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D-Lib Magazine

May/June 2016
Volume 22, Number 5/6
Table of Contents


Institutional Repositories: Home for Small Scholarly Journals?

Julie Kelly and Linda Eells
University of Minnesota
{jkelly, lle}

DOI: 10.1045/may2016-kelly


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Small scholarly journals, particularly those published by academic societies, may not be positioned in a way that maximizes their discoverability and use. Many are on less-than-robust platforms and others are maintained by commercial publishers which means articles are either behind a pay wall or authors face steep article processing charges. We suggest that a better solution for these small journals would be for institutional repositories (IRs) to begin including them. This would mean a change in policy for many IRs, which currently limit submissions to work by their authors at their universities. Individual institutions could focus on one or two subject areas and work with local faculty members and professional societies to identify potential journals. While subject repositories may seem like a more appropriate solution, they only exist in a few disciplines. AgEcon Search, a subject repository serving the agricultural and applied economics community, is cited in this article as an example of a repository that includes numerous small scholarly journals.


1 Introduction

Every academic discipline has them — narrowly-focused peer-reviewed journals, often published by small but well-respected professional societies. While the attention of librarians has been on other collection-related topics such as the growing empire of the Nature Publishing Group or fledgling open access (OA) journals, those who publish these small scholarly journals, which number in the thousands, have been navigating the complex publishing landscape without our assistance.

We propose that academic libraries could support and connect with their academic community by offering to host these small journals in their established institutional or subject repositories. Specifically, libraries could select a subject area that is a strength at their institution and approach the groups that publish the smaller journals in that discipline about depositing both their current and older volumes in the library's repository. As the managers of a subject repository that includes over 80 journals in agricultural and applied economics, we can speak to the advantages for both the library and the journals. Every year we are approached by journals that would like to become part of AgEcon Search but are outside of the scope, and there is almost never another repository to recommend.


2 Current Landscape

Many societies that produce small scholarly journals have lofty goals for their publications. Their professed goals may be to provide their members with a platform to disseminate knowledge or to help inform the general public about issues that pertain to their field. On a practical level, however, societies rely on their publications for other purposes as well. They often use the income from their journals to fund activities such as conferences and scholarships, and publications are touted as a member benefit. Having a highly regarded journal, often judged by inclusion in the Web of Science or by a high impact factor, is a goal often discussed by members and leaders of societies. The goals of individual members of the society may include having their articles accepted and published in a venue where they will be easy to locate and access.

Societies that continue to produce their journals without an affiliation with a commercial publisher do so in a variety of ways. Nearly all of them have some kind of online presence although the platform they use may not offer much support or long term stability. Discoverability of the articles can be limited, with very low Google and Google Scholar rankings, although occasionally these journals are indexed in commercial databases (e.g. EBSCO, CABI). Many societies still provide a print version to members which often requires an additional charge to cover printing and shipping costs. Preservation and archiving functions are often lacking in these publishing models.

Editors and editorial boards of small scholarly journals have a number of practical, day-to-day concerns that may keep them from focusing on the larger picture. Dedicated editors and society leaders, who change frequently, are often unaware or even naive about the current complex publishing environment. If they have an information source it is more likely to be someone from a commercial publisher who is courting them rather than a librarian or a lawyer. Even journals with low circulation and a very narrow focus may be approached by commercial publishers offering a variety of options including scanning older volumes or making the journal open access with high article processing charges (Fruin & Rascoe, 2014).

Often the society's staff is very small or all volunteer. They may be influenced by what they see as an opportunity to help the society's short-term finances by accepting a signing bonus from a commercial publisher in exchange for locking up all of their journal's content behind a pay wall. They may not realize that there is very little money to be made by charging for access to older print journal content since most of it may be obtained via interlibrary loan, but there is benefit in making it freely available in terms of increased discoverability and use (Antelman, 2004; De Groote, Shultz, & Smalheiser, 2015; Wang, Liu, Mao, & Fang, 2015).

When small society journals do sign on with commercial publishers there may be unanticipated consequences for the society as well as individual members, authors, and readers of the journal. What was freely available content may suddenly be behind a pay wall. Older material that is scanned is property of the publisher, not the society. Not all authors will see the "hybrid OA" option where they pay $1,500—$3,000 to make their article immediately available to be a good value. The publisher may even acquire rights to the name of the journal. These and other situations can make it costly and difficult to change publishers in the future.

Librarians are seldom consulted about these matters even though it is an area of expertise for many of them. Closer ties with small societies would open up more opportunities for these conversations, and if individual libraries focused on just one or two disciplines there would be more chance to interact with journal editors and other leaders in the profession as well as local faculty members in the discipline.


3 Why IRs Might Be the Solution

Given the suggestion that IRs should consider hosting small journals in specific disciplines, IR managers may respond that it would be more appropriate for subject repositories to take on that task. As managers of a successful subject repository we agree, but we also realize not every discipline has —or will ever have — a subject repository.

A successful subject repository needs a critical mass of material such as conference papers, working papers, reports, pre-prints, or other documents that fall into the category of grey literature. Disciplines that produce and value this type of material are said to have a "pre-print culture", and that situation lends itself to the development of a subject repository that is heavily used and highly regarded by members of that discipline (Tomaiuolo, 2000). ArXiv is the most widely known repository in this category, and there are others such as Digital Library of the Commons and PhilSci Archive. Disciplines without a strong pre-print culture are unlikely to have the documents it would take to make a subject repository feasible.

Alternately, a growing number of academic libraries are taking on a publishing role and hosting publishing platforms separate from their IRs, creating a viable publication route for these smaller journals. Whether using a publishing platform or an IR, an academic library could select a discipline in which they know their faculty members are strong contributors and approach a group of small scholarly journals from various societies representing that discipline. IRs may be a better option in some cases since they have functional strengths in preservation and archiving that some publishing platforms lack.


4 Benefits to All

Since many small scholarly journals are published by societies, helping them publish their research provides a unique opportunity for librarians to become active members of those societies and share their expertise with these groups. In our experience it is much easier to be appointed to the Publications Committee of a 3,000 member association than it is to be invited to join the Curriculum Committee of a 30 person academic department. It is much more likely that you will be able to influence the outcome of a discussion about moving to a commercial publisher when you are sitting at the table when those decisions are being made.

Libraries that include small scholarly journals in their repositories could benefit in many ways, including:

The idea of universities taking back publishing from the commercial realm and making it more open is a topic discussed by both researchers and librarians (Schroeder & Siegel, 2006). The focus is often on getting new OA journals up and running, sometimes on a library-hosted publishing platform rather than via an institutional repository (Cruz & Fleming, 2015; Tracy, 2015).

Another benefit to providing a platform for small scholarly journals is increased access to older articles that are currently only available in print. Working on AgEcon Search we have seen a strong interest in retrospective digitization projects from the organizations sponsoring the journals. The groups are often willing to provide funding but do not have the staff or knowledge to do a scanning project, so they are happy to have us manage these projects. Most large academic libraries have staff with this type of expertise, so these projects provide another chance use our skills to add to the corpus of freely available scholarship online.


5 Collaboration

While hosting small society journals may mean a larger investment of time and energy in one or two disciplines, institutions could minimize the cost by collaborating on these efforts with universities that have strengths in other disciplines. Cooperative collection development has not materialized in quite the way we dreamed in the 1990s, but working together to find homes for small scholarly journals might open up new opportunities in that arena (Kairis, 2012; Kieft & Payne, 2012; Paster & Paulson, 2013).

Examples of library groups working together on collections projects include:


6 Challenges

There are a few free, stand-alone, resources that include journal collections and are not associated with a university library. Examples include Biodiversity Heritage Library and Bioline. Both of these projects depend on grants, memberships, sponsors, and fundraising to remain viable. It seems rather unlikely that small scholarly societies with limited resources and little history of collaboration would join together to host a repository even though it would be a benefit to all of their members. However, academic libraries are in an excellent position to invite these groups to join them in publishing their journals in a common, established IR. The infrastructure is already in place so libraries would not need to mount a separate subject repository just for these journals; they could simply be incorporated into the IR.

Current IR collection development policies often restrict submissions to items with an author at the institution, but given the somewhat disappointing uptake and low campus-wide interest in IRs (Davis & Connolly, 2007; Foster & Gibbons, 2005), it may be time to revisit those policies (Hahn, 2009; Zhu, Marciano, Moore, Herr, & Schulze, 2012). If a university has a vibrant, highly-ranked political science or environmental health department, their library could work with them to host a few journals important to a segment of their researchers. This would provide an opportunity to work closely with faculty members in those departments and the result would be international exposure for the research in the participating journals. Many faculty members identify as closely with their disciplines as they do with their institutions, so they may especially appreciate the attention to the research materials of that discipline.


7 Case Study: Small Scholarly Journals in Agricultural Economics

Agricultural economics is an example of a discipline that has made significant progress in depositing its small scholarly journals in a repository where they are freely available to an international audience (Kelly & Eells, 2015; Letnes & Kelly, 2002). Economics has a pre-print culture and their grey literature is accepted as a legitimate part of the research literature and it is frequently cited.

AgEcon Search is the repository serving agricultural economics, and as of January 2016 it included the full text of over 95,000 working papers, conference papers and journals in applied economics. This includes the more specific areas of agricultural development, energy, environmental and resource economics. It is housed at the University of Minnesota and is a collaboration between the Department of Applied Economics and the University Libraries with support from most of the professional societies in the field, not only in the United States but around the world.

AgEcon Search includes full text from over 80 journals. Table 1 below provides an overview. Noteworthy elements include the number of countries of origin and languages as well as the fact that over half of the journals have contributed their entire publication run.

Number of journals (unique titles) 83  
Total number of titles 103  
Countries of origin 36  
Languages 12  
Journals actively contributing 67 81%
Journals back to Volume 1 44 53%
Journals with another online presence 62 75%
Sponsoring Organizations
Society 37 45%
Academic 26 31%
Government 9 11%
Commercial 5 6%
Non-profit 5 6%
Network of research institutes 1 1%

Table 1: An Overview of the Journals in AgEcon Search

The project began in 1995 as a local solution for sharing agricultural economics working papers and it soon grew to include conference papers. Journals, dissertations, research reports and other documents were added over time. Currently it hosts literature from over 250 organizations around the world, including most of the professional societies and academic departments.

A few of the more prestigious journals in the field are included in AgEcon Search. Of the 17 journals included in the "Agricultural Economics and Policy" category in Web of Science, two add their current volumes, two upload papers after a 3-year embargo, and two depend on AgEcon Search to house their historical collections. The others are published by commercial publishers, most of whom restrict access to their articles.

The topics of the journals in AgEcon Search are often quite narrow. Examples include Bangladesh Journal of Agricultural Economics, Journal of Food Distribution Research, Journal of Rural Cooperation, and Wheat Studies. Most journals are in AgEcon Search due to the recruitment efforts of its two librarian coordinators. Some content recruiting is conducted via e-mail but more often the initial contact takes place at an AgEcon Search exhibit at an agricultural economics professional meeting. The coordinators attend 2-3 meetings each year. As noted above, AgEcon Search did not start out as an international effort, but grew in that direction over time.

Processes and details vary for the initial ingest and the maintenance of the journals. Older volumes of many journals were only available in print so digitization projects had to be arranged, often by the AgEcon Search coordinators. Scanning costs are covered by the organization that publishes the journal or through small grants from foundations, professional societies, or the University of Minnesota. Uploading may be done by a representative of the journal or, for a nominal fee, by student workers at the University of Minnesota. Occasionally we are able to waive the uploading fees for groups with limited resources.

Although most journals add their content as soon as it is published, nine journals are uploaded only after an embargo period has passed. These embargos fall into two general categories: 3-12 months, with the intent of protecting subscriptions, or 2-3 years, to satisfy the requirements of the commercial publishers who publish a few of the journals in AgEcon on behalf of professional societies. An example is the Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics published by Wiley. The contract negotiated by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (AARES) stipulates that papers will be added to AgEcon Search after a 3-year embargo, with Wiley supplying the digital files. According to AARES leaders, this agreement has not caused any negative impact on the society's revenues from Wiley.

Since the majority (75%) of the 80+ journals have an online presence other than AgEcon Search, their motivations for contributing go beyond simply establishing an e-version of their journal. Although no data has been gathered concerning their rationale, editors have mentioned the desire to be ranked highly in Google and Google Scholar and to be discoverable at the same location as other applied economics resources. Another important reason is that all papers in AgEcon Search are automatically harvested into Research Papers in Economics (RePEc), an index that is highly regarded by economists and produces rankings for individuals, societies, research institutes, and academic departments.

Although researchers in the U.S. were the initial target audience for AgEcon Search, over time it has become useful to other groups. In particular, it now includes journals and other publications from over 36 countries and instructors in both the developed and the developing world use the freely-available documents in place of textbooks in their classes.


8 Future Possibilities

Librarians have an opportunity to take an active role in guiding small scholarly journals toward appropriate online venues, and those venues could include established IRs. These journals have the possibility of ending up with commercial publishers and the smaller ones could fade into obscurity, with either no online presence or a tenuous or hard-to-discover one. Print-only volumes, especially those from ceased journals, could fall even farther off the radar of researchers if they are not included in digitization projects and added to appropriate online platforms.

IRs offer an alternative publishing option for these publications, and librarians and repository managers have the expertise to facilitate this new collaborative venture. Many academic libraries have a history of working cooperatively on a variety of projects and focusing on one or two subjects could afford each individual library an opportunity to build a strong relationship with researchers in those areas.



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About the Authors

Julie Kelly is a science librarian at Magrath Library on the St. Paul campus at the University of Minnesota. She co-coordinates AgEcon Search and serves as the liaison to several departments. Julie has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MS in Biology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.


Linda Eells is a research librarian and head of the Waite Library in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. She also serves as co-coordinator of AgEcon Search. She holds a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MS in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota.