In this interview, Julie Goldman (Journal of eScience Librarianship) and Mitch Nakaue (Harvard Library Bulletin) talk with Rebecca Martin and Colleen Cressman about their roles as managing editors at free-to-read and free-to-publish open-access journals. In this “behind the scenes” discussion, Julie and Mitch explain what administrative and operational responsibilities typically fall under the purview of a managing editor, what they wish authors, readers, and reviewers knew about the submission and peer-review process, and how their journals are thinking about equity and inclusion.
Mitch Nakaue: I’m the Scholarly Communication Librarian at Houghton Library here at Harvard. I am also the Managing Editor of the Harvard Library Bulletin (HLB), which was founded in 1947. When I was hired at Houghton in 2018, I began working toward transitioning HLB into an open access publication. I work with an Editor-in-Chief, several student editorial assistants, and a thirteen-member advisory board made up of Harvard faculty and library leaders. You can follow the journal on Twitter, @HLBJournal.
Julie Goldman: I’m the Countway Research Data Services Librarian with the Harvard Library, and on a volunteer basis, I am also the Managing Editor of the Journal of eScience Librarianship (JeSLIB). JeSLIB was founded in 2012 and is published by the Lamar Soutter Library of the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. I began volunteering for the journal in 2015. You can follow the journal on Twitter, @JeSLIBJournal.
Mitch: At HLB, my role as Managing Editor entails lots of creative and operational oversight of the journal, and the Editor-in-Chief is chiefly responsible for budgetary oversight and long-term planning. But, several administrative approaches to running a journal exist across the publishing landscape; the scope of a managing editor role can really depend on the overall structure of the journal and how many other staff there might be. You might also see, for instance, models where there are deputy editors who oversee multiple other editors with more focused roles or responsibilities for different stages of the publishing process.
Julie: As Managing Editor at JeSLIB, I focus on taking copy-edited, accepted manuscripts and preparing them for publication. I have also taken on the responsibilities of outreach and social media. The other editor roles at JeSLIB include: an Editor-in-Chief, the “face of the journal,” who reviews submissions, coordinates peer reviews, and administrative oversight; an Associate Editor who takes on special issues and provides back-up for the Editor-in-Chief; a Distribution Editor, who moves content I prepare into the final publishing repository, applies appropriate metadata, and makes the content accessible. Additionally, all editorial staff participate in monthly board meetings and yearly meetings with the Editorial Board, which consists of 5-6 individuals who help recruit peer reviewers and offer guidance to the journal. All roles within JeSLIB are volunteer.
Julie: I joined JeSLIB in 2015, while in my first job out of library school. I was interested in the topic area and scholarly communication, and saw it as a good professional development and learning opportunity.
Mitch: I was hired for the role through my position at Houghton Library. Once the transformation of the journal to open access was complete, I began to focus on sustaining the journal. Now, about 50-80% of my full-time role is spent focused on HLB.
Julie: JeSLIB is free both to read and publish. There are no author-side fees—the journal even provides copy-editing. All articles now have a default CC BY license; however, authors are able to choose any Creative Commons license they would like. Historically, JeSLIB had been using a default CC BY-NC-SA license, but we undertook a large project to contact all past authors and worked toward getting them to agree to the more permissive CC BY license.
Mitch: HLB is free to read and publish. The only author-side costs at this time are any related to imaging costs and any third-party permissions authors might need to secure that carry a fee, which is the case for most journals. As part of the journal’s transition to open access though, I am trying to figure out a way to minimize or reduce even those expenses. Authors under the new open access model we developed do retain copyright, including republication as-is.
Julie: Authors really need to ensure that the article fits within the subject scope of the journal. Even though the mission of the journal is pretty broad, JeSLIB still does get many out of scope submissions. In addition, most authors also don’t realize how long the whole process takes. With such a focused disciplinary journal, there is a small community of practitioners that can serve in the double-blind peer review process. The editorial staff is made up of volunteers, too. During the past year, due to the pandemic, JeSLIB ended up publishing just one issue because of our reduced capacity.
Mitch: Similar to Julie, many authors submitting to HLB make assumptions or misinterpret the scope of the journal. The key really is to read the submission guidelines closely—it’s all in there. And, again similar to Julie, the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on turnaround time: HLB has been delayed in publishing content. Publishing online journals, rather than print journals, doesn’t necessarily mean the process is any faster!
Julie: As Mitch said earlier, read author guidelines. Everything you need to know is in there. Truly. It saves everyone a lot of time.
Mitch: Peer reviewers typically are used to giving unvarnished feedback. Sometimes I need to work with authors to try to assuage worry and help contextualize comments and feedback. While it is ultimately the prerogative of the author to incorporate reviewer feedback, I sometimes need to help the author realize needed changes, especially if the author is hearing the same feedback from multiple reviewers.
Mitch: The HLB Advisory Board and editorial team leverage their own networks to identify peer reviewers. It is often a challenge, though, to identify reviewers who are unknown to the author or who did not help the author in initial stages pre-submission. HLB strives to have two reviewers per article who are unknown to the author. Sometimes I move to subject-adjacent experts to serve as reviewers if needed to preserve anonymity. It can be challenging when peer reviewers only provide critical feedback; it is actually really helpful for authors to know what they have done right and what would be good to replicate in approach, rather than just what needs to be fixed.
Julie: JeSLIB has the same problem of finding subject experts as reviewers, and authors don’t always realize that finding reviewers takes up a lot of time. I also agree with Mitch’s point that constructive, positive feedback is so helpful: What is working well? What is hitting the mark with the readers?
Julie: Rejections are within purview of the Chief Editor. JeSLIB does have a high acceptance rate, and rejections most often occur because they are out of scope.
Mitch: When it’s due to scope, HLB tries to be clear to explain the submission is being rejected because of that. However, HLB makes liberal use of the revise-and-resubmit response to authors. There have been scenarios where authors pull out after the review process, which is surprising, and too bad, since so much time and effort already would have been put into the peer review process at that point.
Mitch: I'd like people to understand that our staff is very small, which impacts not just how long the editorial process takes, but also to some extent delineates our scope. Doing a substantial project with us, such as Contagion, requires hands-on effort from the project lead(s). Also, it's part of the HLB mission to hire students as editorial assistants, and I hope authors remember that they're learning on the job.
Julie: JeSLIB really relies on the practitioner community to help keep the journal relevant and up to date on emerging and expanding practices in the field. The Data Curation Network recently approached the journal to collaborate on a special recurring series focused on data curation; it was an opportunity for JeSLIB to expand its offerings and content areas, but also for the DCN to engage with a broader audience.
Mitch: I’d like a better system for capturing and reporting metadata at HLB. Retrospective work to make metadata more robust is a big focus for us right now.
Julie: The bepress system, which hosts JeSLIB, uses set metadata fields, and so we rely on authors for key information, subject keywords, and information about the author. When we worked to update past articles to the CC BY license, we found that we needed to go back and retrospectively edit metadata as well. We also recently began including the date of publication so that we can make available a transparent record of the time to publication.
Julie: Volunteering for a journal is a great opportunity to expand your professional network and keep up-to-date on—for example, in my case—developments in data and data services, as well as in the open access and scholarly communication landscapes. I’ve found that being detail-oriented, which is necessary for data services work, translates well to formatting and production work on the journal.
Mitch: One of our major goals was to ensure that HLB was doing a better job of foregrounding diversity, since—frankly—our history is overwhelmingly white, cis-het, and male in all aspects: authors, editors, historical figures, etc., and the subject matter mostly skews Anglo-European. Some things we’ve done so far:
Diversified the Advisory Board by including experts in non-Western collections, early-career faculty, and inviting participation by Harvard Library and HUIT staff in addition to faculty.
Encouraging submissions from authors from beyond Harvard and New England, emerging scholars, unaffiliated researchers, and students.
Identifying authors by means of ORCID iDs in addition to author biographies.
Explicitly calling for plain language and inclusive language to the greatest extent possible—both by authors and certainly in our own website content (see our Submission Guidelines).
Considering name-change policies: As a person who has a preferred name and who publishes under two versions of my name, it never occurred to me to refuse to silently correct authors’ names if they request it, especially because our current online format makes the process quite easy. I have been giving serious thought to formally adopting such a policy simply because it’s not an academic journal’s place to control something so fundamental to a person’s identity.
Julie: JeSLIB recently released a new policy for “Author Name Changes After Publication.” This policy provides a simple way for authors to change their name on published works, and was developed with guidance from COPE. We also reviewed existing policies from PLOS, University of Florida Libraries, and ACS Publications.
JeSLIB is continuing to listen to our community and evolve. Therefore, we have identified areas we know the journal needs to improve on. In order to adopt anti-racist and anti-oppressive policies and practices, we plan to use what is already out there, not reinvent the wheel, and carve out the pieces that are relevant for our journal. We also want to diversify our peer reviewer pool and authorship. And we have tried to be specific on what we mean by diversity: racial, subject expertise, and international (to expand our North America focus). We also understand we need to focus on accessibility. The bepress platform currently only publishes PDFs. These documents are not accessible nor do they accommodate readers to easily browse our articles.
Mitch: HLB doesn’t issue calls for papers or reviewers because we publish on a rolling basis, so reviewers are identified article by article. However, those interested in reviewing can contact HLB directly or through the HLB contact form. As for authors, anyone can submit an article or can contact me with ideas for as-of-yet unrealized projects. Recent examples include The History of Contagion in Harvard’s Libraries and collaborating with some of the 2021 Advancing Open Knowledge grant recipients on publishing content.
Julie: JeSLIB accepts rolling submissions. Authors can submit an article from the menu at the left on the JeSLIB website. Again, we do not charge subscription, submission, or author fees, and authors retain the copyright for their content. Publishing in JeSLIB provides authors with the benefits of open access, wide exposure, evidence of impact, and innovation. We do have occasional calls for Special Issues, for example, our RDAP21 issue was published last week! JesLIB is always looking for peer reviewers; contact us if you are interested. Thank you for this opportunity to share about JeSLIB; I love talking about it!
Editors’ Note: This interview has been edited and expanded from its original form. The interview began as a conversation with Colleen Cressman and Rebecca Martin during a live, virtual event hosted by the Harvard Library Scholarly Communication Discussion Group, a monthly convening of staff who work in, with, or have an interest in scholarly communication research, practice, and education.
Text: © 2021 the President and Fellows of Harvard College and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license