Monday, July 26, 2010

Digital Publishing for Higher-Ed Students

As some of you know, I'm a co-editor (along with the lovely Katie Devries Hassman) at B Sides: the student journal for the University of Iowa's School of Library and Information Science. As we draw ever nearer to the beginning of a new school year, I am getting more and more excited about sharing the journal with SLIS' incoming class. Because of this, I've spent quite a bit of time lately pondering digital publishing generally and by students in particular, and how we can make the process of publishing itself and educational experience.
One of the things I like so much about B Sides is that the two founding editors, Angela Murillo and Rachel Hall, put a lot of thought into how to adapt the journal to the needs of SLIS students and alumni who might not be interested in publishing scholarly articles, but who want to share their work while learning about the peer review process. This isn't to say that we just publish absolutely anything, but we try to make the peer review process as transparent and un-intimidating as possible so that students aren't afraid to submit work and get feedback on it. We also try to expand what 'publishable' means in terms of format: we publish LibGuides, websites, collection lists, reviews, class papers, slideshows, and more. All of the publications are great in terms of content and quality, and give me a much broader perspective of what's going on in the field outside of strict scholarly research. It also gives me a much better sense of what's being taught and learned in the classroom, and what students consider to be their best/most interesting work.
I know there are other student publications out there, but I am not sure how they present the journal to potential authors. We try to present B Sides not only as a place to learn about the publication process, but also a place to get feedback for your work (i.e. when preparing the final poster presentation before graduating) and a way to build your resume. One thing I'm spending a lot of time pondering right now is what other ways the journal might be beneficial to students, either in its present form or in terms of additional avenues we could explore to engage readers and authors (I would welcome any suggestions!)
The most enjoyable part of B Sides for me is talking with authors about their work and then sharing it with the world. I think in academia we can forget that people approach all types of intellectual pursuits with the same passion that I would approach, for example, my thesis research. B Sides has been a breath of fresh air because it allows me to engage with others who are doing valuable work throughout the field of LIS, but without the stricter constraints on format or subject matter that would otherwise keep me from learning about the work of librarians and students from all walks of life. It makes me appreciate the inclusive and welcoming nature not only of our journal but of the field at large, and has done a lot to shape myself as a professional and as someone searching for PhD programs (I knocked quite a few history programs off the list because I felt like they would not be open to this model of publishing).
Another great thing about B Sides (and other free digital journals) is that it opens doors for those without monetary or institutional resources to access information we present. Obviously there is still some implication of privilege in that one needs access to a computer and internet, but I would like to think that most people who want to learn about what our students and alumni are producing can do easily. I would be interested to see how well the B Sides model translates to other fields, or even to LIS departments at other schools. We don't get paid as editors, but our piggy-backing on the university's institutional repository means that we have no overhead (save for the $60 I spent on a student copy of Adobe Pro so I could work on journal stuff in my pajamas!) We are also able to attract alumni submissions (we have already published several), and have both alumni and current students who are all interested in serving as peer-reviewers. I think LIS is a great place to experiment with how we can broaden our notions of what 'digital publishing' and 'scholarship' mean, to encompass work that is done outside of academia. I can't speak to this personally as someone who is not strictly within the Humanities, but others I've talked to have said that there is some tension and unease in regards to digital publishing (most notably in regards to a digital publication not being as 'good' as that in a printed academic journal). As the cost of subscriptions can be prohibitive, it would be great to see publishing in open access journals rise in status: otherwise I worry that we will be barring all except those at well-funded research institutions the ability to make use of the most current scholarship.
I would be curious to hear about others' experiences with digital publishing: how have you been able (or struggled) to engage students in the publication process? What are your perspectives on digital publishing and access? And what direction do you think this is all headed?

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