It has to be about the material and whether it’s furthering the conversation

This is the second in a series of three presenting Debbie’s story. In the first part, Debbie shared her experiences submitting to a Canadian journal and one international in scope. Both of her experiences were positive, and she felt that the communication and transparency of the journal systems were a part of that.

In this second part of Debbie’s story, she shares a bit about her experiences as a peer reviewer herself and discusses the process she underwent submitting a peer-reviewed book chapter.

Debbie Schachter

Debbie Schachter headshot
Debbie Schachter

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Position: Director, Library Services & Learning Commons, Langara College; Director, CAPER-BC

Fun Fact: Debbie enjoys going on horse riding holidays in different countries.

I did provide a review in the Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science (CJILS) and it was very helpful to be doing this after having had those most very recent, very different experiences. [The two article submissions discussed in the first part of her story.] It was interesting how the reviewer information was provided. It’s very clear about what they expect the reviewer to be reviewing and how to communicate it, and it was interesting you made that comments and how they can be inappropriate. Yeah, I’m sure they can be. And how they want to be really clear about not stating it’s not up to the reviewer to determine whether or not the article should be published and all of these other parameters. So that was really interesting. In fact, it would have been interesting to look at that even before submitting, because it helps you to think about, “okay, if I were looking at this as a reviewer what would I be looking for.” Even though you know you look at submission requirements– obviously it depends on the topic. It depends how you’ve written the paper, but those edited pieces are an excellent lens to be looking at even when you’re writing a paper I felt. So, that was a really interesting process, too.

Emily: Had you had any training aside from the guidelines that you saw from the journal to be offering a review?

Just subject expertise and really as a higher education teacher and masters and undergrad programs. I took it as those were the qualifications that were appropriate to that extent. Other than that it was the subject expertise.

Emily: But the guidelines were clear enough for you that you felt like you could take that and know what you were doing?

Yes, they were very specific, and I thought that was really helpful.

Emily: You mentioned something about having attended workshops about peer review while you were a doctoral student. Can you tell me more about that? I’m just going to reflect quickly: what I’ve heard from a lot of people that I’ve spoken to is that there’s never been really training or understanding about what the peer-review process looks like as an author, particularly for librarians only in master’s programs who don’t go through doctoral work.

In my program my supervisors did provide a certain amount of information about the peer-review process and specifically they were talking about the need to publish. They wanted us to be publishing and how they looked at our thesis and they said, “well, you can fillet it. I think I see four articles here.” Well, I didn’t have four articles in me. And then really within that context they were talking about that the process, the expectation of whether or not you will actually be accepted, taking the feedback that you receive and doing explicitly what is asked of you. Very similar to the process that you go through with your supervisors when you’re writing your thesis. So that was kind of the lens they put on it. But then a more fulsome workshop I did attend was not within the program but at the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL). They had a stream there which was for doctoral students and there was a very specific workshop talking about the process. They had people up there who – they had a journal editor and people who had done peer review to talk about the process and some of what I said earlier about take heart, they’re looking at it.

And the expectations. That was actually a really good session and the audience was all doctoral students so they were able to ask, the other people were a little more advanced with what they were publishing. That was really the extent of my experience. Really those two sets of conversations.

The ECIL was maybe two years ago now, so I don’t really remember all the details, but it certainly made it clear to me what the process was at the time, which I hadn’t necessarily been fully aware of or understanding how it happened. Obviously, my supervisors were advising from their personal experiences, which they had shared as far as submitting and undergoing peer review, and being peer reviewers themselves. So they did talk a little bit about that process. That was closer to when we were finishing up our program and they were encouraging us to think about publishing. But we were still trying to finish our theses so there’s only so much you can think about.

Emily: I think it’s interesting that you did have these opportunities. I’ve heard a lot of people had nothing. Even as a referee you mentioned that you had such clear guidelines. I’ve had so many people tell me “I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing. There were no guidelines” and personally I think that’s when you get into these issues of reviewers being inappropriate or saying things that are inappropriate. I haven’t heard very many stories of that in librarianship at all.

We’re trying to learn and share in the scholarly conversation

That makes no sense. We’re learning. We’re trying to learn and share in the scholarly conversation so yes; your opinion matters, but it has to be about the material and whether it’s furthering the conversation. And those were the conversations we had. Being recently in a program, you have to lose all of your ego about what you think, whether you write well, whether you’re good at researching, whether you’re communicating your topic appropriately, are you researching the right things. You really have to take the advice from the experts and learn to argue, too.

Emily: What do you think peer review should do or what should it be for? Why are we even doing it?

I do see the value in it because, even if we’re working with others, we do bring a particular lens and we can have blinders on. So I think those points about okay, this is really a North American or American-centric topic. That doesn’t apply to us. Well, that’s not what my research said, so I think the point is that it encourages us to ensure that we are researching effectively, we are communicating effectively, we are adding to the conversation, and that we are testing and evaluating throughout—testing and pushing forward. The whole point is to ensure that we are contributing, and if we’re not addressing the audiences effectively, if we have gaps, that’s really what the reviewers should be pointing out because they bring those expert lenses to this and say “well wait a minute, that’s all fine. What about this? Did you just not think to mention it? Did you miss that in your research?” I think those are the pieces that are more effective. Once published it’ll stand up on the research under its own. Because otherwise it’s back to that “this is my opinion, it’s an opinion piece.” Well, that’s fine but then it has to be taken as such. I find it to be really helpful for developing learning and that’s the learning from the author themselves. Learning from the experts.

Emily: So you see it as a conversation and as a learning opportunity. I wanted to go back a little bit to your experience where you reviewed and then you said you wish you had known what the review guidelines were when you were writing. While you were writing this book chapter, did your experience as a referee influence how you were writing at all or was there a relationship between those two now?

It certainly improved what I wrote and how I presented it.

That happened because the book chapter is basically a paper I presented so that was all right when I was I the midst. I think I’d already received my feedback, so I was definitely thinking about that when I wrote the paper and I felt much better that I had created a stronger paper to present at this conference because it was information for professionals and academics from all over Latin America and Mexico and some from the States as well. It certainly improved what I wrote and how I presented it. So that is why I’m curious to know what the reviews will be like because I made sure to take the international perspective and to look for those examples from research very broadly, but that would also speak to the Latin experience. So was there anything – no, but I found something in Spain, so I used that to help me focus on the particular audience and to be really focused on what was the topic of that particular conference. And so I kept thinking about that. I remember even what one of my supervisors said—and this was what I should have remembered before I submitted that other article—was, “well, says who? Yes, you refer here but depending on the type of journal or publication you need to continually reference, even if you’ve referenced it a few lines before. You have to be very specific and back up anytime you’re making a statement.” So it’s exactly what I was doing in my thesis. I used that very much in my process for the writing for the paper that I presented. But I haven’t seen any feedback yet.

Emily: Is writing and publishing part of your job expectation or is it simply an outgrowth of your doctoral program that you’ve continued to do this?

It’s been an outgrowth. We’re not publishing a lot in this province. There are certain people who do but it’s not necessarily even part of the requirement. We’re a teaching university. So, it’s evolving and they have been. Many of them have done mostly conference presentations and they do have a fair bit of PD time like four weeks of PD time. But they’ll have the option of doing research in the future soon or finding grants and doing research. It has not been part of our university historically. Many of the librarians are faculty. I’m not faculty, I’m an administrator. But I think it’s really important to be leading and to encourage it—to lead this understanding within the university that we are all academics, and we are all contributing, and publishing and research are a form of my contribution. Many of my faculty present papers at conferences and do publish, but many do not. I just see it as a way of also modeling both for the people in my library, but at the university at large because my VP of Academics says “congratulations, I saw that you got those articles published and your expertise in your field.” This is a way of also signaling to the rest of the university the library is part of the academic community, that we’re part of our own scholarly conversations and that does overlap with what you are doing. So, those are some of the reasons why I’ve done that. And then it’s been opportunity. It’s not required.

Emily: Is it part of, for example, UBC culture for librarians to be researching and publishing?

I believe but I don’t think everyone. I think they can choose how they wish to do their PD. They may not be officially part of the faculty association. They might have a particular status. Do you know what I mean? Research and non-research. When doing my research there isn’t a lot – I notice that’s the problem. There isn’t a lot published in BC higher ed. No one is really required to do it.

I just don’t think that’s what inspires them. I find there are some librarians who are really engaged in particular topics and they are writing about student engagement or information literacy in particular. I think those are two biggies. Assessment. But there are a lot of librarians who are doing their collections work. They’re interested in teaching. They’ve never been interested in doing research or in publishing. Like I said our librarians actually do a fair bit, but not everyone. But they do other things like they’ll support conferences and they’ll do much more practical types of activities and definitely workshops and sharing information that way. But it is kind of like our teaching faculty at our university. Many of them do research. Most do not. Pedagogy is what they’re interested in.

There’s expectation for professional development activities, but really faculty can choose what it is they wish to do. So, like I said there are always the keen ones and I think that’s great because it’s great for our reputation. It’s great for their, whatever their career plans are as well. We’ll never be that. That is our mandate – teaching, regional. But maybe teaching and learning like the scholarship of teaching and learning. That seems to be of interest to people so I can see evolution specifically in that research area.

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