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Publishing Faster

The biggest disappointment of my six-year tenure as editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association was my complete failure to reduce the time lag between submission of an article and its actual appearance.  Indeed, during that period of time the lag actually increased slightly, in part due to one of the big successes -- a radical increase in the number of manuscripts submitted.

The new editorial crew is doing quite a bit better, in large part due to the fact that they've got several co-editors to share the workload.    They are still hampered by the fact that they're dealing with a quarterly publication.  I was just flipping through the latest issue (July 2007) and the lag between submission and acceptance seems to be four or five months, but then it's still got to get into a print issue.  The anonymous commenter on The Krafty Librarian complains that five months is still too long, that an article submitted in November doesn't appear until April.  As long as there is a print quarterly associated with the JMLA that's going to be tough to get around -- if an article is submitted in November, the January issue is already in production, so April is the earliest that something can appear in print.

They're experimenting with one way of getting around this by posting preprints online -- there are currently four articles up that won't appear in print until the October issue.  (Whether or not they should only be available to MLA members -- as is currently the case -- is something I haven't made my mind up about yet).

Eric's frustration at the delay in getting his manuscript published leads him to conclude that traditional publication "can no longer be the trusted source for the dialog and communication going on in our profession today."   But equating one poor-quality publisher with "traditional publication" is an overreaction.  While some of the Haworth journals have made strong contributions, primarily when they've had smart and dedicated editors, as a publisher Haworth has a long track record of poorly produced publications targeting smaller and smaller niches.  Do we really need a Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries and a Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship?  But Haworth continues to slice the field into tinier chunks, because they know they can continue to get librarians to serve on editorial boards and librarians to subscribe just enough to make a bit of a profit on each of those titles.  And as long as librarians continue to do that, and to submit their articles, Haworth has no incentive to improve things, and librarians have no cause to complain.

There are alternatives.  Consider, as an example, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (I serve on the editorial board) -- open access, online, solid peer review, fairly quick turnaround.   Or Biomedical Digital Libraries, one of the Biomed Central journals.    These are journals started by librarians, for librarians.  The combine the best features of traditional publishing with smart use of new technologies.

On many campuses today, librarians are working with their local faculty to encourage them to make smarter choices about where they submit their manuscripts.  Librarians should do the same.  If you're unhappy with "traditional publishing," your first step should be to quit sending them manuscripts and quit serving on their editorial boards.   Publishers will only adapt when they're forced to.   



Just as an update, I see that it was recently announced that Taylor & Francis will acquire Haworth Press. I'm hoping for some trimming of some of their niche journals, and an overall improvement in quality.


Don't forget Communications in Information Literacy--not directed solely at health sciences librarians, but Stew Brower is one of the co-founders, and a number of MLA-ers sit on the review board.

T Scott

Erika -- indeed, another good example. As Hollister notes in his editorial in the first issue: "the genesis of the journal can be traced back to 2004 and a general discontent that co-founder Stewart Brower and I felt with library literature, the publishing industry, and the process of scholarly communication."


Even a fully electronic journal such as CIL still averages just over 100 days from accepting a manuscript to full publication. We try to address these frustrations that many authors have with the time lag, but quality peer review and editing takes some time. We're working on it. :-)

BTW, Erika herself plus Jon Eldredge, Sarah McCord, and David Rothman are all on the Editorial Board, and we're bringing on more MLAers now as reviewers. If anyone reading this is interested in contributing to CIL, please contact me.

Marcus Banks

Thanks for mentioning Biomedical Digital Libraries, Scott. We've definitely published some good articles, but right now we're struggling to attract any new articles. Most of our author base cannot afford the publication fees, and BMC institutional memberships are much pricier than they once were. Some serious changes are now in the offing--not sure what yet--because otherwise BDL will cease to exist.

This should turn out to a good case study of the nuances and complications of open access...after we figure out what to do next!


This is an interesting discussion. I do want to note that the acceptance date published in JMLA (at least currently) is the absolutely final acceptance, the acceptance that essentially says, "No more changes are needed, your paper is finalized and will be published in issue X." It is not the initial acceptance pending changes, which usually happens much, much faster, and the final date depends to some extent on how quickly suggested revisions are made.


This is great advice if you can afford to do it. But sometimes promotion and tenure timetables don't allow you the luxury of being so particular.

Dean Giustini

I might as well stick my oar in for two publications near and dear to a Canadian health librarian's heart:

1. Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association (JCHLA/JABSC)
- our national journal is open access, moving (I hear) to peer-review and indexed in CINAHL.

2. Open Medicine - Be the first health librarian to submit an article to an important publishing initiative. I am the resident blogger at OM.

Dean Giustini
UBC Google scholar blog

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