C&RL Spotlight

Wendi Kaspar is C&RL editor and policy sciences librarian at the Texas A&M University Policy Sciences and Economics Library, email: warant@library.tamu.edu

With each journal issue, I try to provide some cohesion and sense-making of the topics covered. The articles in the May 2017 issue are so diverse in terms of topic, content, method, and approach that it is impossible to put them under one umbrella—a reality that actually excites me. I remember reading each after it was submitted and being very excited to see the variety innovative approaches. It was a bit of a challenge to match them up with peer reviewers who could address the individuality of each paper and provide helpful and relevant feedback about the research framework, the methods, the results and potential impact to scholarship or practice. It represents the range of research in the profession as well as demonstrates the variety of expertise and knowledge of our reviewers, who volunteer their time and efforts for the benefit of not just the journal but scholarship in the profession.

Peer reviewers and editorial boards are part of communities of practice and have taken on the role of stewarding new scholarship and providing valued assessment of emerging research. It is, admittedly, a process of filtering research based on objective standards of quality (that are hopefully transparent) so that readers and practitioners can have confidence that the information published is valid, relevant, objective, and reliable.

Addressing the topic of peer review, the guest editorial in this issue continues the series on evolving models with Chair of ACRL’s Publications Coordinating Committee, Emily Ford, advocating the open peer review model, providing a fair and just process for review and publication. Open peer review provides an alternative to what may be considered an entrenched and opaque practice in the evaluation and selection of scholarship to be published. It strives to give everyone a voice in the process, thereby providing a more democratic and equitable model. Ford’s editorial is a call for action, modeling the values of the profession and its role in creation and dissemination of new knowledge.

Contemplating what an open peer review model might look like, I think back to one of the first subject disciplinary conferences that I attended. I went to a national Economics conference (which was actually a bunch of sub-disciplines in Economics all having concurrent meetings), and it opened my eyes. I attended a number of presented papers that were relevant to my professional assignment and was shocked to the core by the discussant model that was employed, particularly in contrast to the facilitated discussions and moderated panels that seem to be the norm in our profession and, certainly, at ALA. The discussant model was entirely new to me, so I will elaborate for those who may also be unfamiliar.

At this Economics conference, the scholar would stand up and present a paper (which had been reviewed for acceptance at the conference), discuss methodology, and present findings and conclusions. Immediately afterward, another scholar, the discussant, would stand up and proceed to critique the paper (of which they had been given a copy of beforehand) and dissect the methodology, the findings, and conclusions. My first thought was “ouch” and “harsh,” but I also was able to witness the original presenter nodding, taking notes, and asking clarifying questions about the feedback.

This is a model that is absolutely foreign to library scholarship (or, at least, to my experience of it). However, it struck me then, as it does now, that it is a very transparent way to review research between experts or scholars in the field. The presenter receives face-to-face feedback without the mediating presence of a journal editor or an online journal system. The discussant (who is chosen for his or her expertise in the presenter’s area) is accountable, to both the presenter and to the audience. Admittedly, this process is a scary one— a little like being stripped naked and awaiting judgement.

Certainly, having one’s research subject to review makes one vulnerable. But it could be argued that it also improves the outcomes of the research and that some assessment of the quality of the research is required. I would argue that this is one prime example of how open peer review might manifest. There are some disciplines who would not find such a direct approach attractive.

In some cases, the concept of open peer review may be an academic issue, but when I think about evidence based medicine, it is critical for research studies to be assessed by those who have the experience and knowledge to be able to do so. Certainly, it is not an unreasonable expectation that a medical practitioner is referring to information that has been vetted and reviewed by others in the field who have expertise. BioMedCentral is the poster child for open peer review without compromising scholarly quality.

Open peer review is something that C&RL has been contemplating. As with open access, the values and ideology behind open peer review are attractive. Also, as with open access, ideology is not implementation, and, as “they” say, the devil is in the details. While the accountability and transparency that open peer review can bring is desirable, one of my primary concerns is the loss of objectivity that blind review offers. The model is intended that author and reviewer should respect the blind, resulting in an assessment of the research paper itself without assumptions or bias.

In addition, and this is a more pragmatic concern, it is likely that removing the blind would also have chilling effect on library scholars and practitioners who volunteer to review papers and provide honest, critical feedback. The blind also offers some refuge for authors. Taking criticism is often painful and embarrassing, and it can be difficult for individuals to put a face and name with those comments, particularly if it is someone they may see in professional venues. There are benefits and questions about both models, and this is a discussion we will continue to have.

  • Ningning Kong, Michael Fosmire, and Benjamin Dewayne Branch. “Developing Library GIS Services for Humanities and Social Science: An Action Research Approach.” Abstract: In the academic libraries’ efforts to support digital humanities and social science, GIS service plays an important role. However, there is no general service model existing about how libraries can develop GIS services to best engage with digital humanities and social science. In this study, we adopted the action research method to develop and improve our service model. Our results suggested that a library’s GIS service can support humanities and social science from the research collaboration, learning support, and outreach perspectives, with different focuses according to the stages of learning and research. The research framework adopted in this study not only can serve as an efficient tool for developing GIS services, but also can be expanded to other library service areas.
  • Elise Silva, Quinn Galbraith, and Michael Groesbeck. “Academic Librarians’ Changing Perceptions of Faculty Status and Tenure.” Abstract: This study explores how time and experience affect an academic librarian’s perception of tenure. Researchers surveyed 846 librarians at ARL institutions, reporting on institutions that offer both tenure and faculty status for their academic librarians or neither. The survey reported how librarians rated tenure’s benefit to patrons, its effect in attracting and retaining quality employees, and tenure as a motivating factor in giving extra effort on the job. Researchers found that tenured librarians rated tenure as more beneficial than librarians without tenure who had more than six years of work experience at their institutions. Furthermore, non–tenure-track librarians with fewer than six years of experience at their institutions rated tenure’s effect on library patrons as more beneficial than tenure-track librarians who had not yet achieved tenure. The study implies a selective perception bias on the part of academic librarians that grows with time and warrants further consideration and study.
  • Deborah D. Blecic, Stephen E. Wiberley Jr., Sandra L. DeGroote, John Cullars, Mary Shultz, and Vivian Chan. “Publication Patterns of U.S. Academic Librarians and Libraries from 2003 to 2012.” Abstract: This study investigated contributions to the peer-reviewed library and information science (LIS) journal literature by U.S. academic librarian (USAL) authors over a ten-year period (2003–12). The results were compared to those of two previous five-year studies that covered the time periods of 1993–97 and 1998–2002 to examine longitudinal trends. For USAL authors as a group, publication productivity, the proportion of peer-reviewed articles contributed to the LIS literature, and sole-authorship declined. Among USALs who did publish, productivity patterns remained similar over 20 years, with a slight increase in the percentage of USAL authors who published three or more articles in five years. The top 20 high-publication libraries from 2003 to 2012 were from public research universities, unlike two earlier studies that found private university libraries among the top 20.
  • Sue Samson, Kim Granath, and Adrienne Alger. “Journey Mapping the User Experience.” Abstract: This journey-mapping pilot study was designed to determine whether journey mapping is an effective method to enhance the student experience of using the library by assessing our services from their point of view. Journey mapping plots a process or service to produce a visual representation of a library transaction—from the point at which the student accesses a service to its final resolution. Service scenarios are identified, and maps are produced that reflect the journey from the student’s point of view. The student map is then compared to an “ideal” journey, and the differences are used to explore changes that would improve the service experience.
  • Angela Boyd, Yolanda Blue, and Suzanne Im. “Evaluation of Academic Library Residency Programs in the United States for Librarians of Color.” Abstract: The purpose of this research was to evaluate academic library residency programs that successfully recruit and retain academic librarians of color. This study examines library residencies in the United States and discusses findings of two nationwide surveys. One survey posed questions to residents about the structure of their residencies, aspects residents found most helpful for career advancement, and their thoughts on diversity initiatives. The coordinators were asked many of the same questions as the residents but also about the administrative aspects of their programs. The survey responses reveal a need to provide residents with structured mentoring, along with a sense of belonging and value. Library residency programs can play an integral part in the larger recruitment, retention, and diversity initiatives in the profession.
  • Lili Luo, Marie Kennedy, Kristine Brancolini, and Michael Stephens. “Developing Online Communities for Librarian Researchers: A Case Study.” Abstract: This study examines the role of online communities in connecting and supporting librarian researchers, through the analysis of member activities in the online community for academic librarians that attended the 2014 Institute of Research Design for Librarianship (IRDL). The 2014 IRDL cohort members participated in the online community via Twitter and a Facebook group page. A content analysis of their posts and an online survey among them identified different patterns of engagement and four primary types of content—posts related to completing the IRDL research project required for each cohort member, announcements about research-related resources and opportunities, posts reminiscing about the IRDL experience, and arrangements of conference attendance and meetups. Implications for successfully designing online communities for librarian researchers are discussed.
  • Lindsay Roberts. “Research in the Real World: Improving Adult Learners’ Web Search and Evaluation Skills through Motivational Design and Problem-Based Learning.” Abstract: How can we better engage adult learners during information literacy sessions? How do we increase students’ perception of the relevance and importance of information literacy skills for academic work and life in the real world? To explore these questions, the ARCS Model of Motivational Design and Problem-Based Learning were used to develop activities for a library instruction workshop. Community college students completed a pretest and posttest assessment to measure change in skill level, perceived confidence, and perceived relevance of the research workshop. Results show learners’ skill levels, perceived confidence, and perceived relevance increased significantly. Based on the results, suggestions are made for incorporating Motivational Design and Problem-Based Learning into information literacy sessions to increase student engagement.
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