This is the first of three parts of a conversation with with Hannah Gascho Rempel, Professor and Science Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries. Hannah came to librarianship as a second career, and has been a librarian for about 15 years. Her first was in the plant sciences, in horticulture. Her training in science afforded her the opportunity to have some training in scholarly publishing practices before coming to librarianship. She is the former editor of Journal of Web Librarianship. She left that role before she went on sabbatical to the Czech Republic as a Fulbright Scholar in 2019, and then made her way back to the U.S. as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hit. Hannah is also currently working on a co-edited book entitled “Teaching Critical Reading Skills: Strategies for Academic Librarians” that she expects to be published by ACRL Press in early 2022.
I should also note that I know Hannah through the small academic librarian community in Oregon.
Hannah Gascho Rempel
Position: Professor and Science Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries
Fun Fact: Hannah is looking forward to growing sunflowers this year rather than vegetables in her garden to give the deer something different to munch on for a change.
Throughout our conversation I notice the parallels Hannah is able to draw from her experience as a scientist and scholarly publishing in the sciences, and how she brings that knowledge to her career and endeavors as a librarian. What particularly strikes me is that Hannah is able to clearly articulate the different ways peer review is understood in some scientific fields versus the way she and I both see it as a mutable evolving process.
In this first part of Hannah’s story, we swing from the history to scholarly publishing to discussing present practices.
Let’s let Hannah introduce herself further.
I’m mid-career. I’m also midlife, mid-forties sort of person. I had another career before I was a librarian so that other start of a career was in the plant sciences in horticulture. I have a master’s degree from that field along with some of the publishing training that goes along with that and the interacting with other scientists that goes along with that. And then I switched gears to librarianship and have been in library land now for over a dozen years, 15 years. That’s a little bit of a shift, but for me it’s mattered for my publishing history and my thinking about academia because I started thinking about academia outside of librarianship and that definitely flavors how I continue to approach the research and writing process and how I train others whether it’s grad students at Oregon State University where I work or my fellow colleagues who are starting out in the profession so both of those things are influenced by my start.
Emily: Can you tell me a little bit about why you responded to the call for participation and why you wanted to participate in this particular conversation?
I, too, am interested in peer review. Not to your level. Mine has been in terms of being an editor of a journal as one aspect of it and then needing to think through what to do with the peer reviews that one gets. How to coach colleagues in the peer reviews that they’re giving without being too overbearing and wanting there to be this professional understanding, but there isn’t, I would say in our field, in the same way there isn’t an apprenticing that happens in the same way I would have experienced it in my previous sciences career. My advisor in that career was very clearly apprenticing me to something. She was demonstrating how she was responding to feedback, how one did that with the idea that I would continue in that way. But then my other part of the interest in peer review has been because I’ve been on a graduate student’s committee for the past year-and-a-half—she’s in forestry at Oregon State University—but her field would be a little bit more human dimensions of forestry kind of focus. So social science aspects of it, and part of her question has been looking at how people of color and underrepresented people are represented in the forestry literature of the past hundred years. And when you look at a body of literature as scholarly literature for the past hundred years it becomes really interesting. How to normalize that when you’re looking at how somebody was having a conversation in 1920; how is that different than the conversation in 1970 versus now? And to put things into categories like we want to do in academia, you start off by looking at the literature that was published by discipline. So what falls into fisheries versus forestry versus wildlife. And then what falls into peer-reviewed versus not peer-reviewed and opening that up and trying to work with her on this so she can ask questions. But the questions all start being like, well not nonsensical, but you’re just not having the same conversation anymore so looking at what peer review meant to someone pre-1970. And then on top of that having an understanding that she can communicate to her advisors and the rest of her committee who would tend to be more traditional scientists who think peer review does mean a very particular thing and that it is a stable conversation across time. And this isn’t to say they’re stupid intractable people at all. That’s not it. It’s just they haven’t thought about it as something that wasn’t always there. So I’ve done some more reading on the history. I don’t know all the things about history of peer review but it’s fascinating and I like it that you’re documenting how it is now because it won’t always be this way and it is in flux so that as we move along the way in the profession we can see that.
Emily: There is a scholar named Aileen Fyfe out of the UK who has done some interesting work on the history of scholarly publishing. Fyfe and their colleagues kind of go into this history of peer review noting that it was in the 1960s and 70s that brought about peer review to the proprietary publishing market. What we think of as traditional peer review today was actually market driven [see Untangling Academic Publishing].
The other version that I’ve heard, too, that I’m sure you know about as well is the government regulatory aspect of it. So they were getting input that congress was saying “oh, well you’re making this report about X. We think you should do this and they’re like if we want to be able to say as a community no, that idea is bonkers and you have nothing, we need to have something very official looking about it so it was manufactured to get that. It was sort of yes, depending on what function you think congress serves if you think they are representing a community it was sort of suppressing a community input which I don’t know that I’m going to stand up for that one very hard but it was to protect the scientific community was the way that I’ve read it too.
My grad student, whose disciplinary home is natural resources—I was trying to figure out okay, well Journal of Forestry, Journal of Wildlife Sciences, to figure out those journals’ histories and look back. We have their journals. I can look in our catalog and find them and so looking at their table of contents and how things are described over time, but it’s fuzzy. It’s not at all transparent and it’s not like there’s this narrative for each of the disciplines. It’s like there were some of these overarching scientific conversations, but then it must have filtered down somehow and so was that at a conference, was that just in somebody’s hallway? How did it actually happen? That I can’t figure out and how long it took to filter from this 1960s mark to all of these other areas. I can’t tell.
Yeah. But it’s interesting just like when the trail is not – and I think like genuinely it’s interesting. It wouldn’t be as interesting if you were like “oh, the answer is on page two.” Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it for a while both professionally, and I have a curiosity from the historical side, too.
Emily: Your interest is a whole other layer of intellectual labor that’s related to our job serving patrons, which is interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with academic publishing?
Sure. At the institution where I work we are tenure-track so some of my relationship with publishing is driven by needing to pursue tenure and promotion in order to be employed. So I started publishing in the library land stuff as soon as I started in libraries and – do with what you want but I’m good at this. This is a thing I know how to do and I’m good at it. So I’ve published 15-20 peer-reviewed journal articles. I’ve written two books. I also have an ACRL publication in the pipeline [“Teaching Critical Reading Skills: Strategies for Academic Librarians”]. It will be an edited collection though.
I’ll back up and just say a little bit on the tenure track. I’m now a full professor so in each of my stages I’ve experimented with some different approaches. Pre-tenure I was probably what you would term a little more conservative. I focused more on getting my articles published and targeted venues that I viewed as higher impact. So that stage of focusing on College & Research Libraries or Journal of Academic Librarianship kinds of places. And then after I got tenure I focused more on publishing in open access venues with less concern for the prestige factor of them and playing around a little bit more with some different research methods and styles as well as trying out some books, which I had never done before. As a science person I’m very article focused so it was entertaining to try out books for a change. I got full professor a year ago and so in my mind that moved me more strongly into a mentoring role so we’ll see what that looks like in terms of publishing myself. I don’t see any need to push myself to the first author position so I’m not sure where that trajectory will go. I’ve written things and I see it as a way to communicate with a larger community for sure, but then the other aspect of publishing it was being a journal editor and so that was not with – so it was sort of a two-facedness about myself. I started that after I got tenure but it was a Taylor & Francis publication. I myself was publishing in open access venues but was not an editor for an open access publication. [sigh] All the choices. I got to see a little bit more of what publishing looked like and interacted with a publisher and what other people’s goals may or may not have been from that vantage point.
Emily: You have goals as an editor. The Taylor & Francis as a company maybe has goals and then the editorial board or the author have goals. I don’t know what your experience was but is there a story or two?
Yeah, or at least notes. Story makes it sound more interesting than it felt. I guess I would say to start that Taylor & Francis was pretty hands off during my whole five year term. The managing editor for the library sciences wing of publishing (if that was their title), the person who was initially in that role switched jobs within several months after me starting. Based on [conversations I had with] the previous editor, that the previous relationship [with the managing editor] would have been a little bit more in depth. And then throughout time there were multiple changes in staff of people I interacted with so– there was no thinking about or strategizing about direction or journal choices or anything. More of just getting the issue off to press. That kind of work. Those people changed many times so the consistency there was very low and it was a small – well it was just me. As the editor I didn’t have an associate editor for most of that time. Most of the work in terms of interacting with Taylor & Francis was just to keep the thing functioning in terms of getting another issue out. So they had no interest whatsoever in giving input.
Here’s the little note story part, I did have questions about open access options, because at Taylor & Francis you can, of course, you can pay a gazillion dollars and have a fully open access version of your article which, of course no one’s going to do. But then you can also have a preprint, [so I asked the publisher] is that true, what would they allow? Would they allow a post-print? You couldn’t put up the actual journal formatted post-print but you could put up your version after a certain amount of time and in an institutional repository. The whole not very fantastic but at least an option.
Emily: It was embargoed.
Not very clearly embargoed. A very short embargo, but yeah. That was an option and so I did interact with them some to make sure that I was clear on the rules, that the linking happened from the journal website which they managed. I couldn’t change anything on the journal website without interacting with a person. I always had to have somebody make all those changes—the this is not centered correctly, etc. Somebody had to do that for me. So I did put up the author instructions for how to post a pre-print.
And then in terms of author goals, I made sure in the article acceptance notices to put in info about here’s what next steps to take; to always include the directions very explicitly on how authors could at least put things in their own institutional repository. I started tracking them by doing Google Scholar searches of what had been published in the journal and seeing what showed up in Google Scholar as in repositories—almost nothing—which is just fascinating to me that folks in this profession are doing so little work themselves to put their own work in institutional repositories! And I know that it’s not as simple everywhere and that not all libraries do have their own institutional repositories so I had started including a link to a more general repository folks could use. Anyway, it just didn’t feel like that was a goal that folks who were choosing to publish there had – that it wasn’t that important to them.
You asked about the editorial board. Also, it was an international journal. There were folks on the board from all over the world and I didn’t recruit all of them because I was the second editor for this journal. Some of them were legacy. I did recruit some of them though, and we didn’t meet very much at all. They didn’t give a lot of input. They served as reviewers on a somewhat regular basis, but in terms of giving direction that was pretty much all on me and it was only if there was a particular need, like we need articles for a special issue. We need help on something. That’s when that would happen but it wasn’t a direction providing body.
Emily: How do you make sense of that authors weren’t really interested in posting their articles in an OA repository?
I can’t make sense of it very much. Sometimes I wonder, so while I’ve been a librarian for what starts feeling like quite a while, I’ve only worked at one institution and I start to feel some of the limitations of that in terms of understanding culture across multiple places. So at my own institution, very soon after I started working there, we passed an OA mandate in our library and then [an OA mandate was passed for] the whole institution—which doesn’t have all that much teeth to it but it was talked about very regularly. It was a high priority. It was something that we were clearly meant to value and I can only assume that doesn’t happen really at all that many places. And the people who were publishing during my tenure [as an editor] came from a mix of places so it wasn’t all R1s by any stretch and that’s great. I’m happy for that. Some comprehensive places, a couple public libraries, not very much, but if the message just isn’t held all that strongly across different parts of our community.
Emily: It seems a little ironic to me, especially given the journal that they were publishing in. [laughs] I just want to note that you rolled your eyes.
Rightfully so. Can I roll them back the other way?
Emily: Despite the OA mandate at OSU, you mentioned that you didn’t really start publishing OA articles until you had achieved tenure. What led you to not pursue that as much until after tenure? Because I would just assume again that your guidelines or your documents for promotion would have something about OA in them if there’s an OA mandate.
So, all of my works are in our repository and for our mandate that was what was requested. So pre-tenure, all that stuff is still in the repository. It was post-tenure that I made the choice to go with fully open access journals that wouldn’t require repository mediation.
Emily: Why is that?
In part to make [long pause] – it sounds overly snooty or something to say I’m helping out those journals, but I guess to make them more of an accessible choice if people are clearly trying to publish in them instead of everybody only trying to publish in Journal of Academic Librarianship, for example, or trying out other venues instead.
Emily: Pre-tenure were you worried about the impact of the journal? What was your concern? Or was it just something you didn’t consider?
I would have had some [articles] that were actually in open access journals but that would have linked more towards the community there. So, for example, a science librarian journal that I published in early on that is online that had open access. It is online. It’s only online. It’s clunky. It’s gotten better so it made sense for the community and that was my goal, so I would say that it was actually more of an outgrowth of me transitioning from my science career—where you have this topic so logically you match it up with this outlet that gets you the most bang for your buck and has the correct scope for what you’re talking about. So those two things being very valuable, that’s what you do and that’s how you move forward [in the sciences]. So that was the messaging I feel like I had most recently and strongly, and that’s what made logical sense to me then. And so it would have been more that it made sense to try and publish in C&RL, which is still open but not quite as easy. So getting in a bigger place was the value I brought from that past experience.