Guest Post: Starting an OA journal: The Reading Room

Starting an OA journal: The Reading Room
by Amy Vilz and Molly Poremski

The Reading Room: A Journal of Special Collections is a peer-reviewed, open access journal focusing on special collections. At the time of our launch, there was a lack of comprehensive, open access journals for special collections at large, and our journal helps to fill this niche. Furthermore, we believe academic libraries are currently, and for the foreseeable future, focusing on the resources that make them unique: namely, their special collections. Given this environment, we have a large, identified community of readers, authors and peer-reviewers.

Traditionally, a special collections librarian would present research findings or a case study at regional and national conferences before the results were published in a journal, with many times a year or more lapsing between project completion and dissemination via publication. While there’s nothing wrong with print-based journals and the present and publish system per se, we wanted to offer an open-access, online, and free peer-reviewed journal, to hopefully be a bit more accessible and publish articles quickly to increase responsiveness to challenges and successes in our field.

We use Scholastica as our back-end journal platform. It’s cloud-based, there’s nothing to install, the interface is intuitive and easy to use, and it’s cost-effective. You can publish your journal on Scholastica, but we chose to have our Libraries’ Web Management team create a front-end website to showcase each issue. For metrics, Scholastica has a built-in analytics program to gauge information regarding editor performance, acceptance rate, average days to decision, manuscript progress, etc. We use Google Analytics to measure traffic on the in-house public interface.

We applied for funding for Scholastica through our institution, the University at Buffalo. In 2014, UB Libraries offered innovation grants to faculty and staff. Fees for Scholastica are limited to a small cost per unique journal submission. Our grant funding will support the submission of articles and serve as bridge money until the journal can become self-sustaining from database royalties. Current criteria for inclusion in database directories are two to three years of established publication. This seed money gives us the opportunity to test the Scholastica platform and create a back catalog of journal issues enabling us to meet the requirements of disciplinary journal indexes (i.e. Library Literature & Information Science Index) and periodical directories such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). A successful transition from Innovation Funding to a self-sustaining income within three years is our goal.

We created the journal for many reasons, one of which was somewhat selfish! We each had articles in mind regarding our special collections, but felt there was no appropriate journal for publication. Our ideas related to the stories our collections tell; this was the impetus for our Narrative Features. Our Narrative Features provide a unique outlet in a peer-reviewed environment. Collections tell stories, stories that are revealed by librarians, curators, and researchers within the reading room. Yet there are limited outlets for these types of articles in a peer-reviewed environment. Examples include unique circumstances relating to the donor or acquisition of materials, significance of documentation within a collection or an institution’s collecting area, or how the format of materials in a collection enhances or inhibits understanding of the collection. We also welcome and encourage interpretive works on collections. Feature articles are meant to offer insight into a collection’s significance (either a discrete collection or collection holdings at large) and address the context within its applicable field or within institutional holdings. We think this sets The Reading Room apart, and indeed, just over half of our article queries and submissions are for these types of articles.

At The Reading Room, we made a conscious effort to expand our submission base, and include articles from those using special collections (researchers) as well as students working with special collections. We did this not only to increase our readership, but the conversation in our field about how our collections are being accessed and used, and broaden the measure of scholarly impact. For example, if a researcher has used unique collection material for their research article, why not publish that article for a special collections audience in a special collections journal? We want to showcase not just how professional librarians, archivists, and curators work with special collections, but how our users and researchers work with special collections. In that way, we believe it gives a better context and measure of the impact of cultural collections.

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