October 28, 2010
Unmasking the Ego at Durham
On Friday, Duke Law held a conference, Implementing the Durham Statement: Best Practices for Open Access Law Journals. It was a full house with student law review editors, law librarians, law review advisers, publishers, and others who are interested in open access and legal publishing crammed in a large classroom at Duke. Don't get me wrong, I was quite comfortable and can't complain about access to endless cups of coffee for free. There was a lot covered at the conference, and I don't plan on getting into all of that. If you're curious, you can watch the recordings of Part I and/or Part II. I intend only to point out one (of the few) conclusions reached at the conference.
On November 7, 2008, the library directors from University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Texas, and Yale University met in Durham, North Carolina at the Duke Law School met to draft the Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship. It was published on February 11, 2009. The statement had two objectives: (1) to have law schools commit to providing open access to their law journals (2) to end the publication of law journals in print and move to an all digital model. (In my mind, this would make the world shine a little brighter.) My understanding is that there were originally sixteen signatories to the statement, but many more have since signed. (And you can too). Since the publication of the statement, not one law journal which provides readers a copy of their issues in print have stopped their presses. On a practical level, this means nothing to me. I work in an academic law library which does not subscribe to the print publication of a single law journal. We have access to things like Westlaw, Lexis, Heinonline, ProQuest, JStor, and EBSCO Host. If we don't have something, we can get it.
However, on a theoretical level, I am disheartened. I almost always read law journal articles only when I am trying to uncover knowledge of a specific subject matter. Should we have print copies of law reviews, I would not endeavor to roam the shelves and pick a volume at random and start reading. Nor would I make it a habit to regularly read a single title. I don't even read my alma mater's Rutgers Law Journal. While not exclusive, my use of law review articles is done in the course of researching a specific are of law; and I suspect that is the case for most practitioners. When I do search for law review articles, I use online tools such as WEXIS or Hein. In any case, I require only the single article in a digital format – though I prefer PDF as a general rule. I’m not sure that I have ever needed an original print copy of a law journal issue save to show my students and say, "Um, this is what it looks like."
The conclusion reached at Durham as to why most journals are reluctant to move to an all digital open-access format is the fear of losing prestigious authors. The journal editors seem to believe that if they go all-digital, prestigious authors might be view the electronic-only journal to be less prestigious than a journal in print and not want to submit their work to the electronic journal. In turn, they believe that losing prestigious authors would make their journals less prestigious. So the fight is against two egos: (1) the egos of the authors; and (2) the egos of the editors.
I don’t know of any evidence that any author (prestigious or not) would refrain from having their work published in an electronic-only journal. And even if that were so, does it matter? If a journal’s prestige is linked primarily to its impact factor, all a journal needs to do is publish timely, well-researched, well-written articles on issues of importance to courts, practitioners and other academics. Rarely do I include the name of the author in one of my searches. It is subject matter for which I am concerned, and the well-researched, well-written articles make it to my final results (should I need to choose). Assuming, however, that the prestige of authors might actually matter when it comes to impact factor, I think a study is in order. (It can be as easy as polling the authors of article from the top 20 to 30 highest ranked journals in the last few years as to whether the fact of the journal being absent a print medium would matter to them). I submit that I don’t think it would matter to most of them. Right now, however, all we have is editor fear; and, moreover, that fear lies entirely in narcissism. So maybe we have another conclusion, i.e., law review editors are inherently narcissistic.
I’m tending to think that LMU Law Review should publish their first issue in print, and then cease all print publications from there on out, making them the first print law review to go all digital. Of course, that would be hippocritical since we don’t carry print journals in our library. (Which leads us to another question: how much power do libraries have over their schools’ journals – my guess is mostly none).
In the end I can only offer my advice: authors write, editors publish; do us all a favor and save some trees.
Well, I can say one other thing: good conference, Danner. Thanks. (DCW)
There's already fairly extensive research in the LIS literature on how impact factors are affected by online-only availability. See in particular Zhang, Yanjun (2006) The effect of Open Access on citation impact: A comparison study based on web citation analysis. Libri, 56, 145-156. We just need to remember where to look for the interesting stuff in this field - and the answer is, it ain't in the law librarianship journals.
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Oct 29, 2010 7:48:26 AM
I spoke to a tenure-track professor at my law school today and asked if a high-ranked journal decided to go all-digital, would the professor feel that the journal's prestige would decrease? The professor said yes, that would be a concern because the professor was concerned that the school's tenure committee would regard all-digital journals as less prestigious.
The professor's comment echoed the journal editors--digital sounds good, but if we go first, we will be penalized by others' judgments of our value. Two options (there are probably more I have not thought of) are either getting all journals to switch to digital-only (perhaps with a small number of archival paper copies) at once, or getting a highly-ranked, flagship journal or two to take a leadership position. I would expect that the leaders in this experiment would be penalized for a few years, but not terribly, and then other journals would follow.
Posted by: Ben Keele | Oct 28, 2010 2:29:26 PM