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

Overview

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 Talky.io 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.

Challenges

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!

Resources

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