Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Katharine Sharp Review

Kevin Ward, the editor of the Katherine Sharp Review, gives an overview of the first two years of this major journal for Librarians, and looks to its future.

I would like to think that library and information science education is preparing students for employment as traditional librarians, information professionals, or even future LIS educators. In each of these areas there is a call for publication as a requirement for tenure or promotion, or perhaps even as a requirement for attaining the position. Thus it would be of some importance if the student has had some sort of experience with the procedures and expectations before arriving in the workplace or interview. Unfortunately, the lack of exposure of students to the publication process makes it more difficult for them to have their work published and can create anxieties between both authors and editors when it does come time to submit a manuscript to a publisher. It was to provide exposure to this overall process that the Katharine Sharp Review (http://edfu.lis.uiuc.edu/review/) was established.

History and Process

The Review began in the spring of 1995 to provide a showcase for student research in library and information science and also to promote student interaction regarding their research interests. As a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was curious about the type of work and ideas other students were pursuing. Certainly there were opportunities to discuss current papers with classmates at the school, but I actually wanted to see what their finished work was like, and I wanted to view that of students from other schools as well.

The Review was established based on the following goals:

Katharine Sharp Review Each of these goals is meant to expose both the student author and reviewer to the process and expectations of scholarly publishing, and to do so within a solely electronic environment. It is important that students keep pace with technological progress as it is becoming the backbone to much that takes place within academia and the public and private workplace, and since there has been great movement towards conducting scholarly communication and peer-review via e-mail, this would be a good opportunity to take part in such a process.

Submissions are solicited on an ongoing basis throughout the year but emphasis is placed on receiving papers by specific deadlines in December and May. I originally desired to publish papers year round on a rolling basis as they were received, but after recounting my own experiences as a student, and after input from various classmates, I realized that deadlines and bi-annual issues would most likely result in better submission rates. Judging by the percentage of submissions that are received with two days of the deadline, this appears to have been a valid assumption. Submissions must arrive via some type of machine-readable media. However, papers are received in a variety of formats. I receive diskettes, email attachments of a variety of word processor formats, plain ASCII files in email, ftp, etc., and each of these can also vary between PC or MAC. Since I maintain all of the Review files on a combination of PC and Unix systems, I convert the MAC files, and indeed all files are eventually converted to ASCII for circulation among the reviewers. On the occasions when there are graphics integrated in the paper, images, figures, and tables which are not able to be represented in ASCII are pulled from the documents and stored separately. These images are then mounted on the website so that the reviewers can refer to the images from the paper. It may not be the most efficient means by which to review a paper, but it does solve many of the cross-platform difficulties that would arise if I were to send out copies of the paper as word-processor formatted documents. To aid in attaining a purely electronic review process, reviewers are required to posses both email and a browser, preferably graphical, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Submissions are then distributed to a subset of reviewers, who have been broken down into groups based on their subject interests. Each submission is sent to between three and five reviewers. The paragraphs of each of the papers are numbered so that the reviewers can then address their comments to a particular paragraph since page numbers are irrelevant in this electronic environment. The paragraph numbering also assists me when I am compiling comments to return to the author. Instead of having to wade through comments inserted throughout the body of an entire paper, the comments I receive are already arranged by paragraph and thus easy to compile. The author then receives these comments referenced to a numbered copy of his or her paper which is also returned.

When considering the potential variations of word processor packages and the different platforms that may be available to the reviewers (i.e., PC, Mac, Unix), selecting the lowest common denominator, ASCII via email instead of WordPerfect or RTF by attachment, has proven to be a successful means of conducting the review process through purely electronic means. In only one case up to this point has an author not possessed an email account, so the return of comments to the authors has also been quite efficient, and inexpensive, via this method.

Difficulties: Authors and Deadlines Across Boundaries of Time and Location

Two major difficulties have arisen regarding the acquisition of submissions:

  1. the potential author base is turning over constantly; and
  2. the publication schedule is based primarily on the academic calendar of the U. S.

With many North American LIS programs, a typical student may take between one and two years to complete all requirements for graduation from the program. This rate of turnover makes promoting the Review and the solicitation of submissions a continuous struggle. Potential authors need to be made aware of the journal on a constant basis to improve the odds that a potential author might be reached.

In order to meet the demands of reaching an ever-changing pool of potential authors, it has been necessary to encourage faculty to mention the journal to their students. Now that the Review has published three issues, this seems to be happening on a wider scale. Often I will receive submissions or at least queries from potential authors who mention that the Review was brought to their attention by a faculty member. As the Review matures and grows, I hope this becomes more of a trend.

The schedule of deadlines for the Review did not really occur to me until it was brought to my attention by a faculty member of a U.K. institution. With the academic calendar of the U.S. as the basis for the deadlines, it appears that submissions are due during the worst possible time for U.K. students (and potentially for Continental or other students as well). Unfortunately, I have not really formulated a solution for this other than promoting the fact that papers will be accepted at any time and not just at the deadlines. As the Review becomes more known to faculty outside of North America, I hope that this will help generate more submissions from that sector of the student population.

And yet this is a problem which I most desperately want to solve as I think it is important for students to share each others interests and research, not only amongst themselves in their own programs but also between programs in various nations. Through lurking, and occasionally participating, in listservs such as LISSPS and LIS-LINK, I have been amazed at the differences that exist between the LIS curriculum of the U.S. and the U.K. These two distinct methods stress different elements of the LIS discipline (these different approaches are even apparent between various institutions) and different overall pedagogy. To foster greater understanding of LIS, the curriculum, and the problems facing graduating students, the Review and the mentioned LIS-related listservs can go a great distance to promoting cultural and scholarly exchange amongst students.

Looking Forward

In the span of the past three issues, the Review has received 41 papers and published 15, and these have been circulated among a total of 60 reviewers. I do not consider the numbers to be poor - however small of a percentage of actual students it represents - and expect that in time the number of submissions will increase. However, the Review will always be faced with the matters of soliciting submissions from an ever-changing student population, and encouraging those current populations that the publication process is a learning experience and an excellent focal point for sharing learning.

The Review is meeting the goals established at its conception and for this I am much encouraged that a prosperous future lies ahead. Perhaps in time other features might be integrated into the Review, such as point-counterpoint, or reviews of current literature, but for the time being it is important to stress those goals on which the Review was born. There is much that can be done in education to equip graduates to meet the demands of the contemporary workplace, whatever that may be, and I hope that the Katharine Sharp Review is preparing those for whom the publication process may be a means to acquiring a position or as a means for promotion.

I would especially like to thank Dean Leigh Estabrook and the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their support, as well as the countless students, professors, and those who are interested in what the Review is trying to achieve, for their countless comments, suggestions, and praise. It is an evolving project that relies on the whole of LIS education.