While sifting through my email after last week’s conference travel (to the always-educational Digital Library Federation Forum in Austin, TX), I came across the following question in an email from one of our journal editors:

I have a submission of a film/video.  The submitter has placed it on YouTube.  This is new territory for me.  As we don’t as a rule, republish things that have been published elsewhere, would this be a case of that, from your perspective?

The question intrigued me, so I took some time out of my email sifting to answer and to share that answer here. (Let’s face it – Inbox Zero was never in the cards, anyway.) Here’s what I said in response, identifying information removed.

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If I’m understanding you right, you are trying to decide whether the author making the video available on YouTube constitutes prior publication. Obviously, this is an editorial decision about what you are willing to accept, but I would encourage you to consider making a distinction between ‘publishing’ and ‘making available.’ That’s a distinction we make in libraries on a regular basis – for example, with student work. Like many universities, we require graduate students to deposit their theses and dissertations in an open access repository. Many of those students will go on to formally publish books and articles based on their theses and dissertations, so we don’t consider the earlier deposit to be ‘publication.’ Anecdotally, however, there are publishers who do consider an openly-available dissertation to be prior publication, so it is a hotly contested field you are entering.

When deciding whether something is a prior publication or a simple ‘making available,’ I would encourage you to consider the following aspects:

  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the earlier ‘making available?’ Was it the same purpose as publication in [journal]? Was it meant to be a contribution to the scholarly record, or something else?
  • Audience: Was it aimed at the same audience that reads [journal], or a different one?
  • Editorial contribution: How could publication in [journal] change or add to the original work? Is there the possibility of revision due to peer review or editing? Could the publication process add further contextualization or interpretation?

I would suggest that you consider those three points while deciding what to do with this particular submission, but also that you use this as an opportunity to have a larger conversation about what ‘prior publication’ means for [journal] in general.

As a final thought, I will mention that there is a growing number of scholarly publications who focus on the more ‘curatorial’ side of publishing. An example is the Journal of Digital Humanities. Rather than deciding what is made available, the journal has an editorial process that sifts through the scholarship, tools, and conversations that have recently appeared in the digital humanities community, and selects the best for further development and ‘publication.’ JDH is a new journal, and this is certainly a new model for publishing that has not yet hit the mainstream. It is growing rapidly, though, and there is momentum behind the idea of a journal taking already-available scholarly material, putting it through an editorial process, and giving it the imprimatur of formal publication. Just something to be aware of as you think through this issue.

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So what do you think, folks? Did that advice make sense? Are there other points I should have added to my list? What do you think about this whole ‘publishing/making available’ thing, anyway?

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