Steal this serial! A complete guide to launching your own overlay journal

Today’s post is a departure from our usual format. Here, we’ve opened up The Idealis’s toolbox for others who want to publish their own LIS overlay journal.

If you’ve ever wanted a better way to find high-quality, Open Access LIS research, this post is for you.

The Idealis is an open access ‘overlay journal’ that gathers high-quality scholarly communication-related research into one place, making it easy for those interested in the topic to find articles, white papers, and other research that’s been recommended by experts.

Though The Idealis focuses upon sharing scholarly communication research, the model we use can be borrowed to create an overlay journal about any topic in LIS and beyond: outreach librarianship, museum and archives, #critlib, and more!

We want to see OA LIS research flourish, so we’re opening up our virtual toolbox to the community, so others can start their own overlay journals for the topics that interest them.

In this post, I’ll lay out all the components of starting up your own overlay journal: how The Idealis is organized, the PressForward-powered workflow we use to get content onto the site and out into the hands of readers, the documentation we use to recruit, train, and recognize editors, and more!

Everything mentioned in this post is licensed for you to reuse and adapt, under a CC-BY license.

How The Idealis is organized


The Idealis’s ultimate function is one of a filter: sifting through all the available OA research on scholarly communication and choosing only the very best to publish. It’s a volunteer-run effort that’s headed up by a small team of Founding Editors and powered fortnight-to-fortnight by the expertise of a rotating cast of General Editors, who select the content that gets published on The Idealis. A modest grant from PressForward pays for our server space.

The publishing workflow looks like this:

  1. General Editors find content to publish on The Idealis, which they format into a blogpost and add as a draft to The Idealis’s WordPress-powered backend using the PressForward plugin;
  2. A Founding Editor reviews the draft post for formatting and scope, then schedules it in to be published, one per day, Monday through Friday each week;
  3. Once published on The Idealis, the recommended article is also sent out automatically via RSS, a Mailchimp listserv, and Twitter

Founding Editors

In addition to checking and scheduling content to be published, the Founding Editors coordinate the operations of The Idealis. We recruit and train General Editors and decide upon the strategy for growth and expansion of The Idealis’s platform and vision. We communicate primarily via Slack.

General Editors

The General Editors for The Idealis were identified for recruitment in an initial brainstorming session, during which the Founding Editors came up with a list of librarians who met a number of criteria that we believed would make an Editor qualified to identify great content for The Idealis.

General Editors’ role is to work independently during a two-week ‘editorial term’, setting aside at least one hour per week to ‘nominate’ (in the parlance of PressForward) at least three items for inclusion in The Idealis. The bar for participation has been intentionally set very low: we began The Idealis with the understanding that many librarians are short on time due to many other service commitments.

The Founding Editors communicate with each General Editor via email. Currently, there is no forum for General Editors to communicate with each other, though this has been requested by General Editors and is up for consideration.

How to publish your overlay journal

Training General Editors

Potential General Editors are first emailed an invitation to join The Idealis.

The ‘ask’ for Idealis General Editors is a bit different than an editorial or reviewer role in a traditional LIS journal. As such, an initial training is needed to set expectations. This training session (slides available here) outlines the purpose of The Idealis and how to add content to the site. We use Skype and occasionally to run these videoconferenced training sessions.

After their training, General Editors are then emailed a follow-up set of instructions that point them to written documentation outlining the editorial workflow, and invited to sign up for their first two-week editorial term. A few days prior to the start of their editorial term, General Editors receive a reminder email.

For the full General Editor Onboarding and Orientation Process, check out these instructions.

How to find content to highlight

We encourage General Editors to use the following tools to find OA content to add to The Idealis:

  • RSS feeds for relevant OA journals or repositories like ArXiv
  • Twitter
  • JournalTOCs alerting service
  • Plugins like Unpaywall and OA Button, which help the user find OA versions of journal articles

Readers may also submit content to The Idealis for consideration using a form on the journal’s website. Submitted content is forwarded on to the current Editorial Term’s General Editors, for them to vet for inclusion in The Idealis.

Getting content onto the web: our technology stack

The Idealis is run using a locally-hosted WordPress installation and the PressForward plugin, as well as a free Mailchimp account that sends automated emails.

General Editors are instructed to use the PressForward bookmarklet, in particular, to capture content and draft a post for The Idealis. Here’s our illustrated guide to using the bookmarklet to nominate content. General Editors are asked to format the contents of posts using a particular format that includes essential metadata like author names, abstract, title, and a direct link to view the shared content.

Once content has been nominated by General Editors, the Founding Editor who is monitoring The Idealis for the current two-week Editorial Term (aka the Managing Editor) reviews the content for formatting and scope and then uses the Editorial Calendar plugin to schedule in the posts to appear at 7 AM Mountain time each weekday.

The timing of the scheduled posts is important, as The Idealis’s Mailchimp automation is set up to send out an email based on The Idealis’s RSS feed one hour later, at 8 AM Mountain time each day. Published content is automatically tweeted to The Idealis’s Twitter feed (@theidealis_sc) using WordPress’s built-in “Publicize” feature.

Finally, we use a customized version of the Sela WordPress theme to organize the site and ensure that General Editor names appear on their nominated posts, so they can receive recognition for the content they add to the journal.

There are a number of other details that go into publishing The Idealis. Please download our “Idealis in a box” documentation and visit The Idealis’s website to learn more about the ins and outs of our publishing workflow.


There have been a number of challenges in organizing The Idealis in the year since launch.

The first, and probably biggest, is the challenge of running an all-volunteer journal. Even the Founding Editors sometimes found it difficult to set aside time for editorial tasks, and several times the journal experienced gaps in publishing. General Editors occasionally reported difficulty in finding even two hours over two weeks to complete their editorial tasks.

Given the demands on all Editors’ time, the Founding Editors struggled with the question of compensation for themselves and for General Editors. In theory, everyone should be paid for the time they contribute towards the journal. This is an area where professional societies might be contribute the most to ensuring the growth of a robust OA publishing culture within LIS, by providing editorial honoraria or the like. However, the struggle to find a sustainable and ethical business model for an Open Access publication is not a new one; it’s possible that there might be other avenues towards monetization of an Idealis-like journal. If so, we’d encourage others to share their approach, so the community might learn from it.

Two smaller challenges could easily be addressed by other journals seeking to replicate The Idealis’s approach.

First, there were occasionally debates and disagreements among the Founding Editors when considering content that General Editors had nominated, as some felt the content did not meet the (admittedly broad) definition of ‘scholarly communication’. This could easily be avoided by other overlay LIS journals, simply by offering more precise definitions for their preferred subject area of coverage.

Second, some General Editors offered feedback that they felt isolated during their Editorial Terms, and would have preferred to have direct communication with other General Editors to discuss things like scope and appropriateness of potential nominations. This could be easily addressed by setting up a Slack channel or Google Group for General Editors to have these discussions.

Go forth and publish!

We hope that by sharing our approach to publishing an overlay journal that others within LIS will start to build their own Open Access journals around the many varied areas of practice in librarianship. It’s both easier and more difficult than you may think. And it’s also more rewarding than you can imagine!


Guidelines for Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) in Journal Policies and Practices “The TOP Guidelines”

Authors: Brian Nosek et al

Abstract: The Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Committee met in November 2014 to address one important element of the incentive systems – journals’ procedures and policies for publication. The outcome of the effort is the TOP Guidelines. There are eight standards in the TOP guidelines; each move scientific communication toward greater openness. These standards are modular, facilitating adoption in whole or in part. However, they also complement each other, in that commitment to one standard may facilitate adoption of others. Moreover, the guidelines are sensitive to barriers to openness by articulating, for example, a process for exceptions to sharing because of ethical issues, intellectual property concerns, or availability of necessary resources.

Citation: Nosek, Brian A et al. “Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines.” Open Science Framework, 28 Aug. 2017.


Who should speak for academics over the future of publishing?

Author: Aileen Fyfe

Abstract: Learned societies used to be seen as the guardians of academic prestige. They should act on that moral authority and reclaim their oversight of peer review, says Aileen Fyfe.

Citation: Fyfe A. (2017). Who should speak for academics over the future of publishing? Times Higher Education. 25 May 2017.


Expanding Perspectives on Open Science: Communities, Cultures and Diversity in Concepts and Practices


Abstract: Twenty-one years ago, the term ‘electronic publishing’ promised all manner of potential that the Web and network technologies could bring to scholarly communication, scientific research and technical innovation. Over the last two decades, tremendous developments have indeed taken place across all of these domains. One of the most important of these has been Open Science; perhaps the most widely discussed topic in research communications today.

This book presents the proceedings of Elpub 2017, the 21st edition of the International Conference on Electronic Publishing, held in Limassol, Cyprus, in June 2017. Continuing the tradition of bringing together academics, publishers, lecturers, librarians, developers, entrepreneurs, users and all other stakeholders interested in the issues surrounding electronic publishing, this edition of the conference focuses on Open Science, and the 27 research and practitioner papers and 1 poster included here reflect the results and ideas of researchers and practitioners with diverse backgrounds from all around the world with regard to this important subject.

Intended to generate discussion and debate on the potential and limitations of openness, the book addresses the current challenges and opportunities in the ecosystem of Open Science, and explores how to move forward in developing an inclusive system that will work for a much broader range of participants. It will be of interest to all those concerned with electronic publishing, and Open Science in particular.

Citation: Chan L & Loizides F. (2017). Expanding Perspectives on Open Science: Communities, Cultures and Diversity in Concepts and Practices. Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Electronic Publishing. IOS Press Ebooks. ISBN 978-1-61499-769-6 (online)


Understanding how Twitter is used to spread scientific messages

Authors: Letierce, Julie and Passant, Alexandre and Breslin, John and Decker, Stefan

Abstract: According to a survey we recently conducted, Twitter was ranked in the top three services used by Semantic Web researchers to spread information. In order to understand how Twitter is practically used for spreading scientific messages, we captured tweets containing the official hashtags of three conferences and studied (1) the type of content that researchers are more likely to tweet, (2) how they do it, and finally (3) if their tweets can reach other communities — in addition to their own. In addition, we also conducted some interviews to complete our understanding of researchers’ motivation to use Twitter during conferences.

Citation: Letierce, Julie and Passant, Alexandre and Breslin, John and Decker, Stefan (2010) Understanding how Twitter is used to spread scientific messages. In: Proceedings of the WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC: US.


Opening Up Communication: Assessing Open Access Practices in the Communication Studies Discipline

Author: Teresa Auch Schultz

Abstract: INTRODUCTION Open access (OA) citation effect studies have looked at a number of disciplines but not yet the field of communication studies. This study researched how communication studies fare with the open access citation effect, as well as whether researchers follow their journal deposit policies. METHOD The study tracked 920 articles published in 2011 and 2012 from 10 journals and then searched for citations and an OA version using the program Publish or Perish. Deposit policies of each of the journals were gathered from SHERPA/RoMEO and used to evaluate OA versions. RESULTS From the sample, 42 percent had OA versions available. Of those OA articles, 363 appeared to violate publisher deposit policies by depositing the version of record, but the study failed to identify post-print versions for 87 percent of the total sample for the journals that allowed it. All articles with an OA version had a median of 17 citations, compared to only nine citations for non-OA articles. DISCUSSION & CONCLUSION The citation averages, which are statistically significant, show a positive correlation between OA and the number of citations. The study also shows communication studies researchers are taking part in open access but perhaps without the full understanding of their publisher’s policies.

Citation: Schultz, T.A., (2017). Opening Up Communication: Assessing Open Access Practices in the Communication Studies Discipline. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. 5(1). DOI:


Altmetrics and Archives

Author: Elizabeth Joan Kelly

Abstract: Altmetrics are an alternative to traditional measurement of the impact of published resources. While altmetrics are primarily used by researchers and institutions to measure the impact of scholarly publications online, they can also be used by archives to measure the impact of their diverse online holdings, including digitized and born-digital collections, digital exhibits, repository websites, and online finding aids. Furthermore, altmetrics may fill a need for user engagement assessments for cultural heritage organizations. This article introduces the concept of altmetrics for archives and discusses barriers to adoption, best practices for collection, and potential further areas of study.

Citation: Kelly, Elizabeth Joan (2017) “Altmetrics and Archives,” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies: Vol. 4 , Article 1. Available at:


Reviewers are blinkered by bibliometrics

Authors: Paula Stephan, Reinhilde Veugelers& Jian Wang

Abstract: There is a disconnect between the research that reviewers purport to admire and the research that they actually support. As participants on multiple review panels and scientific councils, we have heard many lament researchers’ reluctance to take risks. Yet we’ve seen the same panels eschew risk and rely on bibliometric indicators for assessments, despite widespread agreement that they are imperfect measures1–6.

The review panels we observed last year were using bibliometrics in much the same way as they did before the 2015 Leiden Manifesto4, the 2012 San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which Nature is signing, and similar exhortations against their use. After all, bibliometric measures offer a convenient way to help evaluate a large number of proposals and papers.

Although journal impact factors (JIFs) were developed to assess journals and say little about any individual paper, reviewers routinely justify their evaluations on the basis of where candidates have published. Panel members judge applicants by Google Scholar results and use citation counts to score proposals for new research. This practice prevails even at agencies such as the European Research Council (ERC), which instructs reviewers not to look up bibliometric measures.

As economists who study science and innovation, we see engrained processes working against cherished goals. Scientists we interview routinely say that they dare not propose bold projects for funding in part because of expectations that they will produce a steady stream of papers in journals with high impact scores. The situation may be worse than assumed. Our analysis of 15 years’ worth of citation data suggests that common bibliometric measures relying on short-term windows undervalue risky research7.

How can we move beyond declarations and wean reviewers off bibliometric indicators that bias decisions against bold work?

Citation: Paula Stephan, Reinhilde Veugelers& Jian Wang. Reviewers are blinkered by bibliometrics : Nature News & Comment. Nature 544, 411–412 (doi:10.1038/544411a


POST: Hosting the Digital Ramamala Library at Penn, or, Thinking About Open Licenses for Non-Western Digitized Manuscripts

Author: dh+lib review

Abstract: Dot Porter (University of Pennsylvania) has posted on her blog the text of a talk she gave at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium, “Hosting the Digital Rāmamālā Library at Penn, or, thinking about open licenses for non-Western digitized manuscripts.” Porter’s post traces the history of the cataloging and digitization of the Ramamala Library, “one of the oldest still-active traditional libraries in Bangladesh,” as well as the development of OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available for Everyone. Implicit in OPenn’s design was the desire for “users of OPenn to always be certain about what they could do with the data, so we decided that anything that goes into OPenn must follow those licenses that Creative Commons has approved for Free Cultural Works… Note that licenses with a non-commercial clause are not approved for Free Cultural Works, and thus OPenn, by policy, is not able to host them.”

Citation: POST: Hosting the Digital Ramamala Library at Penn, or, Thinking About Open Licenses for Non-Western Digitized Manuscripts. dh+lib. Retrieved from


The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review

Authors: Jonathan P. Tennant, François Waldner, Damien C. Jacques, Paola Masuzzo, Lauren B. Collister, Chris. H. J. Hartgerink

Abstract: Ongoing debates surrounding Open Access to the scholarly literature are multifaceted and complicated by disparate and often polarised viewpoints from engaged stakeholders. At the current stage, Open Access has become such a global issue that it is critical for all involved in scholarly publishing, including policymakers, publishers, research funders, governments, learned societies, librarians, and academic communities, to be well-informed on the history, benefits, and pitfalls of Open Access. In spite of this, there is a general lack of consensus regarding the potential pros and cons of Open Access at multiple levels. This review aims to be a resource for current knowledge on the impacts of Open Access by synthesizing important research in three major areas: academic, economic and societal. While there is clearly much scope for additional research, several key trends are identified, including a broad citation advantage for researchers who publish openly, as well as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work. The economic impact of Open Access is less well-understood, although it is clear that access to the research literature is key for innovative enterprises, and a range of governmental and non-governmental services. Furthermore, Open Access has the potential to save both publishers and research funders considerable amounts of financial resources, and can provide some economic benefits to traditionally subscription-based journals. The societal impact of Open Access is strong, in particular for advancing citizen science initiatives, and leveling the playing field for researchers in developing countries. Open Access supersedes all potential alternative modes of access to the scholarly literature through enabling unrestricted re-use, and long-term stability independent of financial constraints of traditional publishers that impede knowledge sharing. However, Open Access has the potential to become unsustainable for research communities if high-cost options are allowed to continue to prevail in a widely unregulated scholarly publishing market. Open Access remains only one of the multiple challenges that the scholarly publishing system is currently facing. Yet, it provides one foundation for increasing engagement with researchers regarding ethical standards of publishing and the broader implications of ‘Open Research’.

Citation: Tennant JP, Waldner F, Jacques DC et al. The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review [version 3; referees: 3 approved, 2 approved with reservations]F1000Research 2016, 5:632 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8460.3)