Peer Review and Relevancy

The Code4Lib Journal exists to foster community and share information among those interested in the intersection of libraries, technology, and the future.  —Mission Statement, Code4Lib Journal

A colleague on the Code4Lib Journal’s editorial committee has posted a defense of the Journal’s position on peer review, or more specifically, double blind refereeing.  I was tempted, several months ago, to address the topic in the opening editorial for Issue 16, but was too preoccupied with food. :)  I don’t always see things the way Jonathan does, although I’ve learned over the years he gets it right a lot more times than I do.  In this case, we both agree that the Journal is, in fact, peer reviewed, but not double blind refereed, and we both agree this is a good thing.

Jonathan has, from my perspective, a rather entertaining analogy of the process as open source software development.  He also makes the argument that the Journal’s purpose is to provide value to our audience, and, just to make sure the elephant in the room is not ignored, stresses in very blunt terms that the Journal is not here to validate librarians’ or library technologists’ work for purposes of tenure or advancement.  I’m not going to disagree, but I am going to address the elephant differently.

I understand how “peer review” has been a good thing.  It has provided outside confirmation of the relevancy and quality of scholars’ work.  This was not the reason we started the Code4Lib Journal, however.  We were looking for a way to encourage and facilitate the (relatively) rapid dissemination of helpful information to our audience (which we did not see as being limited to people self-identified as members of  the Code4Lib community).

Because of this goal, we do things a little differently at the Code4Lib Journal.  We don’t require entire drafts be submitted, but we do have a rather tight timeline to publication, so it is obviously a plus when we get a draft up front, or when the author is already working on a draft and can get it to us quickly if the proposal is accepted.  All of us on the editorial committee are library technologists of some kind, although not all the same kind.  We all consider each submission, sometimes engaging in lively and lengthy discussions about a proposal.  In that regard, I would argue that the Journal is not just peer reviewed, it is uber-peer reviewed, because it is not one or two “peers” who are making the call on whether to accept a proposed article, it is typically 7-12 peers who are making the call.

Again, because of the goal to encourage and facilitate rapid dissemination of information, we are committed to working with authors to get their articles ready for publication.  This typically takes the form of (electronically) marking up a draft with specific comments and suggestions that we, as peers, think would make the article more useful to our audience.  The process sometimes goes through several iterations.  It doesn’t always work.  We have had some fall off the table, so to speak.  But the consistently high quality issues we have published are a testament to the validity of the process. Double-blind refereeing here would be an inherently inferior process for achieving our mission and goal.

But back to the elephant in the room.  Why, today, given the current state of disruptive technology in the publishing  industry, are we even talking about refereed journals?  I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding that process.  Why are libraries still hyper-focused on double blind refereeing and peer review as validating mechanisms in tenure?  Isn’t it time to rethink that?  After all, libraries have already registered their disgust at being held hostage by journal publishers:  Universities require their scholars publish, and their libraries have to pay whatever the publisher demands for a license to see that scholarship.

Double-blind refereeing is time consuming.  So is what we do at the Code4Lib Journal. But I would posit that our way is more effective in identifying relevant information and  ensuring its quality.  How much ROI is there, really, in sticking with the old vetting process for validating tenure candidates?  May I suggest letting that other shoe drop and cut to the core of

  • Why is tenure needed in your institution?
  • How effective is the current tenuring system in supporting your institution’s mission and goals?
  • What value does scholarly publishing bring to your institution?
  • What are you willing to do to ensure continued scholarly publication?

The Code4Lib Journal was started 5 years ago by a message from Jonathan Rochkind to the Code4Lib mailing list asking, basically,  “who’s in?”  Change can be done.  It just takes someone willing to voice the call.  If publishing is important to tenure, send out a call to your colleagues to start a Code4Lib type journal.  If it looks too scary, ask.  I’m willing to help.  I’m sure there are others out there as well.

 

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