Report from MLA 2012: CE 703 “Positioning the Professions: Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) Publishing

May 31, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Continuing Education, Professional Development | Leave a comment

I attended MLA this year and took CE 703, “Positioning the Professions: Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) Publishing.” This course was developed and presented by members of the Chicago Collaborative, a group of librarians and publishers whose stated purpose is “the development of a scholarly communication system that serves the best interests of the entire scholarly community.” (See http://www.chicago-collaborative.org/purpose.htm.) They hope to start a conversation between librarians and the publishing world that does not revolve around money issues. This first course is for librarians and was taught by publishing representatives John Tagler of the Association of American Publishers, and Tom Richardson of the New England Journal of Medicine. A corresponding course is being developed that will be presented by librarians to publishers. Jean Shipman of the University of Utah, Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library gave a brief outline of the course and introduced the speakers.

 One of the interesting discussions that happened during the course revolved around bias and peer review. Several participants wanted to know how peer reviewers are chosen, and how a publisher knows whether that reviewer is competent and unbiased. The answer was that most publishers use “blind” reviewers who are subject experts. The identity of the author(s) is kept from the reviewers to keep personal bias from entering the review process. One caveat is that some reviewers are expert enough to guess the author(s), but hopefully proceed in an ethical manner and keep personal feelings out of the review.

After the presenters talked us through the many elements of the publishing process, we participated in a “case study” by imagining that our organization had just taken on publication of an existing journal. Each of us had to decide how we were going to handle different elements of the publishing process. Some of the issues we discussed were:

  • How would we fill the position of editor? Did we have someone in-house that could do this, would we hire someone, or contract this position?
  • Would we keep the subscription price the same?
  • Would we continue printing or go to an online format only?
  • If we continued print, would we outsource?
  • What would our acceptance process for articles look like?

 We didn’t have time to iron out the financial details, but both the presenters made the point that we shouldn’t expect to make money for several years, and might not break even until the fifth or sixth year of publication. All of the questions provoked more questions, and a lengthy discussion of the answers. More than any other part of the course, this exercise gave us a real appreciation of the complicated process that is journal publication.

 I found the course to be very informative and thought provoking. I applaud the Chicago Collaborative for starting this “conversation” between librarians and publishers so that we can create relationships based on greater understanding and mutual respect. I also want to thank NAHSL for the financial support that allowed me to take this CE course.

Submitted by Donna Belcinski, Greenwich Hospital Medical Library

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