other classes. Ultimately, it helped us develop our professional research goals in a more concrete and granular way, giving us a better understanding of publishing demands. At the same time, the intersection between student research and professional practice exposed some eye-opening issues that arise for LIS students. We are taught general theories of librarianship and given research assignments with little guidance of whether our conclusions and assertions are appropriate in the context of the challenges professionals face. To combat this block between the classroom and our professional careers, one of the most beneficial experiences we can have during library school is a mentor in our chosen area of librarianship.

We really appreciated the feedback and we encourage librarians to seek out opportunities to mentor LIS students, to share their professional experiences, and to help to bridge the divide between theory and practice. This project enlisted an enthusiastic group of librarian reviewers, who we recognize as invisible laborers behind its success. We are grateful to them for their  collaborative participation and commitment to bettering LIS student work through this publishing practice. Lastly, this memorable assignment would not have been possible without Alison’s insightful vision, reviewer matchmaking, and endless encouragement. When students and professionals engage in dialogue, it fuels our profession with a stronger foundation of new ideas and perspectives.

Advice and suggestions for future improvements

For anyone who is interested in building upon this assignment, we would offer the following advice:

  • Scaffold: The assignment built in plenty of drafting time so the peer review really helped to edit and shape the final essays. At the same time, many students found that choosing a relevant topic was tough. We suggest plenty of class discussion about potential directions, as well as interviewing a professional before starting in order to get guidance.
  • Workshop: Our class did not build in any in-class workshopping, but that could have made the delivery of the first draft less stressful. The process of reviewing other people’s work is always helpful for writers to experience, too.
  • Connect: This assignment was strengthened through the matching of reviewers with paper topics about which they were knowledgeable. Although the entire process was double blind,we found that this expertise, as well as the sincerity that the reviewers brought to the assignment, added considerably to the development of the second draft.

Read the book online: http://gotaminute.pressbooks.com/
Read the archived PDF: http://digitalcommons.du.edu/lis_stuother/3/

Thinking Tenure Thoughts

Last week Meredith Farkas wrote a thoughtful post on her blog, Information Wants to Be Free, about tenure status for academic librarians. Spirited discussion ensued in Meredith’s blog comments and on libraryland Twitter (much of which Meredith Storified) which has continued to today. The conversation has included many varied perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of tenure for academic librarians, including preparation for research and scholarship in graduate library programs, the perceptions of status and equality between academic librarians and faculty in other departments, salary parity, academic freedom, and the usefulness and rigor of the library literature.

I support tenure for academic librarians as I do for faculty in other departments primarily because I believe that tenure ensures academic freedom, which is as important in the library as it is in other disciplines. I also have concerns about the tenure system more generally, concerns that many academics in libraries and other departments also voice. One of my big concerns is that the pressure to publish can result in quantity over quality.

This conundrum was raised during the Twitter discussion of Meredith’s post and had me nodding vigorously as I read. I am absolutely in agreement that the tenure system as it currently stands has encouraged the publication of large amounts of scholarship that ranges from the excellent and thought-provoking, to the interesting if somewhat obvious, to the just not very good, to the occasionally completely wrong. Of course, this is a problem not just in academic librarianship but in other disciplines as well. The avalanche of scholarship resulting from the pressures to publish to gain tenure affects libraries and the broader academic enterprise in a variety of ways.

It takes time to write and publish, and time spent on that is less time to spend on doing research or reading the research that others have published, research that might be useful in our jobs as well as our own research. You might remember the article in the Guardian late last year in which Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs suggested that he’d be unlikely to get tenure in today’s academic climate because he hasn’t published enough. I try to stay current on what’s being published in a handful of library journals, but like many of us my interests are interdisciplinary and there is no way I can read even a fraction of what’s relevant to my scholarly interests. And the more that’s published, the more difficult it can become to find the good stuff — something we see when we teach students to evaluate sources, but something that can stymie more experienced researchers as well.

There’s also a direct connection between the ever-increasing publication for tenure needs and academic library budgets. Those articles need to go somewhere, and journal publishers have been more than willing to create new journals to fill up with reports of academic research and sell back to libraries. Publishing in open access journals can help, as others including Barbara Fister have suggested.

But I think academic librarians with tenure can make an impact on the quality versus quantity problem, both in the library literature and in scholarly communication more widely. I’m coming up for tenure in the fall, and while I’ve published my research open access, it’s also true that I’ve submitted most of my work for publication in peer reviewed journals, primarily because that’s what “counts” most. I don’t know that I’ve written anything in the past 6 years that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but as Meredith and others noted in the Twitter conversation, without worries about what counts I probably wouldn’t have felt as much pressure to write as much as I have for peer reviewed journals, and might have spread my efforts more evenly between blogging or other forms of publication as well. I’ve also felt torn spending time on other work that I know isn’t as highly regarded as traditional scholarly publishing — work like conference organizing and article reviewing and blogging, for example.

I’m looking forward to coming up for tenure in part because I’d like to help work toward expanding the definition of scholarly productivity to include alternatives to peer-reviewed publication in journals, and to focus on quality over quantity. Some of this is work that librarians are already doing — work in promoting open access, for example, among faculty in other departments who may not realize that there are peer-reviewed, highly-regarded OA journals. As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.

Monograph Musings

As the scholarly communications landscape shifts and changes, what’s the role of traditional academic monograph publishing? That’s a question much on my mind of late for a number of reasons. About a week and a half ago was the American Association of University Press’s annual meeting, which filled my Twitter stream with the hashtag #aaup13. With the slower summer days I’ve been making time for weeding at work, considering which books should stay and which should go, and beginning to plan for purchasing new books starting in the fall. And I’m also thinking about academic books from the perspective of an author, as my research partner and I finish the draft of the book we’re writing and have sent out proposals to a couple of university presses.

Books are for reading — presumably anyone who writes a book feels that their book offers useful and insightful information that they want to share widely with others. But there are lots of possibilities for sharing our work, even a piece that’s as long as a monograph (rather than short like an article). There are websites and blogs, relatively easy to use tools for creating and formatting text into ereader- and print-friendly formats. Add in print on demand, and it’s easy to wonder about the role of scholarly presses. Having worked in publishing for a few years before I was a librarian I’m familiar with the huge amount of work that goes into preparing books for publication (not to mention publishing them). Academic presses definitely add value to monographs, from copy editing to layout and beyond. Scholarly books are also often peer reviewed, which for a book manuscript is a non-trivial undertaking, much more labor-intensive than for an article. I’m a firm believer in peer review — when done well, the resulting publication is much stronger for it.

But academic publishing, especially at university presses, has become more challenging — costs keep rising, and sales (to academic libraries and others) aren’t as strong as they once were. Jennifer Howard at the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote two good overviews of the AAUP meetings, in which presses discussed strategies for ensuring their survival in a time of lean budgets while expanding into new formats and modes of publishing. Facilitated by the meetings’ active Twitter presence, Ian Bogost, professor of Media Studies at Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not actually at the meetings, tweeted a 10 point “microrant” about academic publishing. Among other things, Bogost notes that publishers might put more resources into editorial development for their authors, because scholars are not necessarily the best writers. Bogost also points out that university presses could help fill the gap between highly scholarly works and popular publications.

The relationship between academic libraries and presses is changing, too. Collaborations are on the rise, as was discussed at the AAUP meetings, which has been exciting to watch — I think there are lots of natural affinities between the two. But as the scholarly book landscape changes I can’t help but think about my library, and the college and university we belong to. There’s no university press at the large, public institution my college is part of. I’m at a technical college that offers associates and baccalaureate degrees, and there’s also not a huge market for many of the more traditional university press publications at my college, the highly scholarly monographs. Not that university presses publish the works of their own faculty (though perhaps they should?), but of course we have faculty who write academic books at my college, too, as do faculty at lots of colleges that are unlikely to have presses, like community colleges.

Where does my college fit as scholarly monograph publishing evolves? I think the students I work with are a perfect audience for books that fill the gap that Bogost pointed out — academic works written without highly specialized language that are accessible to novices, something smarter and more interesting than a textbook, an overview that includes enough detail to be useful for the typical undergraduate research project. But what about getting into publishing ourselves? It’s easy to think of the differences in collections between large research university libraries and college libraries like where I work: they have more stuff (books, journals, etc.), and there are ways for us to get the stuff we don’t have if we need it. If university publishing and academic libraries become more closely tied together, where will that leave those universities and colleges without presses? And will that impact the opportunities that our faculty have for publication?

This Journal Brought to You By . . .

It was shocking at the end of April when The Scientist reported that Elsevier had published a scholarly-journal-like series that was actually advertising paid for by Merck. The peer-reviewed-like articles in the journal-like object were either reprints or summaries of articles that reported results favorable to Merck drugs. There were also “review” articles that had only a couple of references. Reviewed that. Merck good. Go prescribe.

Now it turns out this wasn’t an embarrassing one-off. Elsevier published at least six fake journals – er, sorry, got my terminology wrong: “sponsored article publications.” (The Scientist article is free, but requires registration.)

Mistakes were made. Elsevier officials regret the error. The nasty people who did that left the company long ago. Besides, it was in Australia. The CEO of Elsevier’s Heath Sciences division says it’s going to be looked into, but he’s sure it’s not ever going to happen again. “I can assure all that the integrity of Elsevier’s publications and business practices remains intact.”

Um, isn’t that up to us to say? Seems to me Elsevier’s integrity was in question even before this disgraceful and embarrassing revelation.

Anne-Marie posted some thoughtful comments about this issue at Info-fetishist – particularly the implications for information literacy.

Maybe we can’t talk about peer review at all anymore without talking about the future of a system of knowledge reporting that is almost entirely dependent upon on the volunteer efforts of scholars and researchers, almost entirely dependent upon their professionalism and commitment to the quality of their disciplines, in a world where ultimate control is passing away from those scholars’ and researchers’ professional societies and into the hands of corporate entities whose decisions are driven not by commitment to quality, knowledge creation or disciplinary integrity.

We’ve been focusing on “why pay attention to scholarly work and conversations going on on the participatory web” mostly in terms of how these things help us give our students access to scholarly material, how they help our students contextualize and understand scholarly debates, how they lay bare the processes of knowledge creation that lie under the surface of the perfect, final-product article you see in scholarly journals. And all of those things are important. But I think we’re going to have to add that “whistleblower” aspect — we need to pay attention to scholars on the participatory web so they can point out where the traditional processes are corrupt, and where the gatekeepers are making decisions that aren’t in the interests of the rest of us.

Excellent food for thought.

Another approach to the news popped up at the LSW room at FriendFeed where Steve Lawson proposed “the LSW needs to get Elsevier to publish the Australasian Journal of Library Science.” And in the over 80 responses you can find helpful suggestions like “your article will be reviewed by a panel of representatives from library vendors,” “there should be one issue deliberately missing. Supplements should be completely unavailable electronically,” and “it’s only available on one computer on campus. There is a login & password if you want off-campus access, but you can’t share it with ANYONE. … and we’ll publish 4 issues per year. But if we can’t come up with enough content for 4 issues a year, we can just combine them, like 1/2 or 1-2-3 or 2-4 or whatever.” See how productive pent-up rage can be? Thanks to all the brilliance behind this thread for the best serials humor ever.

Amongst all the giddiness some commenters pointed out a previous little scandal involving a high-impact journal that got its high impact by having one allegedly “crackpot” author publish multiple papers., as many as five in a single issue, all of them citing himself. The publisher? You guessed it – Elsevier.

null

photo courtesy of London Permaculture