SHOULD THE JOURNAL OF EAST ASIAN LIBRARIES BE A PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL?
A REPORT OF THE INVESTIGATION AND DECISION
Gail King, Editor, Journal of East Asian Libraries
On May 22, 1963, Edwin G. Beal, Jr., then Head of the Chinese Section in the Orientalia Division of the Library of Congress, and Chairman of the Committee on Library Resources in the Far East, issued the first Newsletter of that organization, the forerunner of our present Council on East Asian libraries. That first Newsletter included discussions about technical processing, acquisitions, cataloging, exchange of information, and personnel announcements. Over the years reports of meetings and research collections, book reviews, and articles of professional interest were added. The focus was job-related: practical ideas or suggestions, reports, things to help us do our job better. Always, our organization publication has reflected the interest of its members in giving the best quality library service to patrons and in promoting high standards for the profession of East Asian librarianship.
The question of whether to make the Journal of East Asian Libraries a peer-reviewed journal came up regularly at the meetings of the Executive Board after 1996, the year I was appointed Editor of the Journal and began to attend these meetings; probably it did before then also. The question was listed as an item on the meeting agenda for discussion by the Executive Board a number of times but was usually tabled for lack of time. In 2003 the Executive Board tackled the issue in earnest, and for the next two years work was done to make sure that whatever decision was reached, it would be carefully considered and reflect the ideas and opinions of the members of CEAL. Finally, the question was voted upon at the Plenary Session of the annual CEAL meeting, held in Chicago on March 30, 2005.
The following summary will serve as a report of record of the investigation into the question of whether to make the Journal of East Asian Libraries a peer-reviewed journal, from the first survey to the final vote.
Survey of specialized Asian Studies journals
A primary reason given by those advocating the change to peer-review status for the Journal of East Asian Libraries was that more credit in rank advancement and tenure review decisions is given for contribution to peer-reviewed journals. Because of this, they said, better articles would be submitted for publication in the Journal. To verify this idea, I conducted a small survey in April and May of 2003 of specialized scholarly journals in the Asian Studies field:
Journal of Japanese Linguistics
Japanese Language and Literature
Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association
Education About Asia
I asked the editors of these journals about whether the journal was peer-reviewed, their opinions regarding the quality of articles in peer-reviewed journals and credit received, length of the peer-review process, and the number of issues published per year.
All of the journals, the editors responded, are peer-reviewed, and the reason they gave for this is to ensure publication of scholarly, accurate, and high-quality articles. The editors believe that they publish better articles because of the process of scholarly review by peers, which evaluates the quality and accuracy of articles, suggests revisions and improvements or rejects inferior scholarship, and attracts careful, scholarly contributions.
The editors were unanimous in agreeing that contributors receive more recognition and credit for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. The average length of the peer-review process for the journals surveyed varies from four weeks to three months; they publish from 1 to 3 issues per year.
Survey of Heads of major collections and retired East Asian librarians
In the fall of 2003 I wrote to retired East Asian librarians, present heads of major East Asian collections in the U.S. and Canada, and members of the CEAL Executive Board asking for their opinions regarding making JEAL a peer-reviewed journal. In their responses, these librarians advocated making JEAL a peer-reviewed journal, provided that a plan for reviewing articles and editorial oversight were carefully thought out and agreed upon, since it would mean better articles and contributors would receive more credit. They agreed on the importance of the newsletter function of the Journal. Those responding to the survey suggested a task force to study the idea and stated that CEAL members should be surveyed and allowed to vote on any proposed changes.
Special Committee on JEAL as a Peer-Reviewed Journal
The results of both of the above surveys were reported to the CEAL Executive Board, and at the Plenary Session of the annual meetings of the Council on East Asian Libraries, March 3, 2004, President Abraham Yu announced the formation of a Special Committee to consider the question of whether or not the Journal of East Asian Libraries should become a peer-reviewed journal. The Special Committee, made up of Robert Felsing, Thomas Hahn, Joy Kim, Alban Kojima, and Gail King, Chair, met Friday March 5, 2004. A report of their deliberations was made by Gail King during Executive Board Meeting II that evening. The Board, wanting to know more about the opinion of CEAL members on the question, directed Gail King to draw up a questionnaire regarding the issue of JEAL as a peer-reviewed journal and survey CEAL member opinions. This was done, and the survey was sent out on Eastlib on March 23, 2004.
Survey on JEAL as a Peer-Reviewed Journal: Summary of Responses
Total surveys returned: 35
Response totals from returned surveys:
Before beginning the survey, please indicate your position or status (choose all that apply):
a. Librarian with faculty status
b. Librarian with academic professional status
c. Library school teaching faculty
d. Library administrator
f. Library paraprofessional
g. Library school student
h. Other: (please specify, for example, scholar, vendor, dealer, publisher)
Librarian without faculty or professional status
More than one category checked:
Faculty and Academic professional status
Administrator and Academic professional status
Academic professional status and Retiree
Please respond to the following questions:
1. Please rank the following functions of the Journal of East Asian Libraries in order of importance. Very Important (VI) Important (I) Not Important (NI)
a. To serve as a record of activities, events, and personnel of the East Asian library field in North America
b. To aid East Asian librarians in performing their jobs well
c. To publish articles about East Asian librarianship
2. Is publication in scholarly journals for purposes of rank advancement and tenure review important at your institution?
a. Yes; whether or not the journal is peer-reviewed doesn¡¯t matter.
b. Yes, but the journal must be peer-reviewed.
c. Yes. Peer-reviewed is preferred but any publication is counted.
e. Not relevant to my situation.
3. Suppose JEAL were peer-reviewed. Would you submit an article to it?
Maybe I would, if I wanted to write that sort of article.
Possibly, but unlikely
a. I prefer to publish in a general library-related, peer-reviewed journal.
b. I prefer to publish in another East Asian studies peer-reviewed journal.
c. I don¡¯t feel I can write articles that would pass the peer-review process.
4. Should the Journal of East Asian Libraries become a peer-reviewed journal?
Other response: It doesn¡¯t matter.
If your answer to Question 4 is No, you may choose not to continue the survey.
5. If JEAL is made a peer-reviewed journal, which format would be best?
c. Electronic password-controlled (to maintain our subscription base).
d. Both Print and Electronic. Subscribers choose which format they prefer.
6. If JEAL is made a peer-reviewed journal, how many times a year should it be published?
c. Three times
7. If JEAL is made a peer-reviewed journal, what should happen to the reports, personnel notices, and institutional notes now included?
a. Move them to a newsletter.
b. Leave them in the Journal in a non-reviewed ¡°News¡± section after the articles.
8. If you chose ¡°a¡± in Question 7, what format would you suggest for the newsletter?
c. Electronic with an annual print cumulation for archival purposes.
9. If JEAL becomes a peer-reviewed journal, who should the reviewers be? (Circle or check all that you think appropriate).
a. East Asian studies librarians in the U.S. or other countries outside East Asia
b. Librarians at institutions in East Asia.
c. Library school faculty members.
d. Scholars in East Asian studies.
e. Other (please explain):
Experts in the topic of the article.
Recommendations of the Special Committee on JEAL to the CEAL Executive Board:
1. The Journal of East Asian Libraries should become a peer-reviewed journal.
2. The journal should be made up of two sections: peer-reviewed articles, and a section for reports, news items, personnel notices, obituaries, and so on, which would not be peer-reviewed.
3. Articles submitted for consideration for publication would be reviewed by no less then two of a panel of reviewers made up of East Asian librarians and other East Asian scholars. If necessary, an outside expert would be invited to review an article outside the scope of expertise of the panel of reviewers. Review would be blind and anonymous.
4. Until the review process is firmly in place and the transition smoothly made, the Journal shall remain a print journal in its entirety (both peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed sections).
5. An Editorial Board to set direction and screen articles should be established. The Editorial Board should reflect the subject and professional expertise of the various committees of CEAL.
6. The Journal should move to publication twice a year.
Background EASTlib posting
A summary of the above information: survey of specialized Asian Studies journals, survey of opinions of retired East Asian librarians and heads of major East Asian collections, plus the results of the Eastlib survey on JEAL were included in a Background document posted to Eastlib first on January 3 and again on February 22, 2005, in preparation for the discussion and vote on the question of JEAL as a peer-reviewed journal in the Plenary Session March 30, 2005.
Six questions related to JEAL were asked as part of the Eastlib posting. A total of 19 responses were received to the questions asked. Some responses replied to some questions in more detail, and to some questions not at all; hence answers do not necessarily add up to 19 in each instance.
Questions and responses follow.
Question 1: What do we want the Journal to be? What should it do for CEAL members?
1. JEAL should be a peer-reviewed journal that publishes research articles related to the field of East Asian libraries.
2. JEAL should help members learn the scholarly writing process.
3. JEAL should be a forum for members.
4. JEAL should be a respectable, prestigious publication.
5. JEAL should provide news about CEAL members and reports from East Asian libraries and librarians. Whether it is peer-reviewed or not is not important. We are a small group and the extra work of putting out a peer-reviewed journal will prove to be too great a burden.
6. JEAL should help CEAL members stay abreast of important trends in librarianship as they apply to East Asian librarianship.
7. JEAL should respond not only to CEAL membership¡¯s current needs but also pay attention to areas of long-term importance.
8. An effort should be made to attract substantive articles.
9. The journal should inform members of research and news in the field.
10. It should be a valuable communication tool which provides members necessary job-related information.
11. The Journal is a communication device; it allows people to publish articles not appropriate for a mainstream audience but nonetheless important.
12. JEAL should not become a peer-reviewed journal.
13. It should allow for exchange of information, provide a forum for debate of aspects of CJK librarianship, and publish reports of trips to Asia, workshops, etc.
14. JEAL should serve as a means of publishing and archiving reports and news items of CEAL and its members activities.
15. It should include articles in all areas of librarianship as they relate to East Asian languages and cultures.
16. JEAL should be a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on topics of common interest in the CEAL community and that functions as a forum for dialog between the scholarly and library communities.
Question 2: If JEAL becomes a peer-reviewed journal, should the newsletter function be retained? How?
1. Yes, the newsletter function should be retained. Perhaps there should be two publications, a journal and a newsletter.
2. Yes. The scholarly journal and newsletter functions can both be retained but should be handled by different people.
3. Yes. JEAL disseminates news and also documents the evolution of the field of East Asian librarianship in North America. The editor with the advice of the board should determine types of news appropriate for publication in print.
4. Yes. A couple of special columns could inform readers about news in the East Asian library community.
5. Yes. There should be an online newsletter available through the CEAL website or linked at the CEAL website.
6. Yes, as a section of the expanded journal, or as a separate publication.
7. Yes. It should be in a separate section in the journal.
8. Yes. It should be in a separate section in the journal, with a separate editor.
9. Yes, as a non-peer-reviewed section of the journal.
Question 3: JEAL often functions as a place where CEAL members can begin learning about writing for publication and get at least some credit for publication. How important to us is this function?
1. It is important that JEAL continue to do this, but it could be handled as part of the peer-review process.
2. It is quite important, especially for beginners.
3. It may contribute to the perception that JEAL is a lesser means of publication.
4. It is not very important. Other newsletters play that role.
5. It is essential, especially for non-native speakers of English, who need a supportive organization to begin publishing in the field.
6. A peer-reviewed JEAL could still do this provided constructive suggestions for improvement were made and resubmission of initially rejected articles was possible.
7. This is an important function that should not be overlooked.
8. This is a very useful function. It gives people a good place to start publishing.
9. Not particularly important.
10. It will continue to fulfill that role because of the comments from peers and the revision process.
11. This is a good idea but not if it means lowering standards. A peer-reviewed JEAL should have high scholarly and professional standards with a definite editorial policy and publication program.
Question 4: Would you be willing to serve as a reviewer? Would you be willing to serve on a JEAL Editorial Board?
2. Yes, but I am not sure I am qualified.
3. Undecided. My work load is heavy. It would depend on the work involved.
4. Undecided. I doubt that I am qualified.
5. No. I am too busy. I could answer specific questions about specific articles.
7. No, I am not qualified. Reviewers and editorial board members should be library school faculty members.
Experts serving as reviewers and editorial board members are essential.
Representation from a small school would give diversity.
Perhaps reviewers and board members should be employed in an East Asian library.
Quality peer review should be expected. It should be constructive advice and assistance, not a barrier to be overcome.
Question 5: Would you write articles for a peer-reviewed JEAL? Or would you prefer to write for JEAL as it is now?
1. I have written for JEAL as it is and would not hesitate to write for JEAL as a peer-reviewed journal.
2. Both are fine.
3. The present JEAL is less competitive, but I would be willing to try to write for a peer-reviewed JEAL.
4. I prefer to write for a peer-reviewed JEAL.
5. JEAL is the journal of our field, so I would write for it whether it is peer reviewed or not.
6. I prefer to write for JEAL because of common professional interest of readers and subscribers; peer reviewed would be better.
7. I prefer to write for JEAL as it is now.
8. I would not write articles for a peer reviewed JEAL, but I would continue to contribute reports and news items related to CEAL and CEAL members.
Question 6: What would you like to see changed in the Journal to make it more useful to you, or to make it more what you think it ought to be?
1. I would like to have JEAL online with more issues every year.
2. I would like it to have more high-quality articles and be more prestigious.
3. I wish that more papers presented at conferences dealing with East Asia-related libraries and librarianship would be submitted to JEAL and published.
4. There should be at least one biographical article each year about people who have contributed to East Asian librarianship.
5. Articles introducing unique collections of research materials on East Asia should be published.
6. It should become a peer-reviewed journal with a few feature articles with a section for the newsletter, book reviews, and miscellaneous topics.
7. JEAL should have a strong editorial policy to guide it to excellence.
8. More book reviews and website reviews should be published.
9. More book reviews, especially of reference materials.
10. Vendor information should be published.
11. I like JEAL as it is now. The most useful features are how-to articles where librarians share experience on a specific project.
12. JEAL is already very useful to me as it is now.
13. I would welcome the change to a peer-reviewed journal because of requirements for tenure review at my institution.
14. Occasional thematic issues could be issued. Contributors could be solicited.
15. The future direction of JEAL should be to be an improved, better-edited, more intellectually substantive journal, not just a membership communication tool.
16. JEAL should have a more lively format, with a new cover and a new look.
17. Consider having a commercial press publish the new JEAL.
Plenary Session Comments and Vote on JEAL as a Peer-reviewed Journal
The question of whether the Journal of East Asian Libraries should become a peer-reviewed journal was voted upon by the CEAL membership in attendance at the Plenary Session on March 30, 2005, during the annual meeting in Chicago. Before the vote was taken, I gave a short presentation outlining the issues involved and summarizing the responses to the Eastlib questions, in these words:
While we have called our CEAL organization publication ¡°Journal¡± for about ten years, it is now, as it has been in the past, mainly a newsletter, functioning primarily as a record of the field and a communication tool for members. Some respondents to my questions on Eastlib felt that this sort of publication best serves their professional and job-related needs. There are, they suggested, other scholarly journals where CEAL members can publish research and receive enhanced publication credit. Some respondents believe that the field of East Asian librarianship has matured to the point that our organization should publish a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. In their view, this would make a greater contribution to the world of ideas and the life of the mind; it would also give more credit and prestige to our profession and to those who publish in our journal. Still others believe in principle in CEAL publishing a high-quality journal that provides a forum for scholarly discussion and a suitable place to publish regarding the issues that engage the field. They are concerned, though, about already heavy workloads and other professional responsibilities.
All of those who responded spoke of the importance of the newsletter function of our publication and agree it should be continued. A peer-reviewed journal is a different sort of publication with a different purpose. In all likelihood, a CEAL scholarly journal would be published less often than a newsletter, given the length of time that the review process requires and the differing focus of a newsletter and scholarly journal, to say nothing of the time necessary for research and writing of the scholarly articles that would be included.
Today, though, is not the time to discuss details. Our work today is to decide whether the Journal of East Asian Libraries will become a peer-reviewed journal. That is the fundamental question, and the only one we will vote on.
Perhaps it is best that our publication remain a newsletter, as it is now. Or, perhaps this is the time to make our journal a scholarly peer-reviewed publication, with the newsletter also continued in some fashion. Whatever the decision, a commitment to working together to make it succeed is imperative.
I ask you to look within, to where the deepest thoughts about this profession and your service to it reside. Consider the needs of our patrons and the field of East Asian scholarship. How can our CEAL publication best help us serve them? Then let your answer to that question guide how you vote.
We will vote today on the question
Shall the Journal of East Asian Libraries become a peer-reviewed journal? Yes/No
If the majority votes No, things will continue as they are.
If the majority votes Yes, the Journal of East Asian Libraries will become a peer-reviewed journal. Implementation of this decision (including determination of an Editorial Board, review process, and number of issues per year) will be referred to the CEAL Executive Board. How the newsletter function of the present JEAL will be continued will be determined by the CEAL Executive Board.
Following my presentation, time during the Plenary Session was allowed for comments from the floor by CEAL members. After this, a vote was taken. The votes were counted during the noon break; a second count by two other CEAL members verified the original totals. The results were
The results were announced by CEAL President Abraham Yu at the Executive Board meeting II Wednesday evening March 30, at the Fellowship Dinner Thursday evening March 31, and in an April 8, 2005 posting on Eastlib.
The majority of CEAL members voted No; hence, the Journal of East Asian Libraries will not become a peer-reviewed journal.
Thank you to all who responded to surveys and offered comments and suggestions, and especially to the members of the Special Committee on JEAL as a Peer-Reviewed Journal.