Coincidental to some of the discussions lately about the scholarly literature of librarianship, an announcement showed up on the ERIL-L list a couple of days ago, soliciting contributions to a new journal, The Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (JERL), to be published by Haworth (now Taylor & Francis). Given the tenor of some of those discussions, I couldn't help thinking, "Why?"
I clicked on the link to find out more, and was surprised to find myself landing on an Open Journal Systems template -- I'm familiar with the basic layout from Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. So I looked around a bit. The Editorial Team is excellent -- I know a couple of the people personally, and many more by reputation. The OJS platform, in this case, is being hosted and supported by the Georgia Institute of Technology's Scholarly Communication and Digital Services Department. I couldn't find any information about subscription rates, although there is the standard Haworth copyright transfer form.
So I posted a note back to the list, asking about subscription rates and access policies and wondering what it was, exactly, that Haworth was bringing to the table. Very solid editorial board, locally hosted publishing platform -- what do you need a commercial publisher for? The editor replied to the list the next day, with a detailed message that answered some questions, but raised more.
I want to be careful here, because I don't want to be casting aspersions on the judgments and intentions of a group of fine librarians. I'm sure they'll do a very good job, but I'm troubled.
The editor says,
In regards to subscription rates, I will have to get back to you on that. With the recent acquisition of Haworth Press by Taylor & Francis, my understanding of where the journal will live and its cost is a little fuzzy and probably will be for a little while longer. I will send access, pricing, and subscription information as soon as I have it.
Fair enough, that the acquisition might leave some of the financial details in flux. But it bothers me nonetheless that an editor would be going forward with a new journal without knowing the financial details. One of the problems with the current scholarly publishing system that librarians have discussed at length is the fact that editors all too often aren't paying sufficient attention to the subscription & access policies of their journals.
She goes on,
In regards to your questions about what Haworth has added to the mix, Haworth has provided me with resources to put together a quality publication. I am working closely with an assistant editor at Haworth who answers all my questions and has walked me through the process of setting up this journal. At this point, without their initial ideas and momentum I wouldn't have the resources to get it up and running given my busy schedule and other commitments.
Again, fair enough, and if you're going to try to start a journal it's important to do so with good expert advice. Managing a good journal is a lot more complicated than many of us might initially assume. But Haworth? Forgive me, but if I was looking for expert advice and assistance in getting a publishing project going, that's not the first place I'd look. The Haworth assistant editor may be stellar, but there's lots of other expertise available. And without knowing the subscription rates, we don't know what the library community will be paying for that assistance.
But then, since she mentions Haworth's "initial ideas and momentum" I suppose that creating the journal was Haworth's idea in the first place. Here's a "hot topic" so let's see if we can pull together an editorial team to publish another niche quarterly journal that we can sell to the library community.
Which brings us to the fundamental question, do we really need a quarterly "journal of electronic librarianship" in the first place?
The announcement says,
This journal aims to inform librarians and other information professionals about evolving work-related processes and procedures, current research and the latest news on topics related to electronic resources and the digital environment's impact on collecting, acquiring and making accessible library materials.
Is it actually the case that there is so much being written on this topic, and so few publishing outlets that a new journal is necessary? You'd have a hard time convincing me of that.
So, as I say, I'm troubled. For the entire time that I've been a librarian (and that's nearly a quarter of a century!) one of the most urgent topics of discussion in the field has been the need to reform or restructure the scholarly communication system. (Open access is a part of those discussions, but only a part -- remember that SPARC was formed before the OA discussions heated up.)
So why is this group of very competent, talented, committed librarians putting their time and energy into perpetuating a system that we all claim is irretrievably broken?