Brace yourselves, fellow library publishers, because I’m about to call us onto the carpet.

I’m working on a research project where I look at the copyright information on library-published journals to see: a.) if it’s there, and b.) what it can tell me about our general practices around rights. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on a similar study I did of digital library collections years ago.) I’m using the institutions represented in the Library Publishing Directory as my sample, and I’m only up to the C’s, but I’m already starting to notice some interesting trends. I’m not going to tell you about them now, because that would spoil the surprise, but I have also noticed some things outside the scope of my research that I wanted to ruminate on, publicly. Before I do so, I should set the stage a bit:

First: Library publishing is like the underdog in your sports movie of choice – we do a lot with very little. We work hard to make scholarship accessible, and we do it without much in the way of funding, or staff. The editors we work with are usually working on a volunteer basis, and often filling multiple roles – editor-in-chief, managing editor, copyeditor, layout editor, person who goes for coffee, etc.

Second: I’m a firm believer in ‘good enough.’ Things really don’t have to be perfect, and anyone who dismisses your journal because a few copyediting errors crept in obviously does not have a realistic understanding of how academic publishing works. We could each publish one journal, which we would lavish with all the care and devotion of new parents, and it would be shiny and perfect. Or, we could set up platforms and processes and policies that allow us to support any number of journals. Will each one be perfect? No, but they will be good enough. We’re librarians and we have many users to think about – typically, we go for option #2.

None of this is news to any of you. I’m only saying it because I don’t want you to take what I’m about to say next the wrong way. What I’m about to say is:

We could maybe do a little better quality control with regards to the basic information that should appear on a journal website.

In looking at our publications, I’ve come across some pretty glaring omissions. For example:

  • A journal site that did not name the editor of the journal. The entire editorial board was there, and I eventually deduced the editor’s identity based on who had been writing the introductions, but if there was a masthead, I couldn’t find it.
  • Issues published without a date on them anywhere. I’m trying to limit my sample to journals that have published something within the last three years. For more than one journal, I honestly can’t tell if I should include it, because the one or two issues that appear are identified only as ‘Volume 1, Issue 1’, and there is no indication of when they appeared.
  • OJS or Bepress boilerplate text left in place. Often that’s fine – it’s boilerplate for a reason. Sometimes, though, it contradicts other information on the site – a sure-fire recipe for confusing readers, who probably won’t look at it and say, “Oh, that’s the standard statement that comes with the software – I can disregard it.”

I should also say that I am not immune to these kinds of problems. I’m sure if I were brave enough to over our journals right now, I would find omissions, and mistakes, and all kinds of weird stuff. It happens for the reasons I listed above, and because we are often just providing the platform and leaving the editors to their own devices, and because most of us have librarian training, not editor training, and we just don’t always think of these things. I don’t ever expect us to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. However, I think we – as a community of practice – could probably do a bit better. In fact, if we are going to take on the role of publisher for the journals we work with, it’s probably fair to say that the QC buck stops with us; if we don’t catch these things, no one else will.

So this is me, thinking about what would help me ensure that the journals I publish are meeting some minimum standards for presentation and description. I’m picturing a tool or a checklist that lays out what should appear in a journal, and at what level (journal website, individual issue, article). If you have something like this that you use internally, maybe you share it on the Library Publishing Coalition’s Shared Documentation Portal. If such a thing doesn’t exist, I think it would make a great project for an LPC committee or task force to tackle.

What do you all think?