"Meeting Table" by flickr user mnadi. CC BY-NC 2.0

“Meeting Table” by flickr user mnadi, CC BY-NC 2.0

About nine months ago, I hosted the first meeting of the OSU Journal Editors’ Group. Creating it was not a major priority for our publishing program – in fact, I can’t even remember whose idea it was. When I scheduled the first meeting, I didn’t know if anyone would show up, and was more or less throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it would stick. The group has now met three times, and has been more successful than I dared to hope. A number of of people in the library publishing community have expressed interest in learning about it, so I thought I would write up a detailed post about what it is, why we created it, and how we did so. I hope this proves useful to some of you who are thinking about starting similar programs.

What is it and why did we create it?

To quote from the group’s webpage:

The OSU Journal Editors’ Group is a forum for editors from all disciplines to discuss common issues in journal publishing. The group interacts via an email list and quarterly meetings, which consist of discussion on a particular topic, often with invited guests. OSU faculty, staff, and students who edit journals, serve on editorial boards, or are otherwise involved in journal publishing are welcome to subscribe to the list and attend meetings.

I created the group for two reasons: as a service to the university community, and as a way to raise awareness about the scholarly communication services and expertise available in the Libraries. The service aspect of it mostly consists of providing a space where junior editors can learn from their more experienced colleagues, and where editors from different disciplines can share their strategies for dealing with the challenges they all face. Although the meetings are discussion-based, I try to start them off with some relevant background information on the topic at hand. It’s a drop in the ocean, but if a few faculty learn more about open access (for example) through their participation in the group, then it is providing something of value to the university community. The awareness aspect of it is much harder to measure, and it is likely to be some time before we see tangible results in the form of new publishing partners. It’s not so much a focused outreach strategy as it is a single node in a much larger effort.

How did we get started?

I had hoped to start off with a list of the faculty on campus who edit journals, and target them with an invitation to join the group. As it turns out, finding them is easier said than done. It might be simplest for me to list all of the things I tried that DIDN’T work:

  • Asking the subject specialist librarians: Few of them knew of any faculty in their areas of responsibility that edit journals; none were confident that they knew about all of them.
  • Mining the expertise management system: OSU uses a system called Research in View (RiV) to manage faculty CVs and dossiers for promotion and tenure purposes (which was actually developed here as OSU:Pro and then sold to Thompson Reuters). Because there is a place in RiV for faculty to list editorial responsibilities, I was hopeful that I could just pull the names from a data dump of the appropriate fields. It took quite a while, but I finally managed to get my hands on the data in question. Unfortunately, the data was so heterogeneous as to be practically useless. It included a wide range of editorial-type responsibilities – past and present – and I wasn’t able to generate a working list from it.
  • Searching the literature: Frustrated by OSU’s systems, I decided to come at the question from the outside, and search Web of Knowledge by affiliation. It’s been a while since I did this, and I can’t remember my exact strategy. Suffice it to say, it failed.

In the end, I decided that the targeted approach wasn’t going to work,* and I just scheduled a meeting and pushed out a general invitation as widely as possible.

What does the group look like?

The editors’ group has 70 members total – by a tally of listserv subscribers – and each meeting has had between 20 and 30 attendees. That’s not a huge number for a place the size of OSU, but it is a nice size for discussion-based meetings. The best thing about the group, as it has formed, is its diversity. It includes junior, senior, and emeritus faculty, staff, and even an undergraduate who edits a student journal. They cover a very wide disciplinary range – from the humanities to bioscience, and include editors of new and established journals, subscription and OA. Whatever the topic, they are sure to have any number of opinions on it.

What do the meetings look like?

We have only had three meetings so far, and they have all been very different, so I think it’s worth briefly describing each one.

The first meeting: Getting started

The first meeting was entirely dedicated to sussing out what the editors wanted to get out of it, and deciding on a direction for the group. To make sure everyone participated, I made them all sit in a circle and then went around the room twice, with each person saying something. The first time around, I had them introduce themselves and their journals. For the second go-round, I asked them to describe the biggest challenge they face as a journal editor. The rest of the meeting was spent discussing what the group should do: what topics we should cover, how often we should meet, etc. We ended up with a list of topics for future meetings, a decision to meet quarterly, and a request for a group listserv.

Second meeting: open access

OA was near the top of the list for discussion topics, and I knew it was something I could pull off quickly, so I scheduled our second meeting around it. I kicked off the meeting with a very brief presentation aimed at dispelling common misconceptions about OA. I then opened it up for discussion, and boy howdy – was there ever discussion. The meeting ran 15 minutes long, and it only ended then because I practically shoved them out of the room. It was interesting to hear editors from different disciplines talk about OA, especially since many were convinced that the situation in their discipline was unchangeable and universal. I’m looking forward to having another one of these in a year or so to see if anything has changed.

Third meeting: university support for journal editors

This was the number one topic on everyone’s list, and the only reason I waited until the second meeting to tackle it was that it took some prep work. The editors wanted the Provost to be present, so that involved lots of back-and-forth on dates and times and expectations and attendees, etc. I opened the meeting by sharing the results of some research I had done on their behalf (see footnote), and then asked the editors to talk about the value of their editorial work to the university. I figured, if we’re going to be asking the university to provide support for editors, it wouldn’t hurt to give it some good reasons to do so. The conversation eventually morphed into a discussion of possible types of support, and the Provost’s contributions were definitely worth the effort it took to get him there. The only thing I wish had done differently was to prime the pump on the first question I asked; it would have been great to get some more considered answers to why the university should support journal editing by its faculty. I think I took them off guard with that one.

Future plans

My plans for the future of the group include more of the same. We still have a number of topics from the initial discussion that we haven’t yet covered in a meeting, so I will just run down the list until we run out of topics, or until the members stop showing up.  I would also like for the list to be a place where editors can solicit and share advice, and where we can discuss more up-to-the-minute topics, so I will continue to encourage that (so far it has mostly been used to announce meetings).

I look forward to hearing what other folks are doing, too. Keeping this group invested will probably take a regular diet of well-thought-out programs, which can be difficult for one person to sustain. I think this would be an especially good area for us, as a community, to share our successes and failures, and adapt other programs’ tactics for our local circumstances.  

*I tried to gather this information again before the group’s third meeting, when it was requested by the editors to inform the discussion. The strategy that finally (sort of) worked was contacting the administrative assistant to the dean of each college and asking them for the information. I still didn’t get it all, and what I did get was still too heterogeneous to be really useful, but hey. It’s a start.

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