Beyond the Book: Publishing Standards in Scholarly Journals of the Global South

In News by Porter Anderson

A new episode of Copyright Clearance Center’s ‘Beyond the Book’ podcast looks at efforts to establish and encourage higher standards for scholarly journal publishing in Bangladesh, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

Journal editors work together at the December 2016 BanglaJOL event at which a roadmap for improvement was established for scholarly journals. Image: Haseeb Irfanullah

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Together We Identified the Standards’

As Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally discusses in his new episode of the Beyond the Book podcast released today (September 10), two organizations, Africa Journals Online (AJOL) and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) are focused on raising the profiles of authors and publishers from the “global south.”

In the episode titled “Raising Journal Publishing Standards” with Haseeb Irfanullah in Bangladesh—who coordinates programming for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is executive editor of the Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy—Kenneally asks about some of the hurdles facing scholarly journal publishing there.

“The major challenges that we often face,” says Irfanullah, “are both on the demand side and the supply side. I often wonder if our journals might not be quite sure where their niches are.

“Why do they publish a particular journal? What’s the vision? What particular change do they want to make in the particular discipline they’re talking about?

Haseeb Irfanullah

“On the contrary, on the supply side we also see that there are some challenges. For example, are we getting enough quality manuscripts to be published? Are we compromising just to get our two issues for the year published? … Are we having an effective editorial board to help us with publishing those journals? Are we getting enough peer reviewers? Because the peer-review system is one of the key issues that makes a journal standard internationally, globally.”

In the course of the podcast, Kenneally speaks with Irfanullah about the “BanglaJOL, or Bangladeshi Journal Online effort in late 2016 involving some 140 journals, mostly scientific, to define internationally viable standards for the group.

“Together we identified the standards,” Irfanullah says, “and tried to highlight the action points we need to take together, not only as individual editors of particular journals, but also together, to change the whole culture of journal publishing in Bangladesh. This is the first time we’ve done that, that’s why we called it the First BanglaJOL Dialogue, [and it was] facilitated by the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences with support from UNESCO.”

Irfanullah names four points of a self-critical stance that has come out of these discussions with colleagues:

  • Look for short-term gains first, such as improving the quality of manuscript submissions
  • Set up a “Bangladesh Journal Watch” monitoring plan to evaluate how journals are doing, to add “a kind of peer pressure” to the drive to improve output
  • Establish a “national science publishing policy” to guide content selection and timing
  • Encourage a shift from quantity of papers published to quality
‘Level of Usage: Phenomenal’

A dialogue group at BanglaJOL in December 2016. Image: Haseeb Irfanullah

Kenneally also interviews Sioux Cumming in Oxford, where she works for INASP, and has been influential in the development of INASP’s Journal Publishing Practices and Standards with Africa Journals Online. The standards are a framework for providing accreditation and support for journals in the global south, hosted on the journals’ sites. There’s active participation in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Bangladesh, and Latin America.

Sioux Cumming

“As the project progressed,” Cumming tells Kenneally, “we began to realize that visibility was not all, that a lot of these journals are published by individuals, by scholars—what we call scholar journals—who have a limited experience of the publishing industry.

“While the research that they were publishing was fine, the publishing practices surrounding journal publishing were often not as good as they could be. So particularly in the last five years of a project at INASP, we focused very much on helping these journals to improve their quality. …

“I want to emphasize here that we’re looking at publishing practices. We’re not looking at the content. We are not subject specialists. So we can’t assist the actual content of the articles and the research that they cover. But we can look at the way in which the journals are being published.”

And as part of the exchange, Cumming also tells Kenneally that the level of usage of journals’ content is very high. “The usage of these articles,” she says, “is absolutely phenomenal. It’s huge.

“It’s taken a while, but we now have the article-level metrics displayed on the abstract page of each article, and it’s really encouraging that they’re being downloaded, they’re being read by huge numbers of people. But also when we look behind those statistics, we see that they’re being read by virtually every country in the world.

“Researchers from everywhere—[except], I think, Greenland and Antarctica—are accessing the journals. Even those that come from Latin America, which are all in Spanish, are being accessed by more than just Spanish-speaking countries.”

There’s more in this 20-minute edition of Beyond the Book that’s online today, and it can be found here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Copyright Clearance Center’s ‘Beyond the Book’ podcasts is here. And more on scholarly journals is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.