The system was meant for me

This post is the second in a series of three comprising Hannah Gascho Rempel’s story. The first post, When you look at a body of literature…, discussed some of Hannah’s current involvement and curiosities about scholarly publishing, stemming from the history of scholarly publishing, to her experiences as an editor.

In this second story part, Hannah unpacks her privilege and successes in scholarly publishing, and discusses limits of LIS education.

Hannah Gascho Rempel

Hannah Gascho Rempel
Hannah Gascho Rempel

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Position: Professor and Science Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries

Fun Fact: Hannah was on sabbatical in the Czech Republic last year and enjoyed doing things like going to soccer matches and people watching while riding on trams and subways (and working).

Emily: You said 30 minutes ago that you were good at publishing. You have a book forthcoming that you’re working on. You have multiple articles. How do you think you got good at it?

I practiced it. I’m a white girl who school was meant for and designed for. I follow the directions. I know how to follow the genre rules and play by those rules and adjust myself accordingly. The system was meant for me.

Emily: How did you learn to serve as a referee?

…during my journal editing days…I was actually the third referee on every single article…

So I was thinking about that ahead of time and ironically (or just whateverly) I actually have not refereed very many times. I have referred less than five times overall so more of my refereeing came during my [journal] editing days when I was actually the third referee on every single article—sometimes to a more or less degree—but every single article I reviewed. Which isn’t the way it looks on the outside, but at least at that journal that’s how it really happens on the inside. How I learned to do it: some through my first experience publishing back when I was still in horticulture; observing how my advisor—I can’t say that I ever observed her reviewing another article and how she gave that feedback, but I saw the feedback we got from the main article that came out of my thesis work and how she responded and taught me to respond to the feedback. And so [observing] what feedback was valuable and what could easily be dismissed. And so taking that logic then and trying to focus on the kinds of valuable feedback [in my refereeing]. Otherwise in librarianship all of the instances [journals] that I did review in had a [peer reviewer] form to fill out and so that was the guidance that was given there. But more of it, I would say, has come from the feedback I’ve gotten, not just in my plant sciences world but in librarianship, and what I’ve observed as being helpful feedback and then I tried to mimic that myself.

Emily: It sounds like there really wasn’t anything formal. It was just somebody who took an interest to be a good advisor and mentor you. Was that standard in horticulture and plant science?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I wouldn’t say that it was exceptional, that she was the only one, but there were certainly people who would not have had that experience. I would say it was common enough that other professors I’ve interacted with who would be a similar age to me, would have had that experience as well. Whether it was the advisor or a postdoc that you sat next to didn’t matter, but there was definitely some apprenticing sort of approach to it where you saw how somebody else did it, how they responded to feedback or gave feedback themselves, and then you learned that way.

Emily: If you didn’t have that background how would you have learned to do this if you just went to librarianship and not with the masters in plant science?

Yeah, that’s a good question because the closest I guess I can say that I would get is at Oregon State University. We have had a research and writing group that does meet regularly, although less so now, but we also have kind of informally [a network of] people that you know are [good at giving] certain kinds of feedback. So you would go to X person. You were coached early on that you go to X person if you want copy editing feedback. You go to X person if you want structural feedback or deep thoughts kind of feedback. And so I learned more obviously probably from the deep thought sort of feedback givers. There are a couple of people like Janet Webster would be one of those people so you get feedback from them a time or two and then you’re like, “I got it. Every time I should do the methods like this,” instead of whatever other way.

Emily: That’s interesting because it sounds like even though you have this group, whether it’s formal or informal, but it’s been an on-the-job experience. It’s not like in library school you’re learning about this process. As a journal editor do you have any stories of seeing reviews that were just totally out there where you had a reviewer two? How did you manage as the journal editor, the reviews you were seeing and then sending to authors?

…I saw my role to mentor the authors…

Yes, I do know reviewer two. In my experience, I’ll start with – I saw my role as the editor to be a mentor to authors. I understood that in librarianship people haven’t had the training in this. So, when the question always comes up should you have learned X in library school. I have no expectations that anyone should have learned anything in library school. I don’t start with that premise at all. I’m amazed if we come out with anything. [laughs] Okay. I’m being flip; I know that’s not really true. What I mean is that library school represents a snapshot in time of some of the values of that discipline. And it isn’t possible that school will be able to predict all the twists and turns of an individual’s career, or all of the changes to a discipline or profession. It will always be a work in progress. So, I know that they haven’t come out with anything [training related to academic research writing that leads to published articles] so I saw my role to mentor the authors, which, for me, meant then that I would take the reviews and triangulate what was given, make sure to read the article myself (I would always read an article when it came in to see if it was appropriate and to see if it matched the scope). But then I would do a second read and particularly, depending on the feedback given by the reviewers, I’d take a deep read and give extensive feedback myself so that I knew in context what the reviewers’ feedback meant. I didn’t hide reviewers’ feedback ever. So, if there was a horrible reviewer two it wasn’t like I hid their feedback. But I would contextualize the feedback that was given and bullet out what I expected the actionable feedback to be for the author so that they were addressing that rather than two contradictory smorgasbord approaches of vanity items from the reviewers. So that all said – I am trying to think of an actual instance of a reviewer two. I am having a hard time coming up with reviewer two. What I had was so many cursory reviews that were so insubstantial as to be meaningless, and that’s what led me to need to do a really deep read. Because if there was nothing there I would have known based on my first read, that the content, the idea matched our scope. But the execution, whatever it might be, needed work and no info was given [from the referee]. So the more realistic situation was that, in my view, reviewers had no idea how to think like scholars in that way and provide feedback that could lead to action and improvement.

Emily: And why do you think that is?

Back to library school.

Emily: Okay, so it comes back to this lack of training?

Yeah, so lack of a research-driven approach to our profession. That leads to having that training whether that comes from library school or on the job or whatever it might be.

Emily: Who do you think should be responsible for that? You say keep going back to library school but obviously it’s not happening in library school.

Well, this kind of writing isn’t an end goal of many librarians. So for public librarians, for example, who have no clear need to publish, some might have a desire to publish and would work at it, but it’s definitely not an across the board [expectation], whereas the expectation in academia as we know it, is if you’re going to get your degree in physics, the jobs in physics will be professor. Here’s how that works and the apprenticing is very clear. Librarianship doesn’t necessarily end with this as the goal, so I think without having tracks in library school – so I went to the University of Washington’s iSchool [in the mid 2000s]. There wasn’t really an academic librarian track so it wasn’t a way to specialize along those lines. That’s the only way I guess I would see it happening is if you were required to do the work of apprenticing for that profession.

Emily: You keep using this word apprentice and I really like it. It’s not one that I’ve heard someone use before with librarianship as much. You hear internship but it’s not necessarily the same as apprentice. I had this idea while you were talking why don’t we have editorial apprentices? Why don’t we do that? It seems like it would be a really rich training ground to learn a lot of all of the other stuff.

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