“…this was a thing that really meant a lot to me and so it really hurt a lot when I got these comments that were just basically that it was terrible.”

This is the first in a series of three sharing Sarah Ward’s story. Sarah and I spoke in July 2020. The air was hot, the pandemic was raging, and we both agreed we were happy to be discussing something other than COVID-19 or strategies for remote teaching and learning.

Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Position: Associate Professor, Outreach Librarian

Institution: Hunter College – City University of New York (CUNY)

Fun Fact: Sarah’s undergraduate degree is in theatre production and design with a minor in dance. Her first career was as a costume technician and wardrobe person in various theatre, dance, and opera companies in Chicago. Librarianship is her second career.

Sarah Ward is a librarian at Hunter College in New York City, where she works as Outreach Reference and Instruction Librarian. Prior to coming to Hunter, Sarah worked as an art librarian first at the Met, and then at the Parsons School for Design. When she responded to my call for interviewees, Sarah let me know she had a very particular story in mind that she wanted to tell. The story she shared is connected to publishing and research in art librarianship. It is a story about a project Sarah says is “…the work that I’m actually most proud of and had the most lasting impact.”

When I started working at my current job at Hunter College the library had their artwork hanging in the wall of the library, which I thought was really interesting. And nobody really knew much about it. We had folks who worked at the library had been there since the 80s and they were like, “they’ve been around since then.” So, I started poking around to find out more about this collection and it turned out that it was a fairly significant collection of prints from the 50s through the 80s by Puerto Rican artists. This was really a hot time of printmaking in Puerto Rico—part of it was Puerto Rican nationalists and rallying around the people who were fighting for Puerto Rican independence. The collection had different types of prints—linocuts and silk screens and all different kinds of stuff. They ended up digging through the archives at the college and people kept just finding things in storage rooms and under broken glass and so they would send me a picture and say, “is this part of the collection too?” And I’m like, “yes, it is,” and so I started gathering all this stuff. The research for this took about five years and I actually had two interns helping me at one point and inventorying the collection, learning about the collection. So I pieced together the whole story about this collection of art, which was not insignificant; the history of Puerto Ricans in New York is an important part of the city’s history and continues to be so. At Hunter we have the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and they have an archive in the library, so I started looking around at their collections and discovered they had some of these artists’ works. I ended up drawing enough attention to the collection that we ended up transferring the it to their library and archives for preservation and digitization and they have been keeping them ever since. They have used them in exhibitions about these different art makers and for lots of different things. So the works were supposed to be public art, and they are now being returned to the public because they’re digitizing them and making the finding aids available, which is really cool and that’s what I ultimately hoped would happen.

The way that the art got into the college was that the entire undergraduate student government, in about 1983, started using their money for things that were unsanctioned. They were going out to restaurants and renting cars and all kinds of stuff. And one of the officers went to Puerto Rico and one of the artist Lorenzo Homar’s prints was autographed and signed over to the students of Hunter College. The student officer was Puerto Rican and he went to the island, but he used this money to pay for his trip to Puerto Rico to stay at a hotel and purchased a bunch of artwork with undergraduate student government funds. I started off thinking misappropriation of funds, but then the more I looked into it and the more I thought about the time in history that it happened, I feel like this was an act of defiance and an act of representation. He would’ve been in the era of the children of the young lords and the people who were pushing for healthcare reform and the students who were occupying city college and shutting down CUNY and saying CUNY needs to be free, we need to open admissions. There was a big push in the 60s and 70s for open admissions and for Black and Puerto Rican Studies departments. I’m making wild assumptions about his family, but I assume that in his community he would have had been around other people who were fighting for these things. And so, when he got to Hunter and saw – I need to see my people represented at the college in some way – and so he purchased this artwork as a way to get it there.

So, that’s my speculation. And I know it’s like a big overreach but I do feel like it’s appropriately timed and that perhaps there was a bit of student activism there, rather than just – ‘I’m going to spend money on something that I like.’ It was a fairly well-curated collection for an undergraduate student to be able to pull together this collection of prints by major Puerto Rican artists, but also by people who trained at the workshops of those artists. So it was this nice story through history and art making. Anyway, I thought this was really interesting and also sort of embarrassing for the college, because it betrayed the fact that the college was still not adequately representing students of color who comprise the majority of the student body. They also totally overlooked this misappropriation of funding. Then there was this big crack down, and a big investigation, and legal got involved, and people in the budget office got fired, and so it was this embarrassing thing for the college, too. Anyway, I digress.

Anyway, that’s the research that happened and I thought it was significant and interesting. So I reached out to the editor of Art Documentation, and she’s like, “this sounds like a great story. Please submit your article.” So I submitted it and the first reviewer comments were brutal – so painful. This had been five years of my life and I was feeling very invested in it. It was also my first solo-authored article—everything else I had done had been collaborative—so this was a thing that really meant a lot to me and so it really hurt a lot when I got these comments that were just basically that it was terrible. And the editor was so kind because she said the reviewers agree that it needs significant revisions, so I have to revise and resubmit, which was fine. I took the comments for what they were. Of course they were contradictory just like reviewer comments often are. Some people loved certain parts of it, and some people hated the same parts of it, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

It was a valuable learning experience for me of trying to draw meaning from contradictory statements and figuring out what was important to me to keep in the article and maintaining my integrity as a researcher.

It was a valuable learning experience for me of trying to draw meaning from contradictory statements and figuring out what was important to me to keep in the article and maintaining my integrity as a researcher. I think that especially as a relatively new researcher I was still thinking, “oh everybody else knows better than me so I should take what they say,” and change the things that I had done. And then I started thinking more. I was like, “no this is really important.” This is an important thing for me to include. So I went back and revised and I resubmitted and I got another round of reviewer comments, which were kinder and more constructive, but they still rejected the paper. I was like, “well what do I do now?” I didn’t give up, but I stopped and thought, “I don’t know where else to submit this because it’s about an art collection in a library, it’s part librarianship, it’s got all the things.” And so I paused for a little bit and just regrouped and started thinking. I ended up presenting at the REFORMA National Conference in 2015, which actually was a really good fit for this work because it was still not published and it was still a work in progress. I got some really great feedback from that presentation about the collection and about the work and I thought it was a really excellent place to have debuted the work.

And then out of the blue the editor emailed me and she said, “I haven’t stopped thinking about your article and I really want to publish it and I’m willing to work with you on it.” It was as if she was like, ‘I am the editor; I’m going to decide that this is a thing that I want to publish even if my reviewers disagree.’ I found her email the other day and here is what she said, “I was going through some art doc files this evening and came across your article. I feel like you were so close with it and I really would like to see it published. How would you feel about doing one more round of revisions based on the second group of reviewer’s comments and then submitting?” Because I made the choice not to revise again and resubmit. She was so kind and she went through the reviewer comments with me and said, “here are the things that I think you needed to change or to improve on or modify on this article in order for it to be publishable by Art Documentation.” I felt like that was such a valuable thing for someone who is new to all of this; to have an editor say, “I’m going to take a chance on this even though my expert reviewers have said no,” that she saw something in the work. And it probably me being so immersed in the archival research that I over told the story; there was too much information and so the importance of what happened got lost.

And it read like a narrative, it wasn’t formal, like what you would think of as a typical scholarly article, it read like a story because I was telling about the journey of this collection and my journey with this collection. So she helped me shape it in a way that it would be appropriate. And ultimately it got published and I was super proud of the way that it turned out. It was the research I was most proud of because it allowed a little bit of light to be shed on a piece of history that would have probably gotten lost or destroyed as our library was being renovated because they were just removing things from the walls and putting them in the closets, so the fact that I spoke up and said, “hey this is important” and I got other people involved who were experts and said, “hey this is important and we need to do something with this.”

Emily: One of the things that you started talking about early on as you were relaying this experience is how emotional it was for you because you had spent so much time working on this project. I would like to unpack that a little bit. Were the comments really personal and harsh?

Knowing what I know now, and in retrospect, of course harsh comments are going to feel personal if it’s something that you really care for.

Actually revisiting this after a while is really good because at the time it felt personal and I don’t think it was. Do you know what I mean? It felt personal because of my investment in the research, but I don’t think that they were. I think that that’s why I had such a reaction to it is that I was so invested in it I wanted everyone to love it. Knowing what I know now, and in retrospect, of course harsh comments are going to feel personal if it’s something that you really care for. It’s so funny to look back at these emails about “I found another print.” [laughs]

Emily: You got everyone onboard. It was like a treasure hunt.

Yeah. It was like a treasure hunt. That’s actually funny that you say that; that was one of the comments that somebody made in a derisive manner, “this reads like a mystery story,” and I was like, “it kind of was, so it’s okay that it read like that.” It was just funny. One of the reviewers said that it wasn’t appropriate for Art Documentation, which I disagree with. They wanted more of a connection to art libraries rather than just art and libraries. “This paper does tend to read like a newspaper article.” That’s what they said. So, it was journalistic rather than academic, which I took very harshly, but now I’m just like, yeah it really is actually and that’s fine. You know what’s funny, is I’m reading these now and they’re not that harsh but they felt really harsh at the time.

A lot of it was stylistic that they didn’t like, which I think felt more personal because it was my voice and so they were criticizing my voice essentially.

They didn’t like the informality with which I wrote it. Because it was a personal journey story, I wrote it from the first-person perspective. It felt very silted for me to say, “the researcher blah, blah, blah” because it’s me; I was doing the work. The reviewer’s said it needed to be formalized and to remove my presence from the article, which I utterly disagreed with. I was like, “I can’t remove myself from this because I am involved in it.” They didn’t like the personal narrative style. They all thought that it filled a gap in the literature, which was nice to hear. A lot of it was stylistic that they didn’t like, which I think felt more personal because it was my voice and so they were criticizing my voice essentially. Here’s one: “this article isn’t engaging enough. It’s not an engaging story and reads like a mystery.” [laughs]

Emily: When I hear people say that their work is rejected or made to be revised based on voice and style, especially if it’s not performing academic tone, that to me reeks of elitism and privilege. That is my personal reaction to those comments, and especially since you say it’s about your personal experience. It’s a phenomenological approach. It sounds like you were able to get it published, but that was only because you had a champion in the editor. Do you feel like you were still able to have your voice and your tone?

Yes. Because as I’m looking through these notes the first round of reviews was three reviewers, and that reviewer number two was the one who, of course, you focus on the ones that hurt your feelings the most, so that one is the one I focused on. And I’m looking at reviewer three’s comments and theirs were super constructive and helpful, and I actually incorporated a lot of their comments into the article eventually because they said “the style is not what we usually see in this journal but it’s appropriate for the unfolding of the story” and I was like, “okay validation.” Somebody saw the reason why I wrote this thing. And then they also gave me suggestions like, “can you connect it to this historical context to me?” Or “can you connect it to these other types of things? This is a singular event but it’s not unique; there’s other things that have happened that you can connect to this.” They gave me some very good suggestions for other sources to look into, which I ultimately did. So it’s funny to look at this now and think how I only focused on that one really negative review and this one was really helpful. It really was that the editor ended up seeing promise and taking a chance on me. And again, the second round of reviewer’s comments were better, more helpful, less harsh but still wanted substantial revisions, that I didn’t think would take the article in a direction that I wanted it to go, and so I started looking for somewhere else to publish it. So I don’t know that they were as personal as I took them, but that second reviewer really hurt my feelings. And that’s silly now that I think about it.

And the funny thing is I’ve written my share of these academically-toned articles; I’ve written plenty of research studies with other people in this academic voice and I felt like an art library journal would be a place for it, there would be a little bit more freedom to have a narrative. And I had read Art Documentation–not everything is hard-core social science-y research-y, they include other kinds of stuff as well.

Emily: Do you think that if you hadn’t heard from the editor you would have continued to pursue this?

I don’t know. That’s a very good question because I see now that I tried another journal and they also said out of scope for the journal, like they were interested in the story but they said it’s not really in their scope. I just didn’t know where else I could publish it. I feel like in library science literature research librarians who are publishing things like that, we often think, “well wouldn’t it be great to publish outside the discipline?” But then you get into –I also am not a historian and so I would feel really outside my realm in a history journal or in an art history journal because it’s not my field. I know enough to guide students in research in those areas, but I’m not an art historian and I would feel like it would get torn to pieces if I tried to publish it somewhere else. And so I felt stuck because I didn’t know where else it would fit because it’s at that intersection of art and history and libraries so where else do you put it?

I was so disappointed because I had worked for so long on this and it was so important to me I think I ultimately – presenting at REFORMA really helped me see the value in the research for the impact that it had rather than for my tenure portfolio– and that was eye-opening to me. When I got into academia I was so idealistic at the beginning that I thought I don’t want to just publish for other librarians, I want to have my work have an impact and most of what I published isn’t read by anybody but librarians. Fine. Whatever. But this I felt like it was important enough culturally and historically that I was glad, even if it couldn’t be published, that it had made a difference in preserving a bit of cultural heritage that was important to New York. I feel like at least at the very least the collection and the representation of these artists was not taken care of. And like it’s in the hands of people who will care for it such their library archives are something that they do so much great work with Puerto Rican history and featuring like Puerto Rican lives in New York and stuff like that. Anyway, it’s a good thing that it happened even if it never got published.

“I am sure that there are many voices that are being excluded because they can’t surmount some invisible hurdle that we don’t necessarily have justification for.” On power and privilege

This post is the fourth in a series of four sharing Amanda Nichols Hess’s story with publishing, peer review, and thoughts on open peer review. (Her first chapter, “Did I just get a dissertation that is completely worthless…” discusses feelings of imposter syndrome both as a newer writer, and as an experienced one. Her second chapter, “I think in seeing other people’s work it’s reinforced in me what I find as an author to be valuable” elucidates her approach to refereeing. Her third chapter, “Peer review should be a formative feedback process”: collaboration and mentoring, discusses her view of peer review as mentorship.)

Amanda and I spoke in late July, 2020. She was the first person I interviewed this summer, after I re-opened a call for interviews. In this concluding chapter, Amanda reflects on power and privilege as it is reflected in peer review.

Amanda Nichols Hess

Amanda Nichols Hess

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Position: Coordinator of Instruction and Research Help/ Liaison Librarian for the School of Education & Human Services

Institution: Oakland University Libraries

Fun Fact: Today, November 3, 2020, Amanda will be working, for the first time ever, as a poll worker. She’ll be working at the county level to count absentee ballots, which will be critical in her battleground state.

Emily: You said something I want to circle back to. You said something about how your colleague mentioned that your writing style was more – you didn’t use the word informal, but you did say that it was just reversing sentences. And this is something that I think about a lot. I feel like in academic writing we have to perform with this privileged way of talking and I think it very much does come back to power and privilege. There’s one thing when a sentence isn’t clear and you are struggling with clarity. But the voice, to me that’s very frustrating for me to hear that it’s almost like you had to perform for a particular kind of writing style in order to get your work noticed or seen and published That, to me, is also back to that elitism of what we see in the top journals. And then who do we exclude when we do that? So I don’t know if you have any thoughts or reactions to that.

If I was a new librarian, a librarian who perhaps is in an underrepresented group who has heard their whole life that they “don’t write in an academic style” or they don’t have the voice that one is supposed to use or they’re not using correct grammar or whatever, I could see that having a much more detrimental effect or more long-lasting effect.

I do think there’s a distinction—whether that should be the case or not is arguable. If we talk about elitism and who’s being excluded by voice and tone and narrative style, I mean, I am a cis white woman in a very female-dominated profession. So you want to talk about privilege. I’m at one end of the spectrum, right? The very privileged end. If I’m being excluded because of my occasional way of flipping my sentences around, and that’s what people see as serious grammatical issues throughout an article, then I am sure that there are many voices that are being excluded because they can’t surmount some invisible hurdle that we don’t necessarily have justification for, or we don’t necessarily explain or state clearly. An idea that, “this is the way the writing should be done and this is why and this is the value that it has.” Because I think some of it’s just stylistic. It truly is stylistic. Maybe my peer reviewer who said that would have something different to say on the matter, but I agree with you. And for me as someone who, at that point had published a good amount of articles, had experience, it was something that I was able to rebound from. I could go into a toolbox and say, “okay, here are the personal reflective tools that I know work for me, so I’m going to take a step back. I’m going to take all their notes out and put it in a separate document where I’m compiling. Then I can see the comments that each reviewer had in summary about different sections, and I won’t see it as a person is attacking me in this way or criticizing me in that way. I’m going to talk to colleagues.” But these are tools that I have developed over a period of time. If I was a new librarian, a librarian who perhaps is in an underrepresented group who has heard their whole life that they “don’t write in an academic style” or they don’t have the voice that one is supposed to use or they’re not using correct grammar or whatever,  I could see that having a much more detrimental effect or more long-lasting effect. It wouldn’t make someone think, “I can publish peer-reviewed scholarship” or “I belong in this profession” or “I belong in this kind of a job. I can make it work in a position where I’m expected to do this kind of a thing.” Yeah, I agree with you and I can absolutely see the power dynamics there are maybe invisible to some, but probably just those who have privilege like me and like the reviewers of various journals.

Emily: I don’t have any data to back this up, but a way I’ve started thinking about it is that academic writing is a performance of whiteness—in our profession maybe not as much, but maybe—if you look at the gender breakdown in academic librarianship there are certainly more male-identified people in academic librarianship than in public librarianship. At least the last time I looked at the data. But I think it’s also a performance of maleness. So I feel like academic writing is a performance of white maleness, whiteness and maleness. I am also a cis whitish woman. There’s that Jewishness in there which is what I call ‘provisional whiteness.’ You’re only white until someone says you’re not white. But I did grow up with parents who are academics and so I’ve seen people performing this my entire life. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be someone who — regardless of race or ethnicity or gender identity– just didn’t see it performed their whole life. That is a barrier in and of itself and then you add all of the other things. Yes. We’re in agreement there.

Can you tell me what you know about open peer review and if you have an opinion of it, and where you see it fitting into our community?

I don’t know much about open peer review other than that I can figure out what open peer review is by context–knowing what peer review is. I think in a lot of academia in general — not just librarianship, because I’ve done peer review for different conferences whether it’s a university conference on teaching and learning or other conferences where they’re looking for peer reviewers for their submissions — I just think there’s this attitude sometimes that there’s a malicious intent that’s assumed and it’s not always the case. Now, in other disciplines maybe that is the case, but I actually feel in librarianship we’re so conscientious and we’re so, “Oh, I want to make sure there are no conflicts of interest here.” I would be totally fine if, let’s say tomorrow I submit to CIL and they say, “Your peer reviewers are this person and this person.” Or, “This person or this person, this article was written by Amanda Hess and she works at Oakland University.” I mean, the fallacy with peer review often is, for example when I talked about that one article that I reviewed that was all over the place, the first one that I did that helped me really think more critically about how a peer reviewer would look at my article. I was like okay, you’ve blinded this but you haven’t really blinded this.

All of the things that you’re saying about your institution I can figure out what your institution is. I can figure out who you all are. I’m a librarian. I know how to search the internet, okay? I can figure this out. So I think it’s like saying, “oh, I wrote my dissertation on Midwestern University.” We’re like yeah, I can see where you work so I know that’s where you’re doing your research. It’s this layer of distance that we think gives us some unbiased writing or some impartiality and that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist.

I just think if we said, “Okay Amanda, you’re reviewing this article by Emily Ford and here’s the article as it was written.” Then I can say, “Oh, let me see what she’s really talking about at Portland State or what else she has written on this topic.” And I could say “Oh, this gives me a fuller picture of this person’s work” and I could maybe give more targeted feedback, more beneficial feedback or I could understand her scholarship in context. So maybe that’s a one-way blind, so maybe you don’t know who I am. But then I think if you then know who I am, and I know who you are then we can have a conversation about it. So, I could say, “Here are my comments. Bob and I’m cc’ing Emily. Emily and Bob, if you guys want to talk together about it or Emily, if you want to talk with me about it you have what I have shared with him. He has what I’ve shared with you.” Everyone is looped in and I understand that maybe that would create more work for the reviewer but I also think it’s not necessarily not meaningful work. I think for me as someone who is a peer reviewer the value I get is thinking, “Okay, I’m helping these people.” Not every peer reviewer is like that, but I almost feel like if you opened it up and you said yeah, this might be a little bit more work for you if you have to be accountable to somebody else when you’re like, “Hey Emily, that was uncalled for and mean that comment that you made about me. That wasn’t constructive. That was just criticism.” I think you have to be more cognizant about what you say and you also have to be willing to stand behind your comments. Then you have to say, “Yes, I stand by it, and here’s why.”

I know that there are issues. I know that sometimes I’m very Pollyanna, and I’m seeing this as “this could be beneficial and I’m sure say we’re all conscientious, ethical librarians.” We’re not all conscientious, ethical librarians. There’s always baggage and issues — this person did this to my friend, or this person is this way, or this is what I’ve heard about this institution. I mean, I know there are issues and I know that there would be conflicts, but I think open peer review could really help address some of the issues that I think people complain about librarianship. Like,“We don’t have enough rigorous scholarship. It’s all these case studies or there’s not this real deep research like you see in other social science disciplines.” The way to build capacity, I think, is through processes that help people learn and grow and develop. And if you don’t want to build that up then you’ve got to value other forms of scholarship. If you want something different, you’ve got to do something different. Or if you don’t want something different, then you’ve got to accept what it is. I would be absolutely willing to submit to a peer review process that was open, and I would absolutely be willing to be an open peer reviewer, for people to know Amanda Hess is the one who reviewed my article. I think that would help me be probably more constructive in my comments even though I try and always be constructive. I could absolutely learn from that process, too, as a peer reviewer but also as someone who’s being peer reviewed.

Emily: I mean there’s so much behind that too. You have tenure now so it’s different for you. You mentioned that with something else where you could put the articles away for a while and think about them because you felt safe. There’s so much of that. I guess in my experience open peer review has been the more robust feedback. I can have a conversation with somebody. And I appreciate that. Certainly there’s issues with it as well. The fallacy of opacity. It’s not really true. I guess we’re coming up on time but I don’t know if you had any other things you wanted to say or thoughts….

I don’t think so. As you can see, I’m not shy. Maybe I’m a reviewer because I’m like, “I’ll share my opinion!” I joke with all my colleagues when they ask, “Will you look at my article?” I’m like “Yes, you know I love to give you my opinion on everything.” Even if you don’t ask for it, I’ll be like here, let me tell you what I think.

Emily: That’s also protected by tenure.

Yeah. You better integrate my feedback if you want a good letter of evaluation. [laughing] No, I think it’s really interesting, and I think the way that you are talking about sharing this information about peer review in a way that is like, “This is who said this. This is what this person’s experiences have been.” I think that’s really intriguing to me and, I think, really powerful.

Emily: I think one of the things that I am a little bit concerned about with this is that I’m opening up these conversations. I want to put your name on it. I want to be able to say “this is Amanda. Amanda works at this place.” I’m wondering if the fact that you’re willing to share your identity is because you have the privilege of all of your privileges. Your whiteness, your cis-ness, you’re a woman in a woman-dominated profession, your tenure. I’m struggling with that a little bit because my ideals of “well, we should all share openly!” Who am I excluding by doing that? I guess my hope is that by seeing people share openly and honestly that people who feel maybe less safe because of tenure status, because of being a minority in our profession or whatever, my hope is that they also feel comfortable sharing. I don’t know, we’ll see. I don’t know if I’m going about it the right way. I don’t know. I can change it up later.

I am comfortable talking about a lot of these things because I have tenure…

Well I absolutely agree. I think part of the reason that I am willing to share my name, where I work – I mean even when I’m talking about I’m a peer reviewer for this place, I mean, you could figure it out. I think it’s on my bio page. I am comfortable talking about a lot of these things because I have tenure, because I have gotten past the imposter syndrome, research insecurity kinds of feelings that I’ve had. But yes, five years ago even, certainly nine years ago I would not have been able to say, “Yes, please share my name or share my information. I don’t care.” I agree that there are probably people whose voices maybe are not being shared, but my hope is that people with privilege who share and who put themselves out there in everything. People with privilege need to put themselves out there to make it safer for people without that privilege. And to check that privilege and to hopefully diminish some of the privileges that come with various statuses and various identities.

“Peer review should be a formative feedback process”: collaboration and mentoring

This post is the third in a series of four sharing Amanda Nichols Hess’s story with publishing, peer review, and thoughts on open peer review. (Her first chapter, “Did I just get a dissertation that is completely worthless…” discusses feelings of imposter syndrome both as a newer writer, and as an experienced one. Her second chapter, “I think in seeing other people’s work it’s reinforced in me what I find as an author to be valuable” elucidates her approach to refereeing.)

Amanda and I spoke in late July, 2020. She was the first person I interviewed this summer, after I re-opened a call for interviews. In this chapter of her story, Amanda reflects on peer review as a collaborative process that should be approached as a mentoring relationship.

Amanda Nichols Hess

Amanda Nichols Hess

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Position: Coordinator of Instruction and Research Help/ Liaison Librarian for the School of Education & Human Services

Institution: Oakland University Libraries

Fun Fact: Amanda was once interviewed on the BBC about a creative nonfiction piece that focused on her Greek and Turkish family history.

What Amanda pointed out as a learning process in her previous chapters, I like to think of as part of mentoring and collaboration. She discusses early mentorships with colleagues, co-authoring articles at the beginning of her academic librarian career. But she also sees that there is learning as a referee and author, whether these are formal reviewing relationships or informal mentoring relationships with colleagues who read your work and offer supportive comments. There is also a role for Amanda to play as someone who acts as a mentor.

I think the emotions that I have felt around peer review—the fear, the insecurity, the frustration, the lack of clarity.  The lack of –I don’t even want to say transparency because part of the process is that it’s blind—but just the lack of understanding of the process sometimes, especially as someone who didn’t have experiences as a graduate student, as a researcher assistant who was working with a faculty member on publishing or working on research. I just think there’s so much assumed knowledge that we just think “Oh, well people think they know how this process works” and I don’t think I did. Even in seeing some of my colleagues who were hired after me, whom I’ve worked with, or who are working through our tenure and promotion process, I think it’s the same for them. And so I think there’s this level of secrecy, or I think sometimes it can be kind of scary to people or intimidating because there’s this unknown. I feel like I’m happy to share my experiences on both sides of the table to maybe make that a little less unknown or a little more known to people.

I feel like that would have helped me when I was first starting. I had some mentors, informal mentors or people who were willing to help me or work with me or talk with me about the process. I’ve published in different journals, some of which are more along the lines of, “We view peer review as a way to help authors improve. We try and work with authors as much as we can to get them to a point where their article can be published,” and some that use peer review as a real filtering tool to say, “This is our submission rate, but then we only publish a small percentage of those.” I really have found the former to be a lot more valuable than the latter, but I understand every publication and every editor and every editorial board has different motivations.

Emily: I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned the role of the reader. When I initially was doing my intake survey for interview participants, I asked folks how they identified in relationship to the literature. Reader was an option, but very few people marked that box.

The experiences that have stuck with you as more positive are those where peer review is approached as developmental or a collaboration, where it’s like “we really want to support you to get your work out there because we see something good in it.” You contrasted that with journals where peer review is treated as the filter. Maybe there are people that do want to help you with it, but the approach of that help is different. So in your view what should peer review do and what should it actually be for?

I really think of peer review — even when it’s blind — I can’t think of a better word than mentorship.

So I guess I skew more toward peer review should be a formative feedback process. I think for those journals where it’s a weeding or filtering out process, I feel like it’s a summative evaluation. It’s a yes or no. Or, of course, there are revisions. “Give us some revisions and then we’ll think about it again, we’ll reconsider.” I’ve had some of those, too, where it’s like, “we request revisions.” I do the revisions and then they say, “No, we don’t think so.” It seems like maybe you could have told me that in the first place if that’s where you were going to go. I really think of peer review — even when it’s blind — I can’t think of a better word than mentorship. Because I feel like mentorship connotes this idea of, “I’m an older, sage, wise, experienced person with a more junior, less experienced learner.” I think as a peer reviewer, as an editor, as an author, as a reader I’m always learning.

No matter what side of the equation I’m on or what role I’m in. I think that a peer review process should be a learning opportunity, because even if an article is outside of the scope of a publication they can just say, “yeah, this is outside of scope.” But I even think then there are opportunities to say, “these kinds of resources or these kinds of publications may be a good place for an article on this topic.” That says nothing about whether there are issues with the writing or how the research is done or the contents of the actual article necessarily. When peer review is most valuable to me, it is something that allows people to learn and grow and develop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be toward some magical ideal of, “This is what an academic librarian who publishes peer review scholarship, this is what their writing looks like.” Because I feel like here are all kinds of places to share one’s work. It doesn’t have to necessarily be through scholarly, peer-reviewed, top-tier publications or what we would say “top tier” whatever that means. I think at least in our library, and I think in my institution, and I think in other conversations that I’ve heard or been a part of, I think we are getting to the point where peer reviewed isn’t necessarily always the most impactful or doesn’t connote the most value. When we talk about value, what are we valuing? Are we valuing that this person can write in the conventions that we ask them to write in that reinforce various power structures? Or are we saying we want someone whose work really has a community impact, or impacts our profession more generally or increases equity, diversity, and inclusion, or increases access to information, or increases access to ideas? I think I’m fortunate at my library to have a colleague who really pushes those ideas of alt-metrics, which is really not the right way to really describe it, but that idea of measuring the impact or the value of our scholarship in different ways. It doesn’t have to be a peer-reviewed journal that’s behind a pay wall. For example, it’s interesting that we’re talking about this today because I recently – I think it was in 2016 – I published an article. I published an article in Communications in Information Literacy with a colleague in 2016 or 2017, and that’s an open access publication. I have a Google Scholar citation alert set up, and I get so many notifications that dissertations, articles, publications from all over the place are citing that piece because people can find it. People all across the world and at all different kinds of institutions. It’s funny, my sister set up the same alert so she’ll send me emails like, “Why are you being cited by this Ukrainian article?” I feel like at a very, very fundamental basic level that, to me, is a case for more open information because I can say, “Oh yeah, this article, which was published—in my mind—in a very high quality journal that’s open, it can have much more of an impact because people are able to find it and their institutions don’t have to maintain subscriptions.”

I’m getting way into the weeds now. I’m taking about something completely different, but I feel like peer review should be a tool that helps us advance, progress, move forward our profession. The professionals within the profession helps all of us to develop, whether that’s someone on the editorial side who says, “Well, this is how I think writing should be.” That person should be able to learn and take a step back and check their privilege and say, “is that really true? Do I understand what this person is saying? Am I being nitpicky?” And in turn, authors should be able to say, “Okay, well I’m learning that this place is really focused on helping growth and development and this is the place where I want to be publishing, not this place where they’re just worried about their acceptance rates or their impact factor” or whatever.

Peer-reviewed might not even be the best thing depending on the topic, depending on the kinds of scholarship being shared or the kinds of information being shared.

But I think it goes up a level to our profession or leaders in our profession having an understanding and knowledge of and acceptance that peer-reviewed isn’t the only thing. Peer-reviewed might not even be the best thing depending on the topic, depending on the kinds of scholarship being shared or the kinds of information being shared. And that other ideas and other ways of sharing knowledge and information have value. They just don’t fit into our established power structures. I know at our institution I think we have such a chip on our shoulders as librarians about the master’s as the terminal degree. We don’t know how we’re doing scholarship. We don’t produce the same kind of scholarship that other people do. We don’t get the million-dollar grants that other people get, that we’re so focused on peer review that I think other ways of disseminating ideas sometimes get shortchanged. We have to go through the faculty review and promotion board, so we’ve got to make sure that we are up to snuff with everybody else. I think we are changing in some ways but I think that’s in part because we have people who are in digital humanities and doing things in GitHub and they’re like, “This should be considered valuable. This is my scholarly output.” These things fall outside of peer review but they still have a lot of impact and value and really advance both librarianship but also other disciplines as well. I don’t know if that really answers your question.

Emily: I think it is peer review when you sit down with your colleagues informally. One of the things that in my work with peer review and researching it—and I am an advocate for opening up peer review to be much more transparent—it’s those conversations that, for me, have always been so fruitful. And it’s the relationships with journals where their aim is to help you improve your work where it’s more collaborative. I guess that’s my approach. That’s what makes our work better, is being able to have that honest dialogue and with someone you know-or maybe not even know-but someone you trust and it can be a more human experience than the robots with no identity.

The last chapter of Amanda’s story will be published in the coming weeks.

“I think in seeing other people’s work, it’s reinforced in me what I find as an author to be valuable”- Reflections on refereeing

This post is the second in a series of four sharing Amanda Nichols Hess’s story with publishing, peer review, and thoughts on open peer review. (Her first chapter, “Did I just get a dissertation that is completely worthless…” discusses feelings of imposter syndrome both as a newer writer, and as an experienced one.)

Amanda and I spoke in late July, 2020. She was the first person I interviewed this summer, after I re-opened a call for interviews. In this chapter of her story, Amanda reflects on her experiences serving as a referee, and how it has improved her own scholarly writing.

Amanda Nichols Hess

Amanda Nichols Hess

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Position: Coordinator of Instruction and Research Help/ Liaison Librarian for the School of Education & Human Services

Institution: Oakland University Libraries

Fun Fact: Amanda has two dogs, George and Gracie, who she dresses in costumes related to their names on Halloween.

After Amanda reviewed the transcript of our discussion, she said she felt like the reflective process was an important component to highlight, no matter what role you find yourself in. I agree. Amanda’s experiences with imposter syndrome show how she has used personal reflection as an author, but she has also had experience with reflection as a referee.

I remember the first submission that I reviewed, I was really struck by the lack of organization. As I was reading it, I thought, “Oh my gosh, this reads like this was an internal report that they’ve cobbled pieces together because someone said, ‘hey, you should share this.’” I also remember thinking, “This seems like something that’s been coauthored by a bunch of people – it has really good information, but it’s too all over the place and has no organization.” For my own practices as an author, I definitely thought, “this is really useful to see.” I remember at the time thinking that I could see myself writing something like this, so I needed to remember some of these things that I observed. I know the difficulties of being the first author and trying to make a consistent narrative voice throughout the paper or throughout an article, or of being a second or third or fourth author and being okay with the first author making it sound how they wanted it to sound. But I was just really struck by the lack of clarity and voice, and I really felt like it really took away from, or made it difficult for me to really get to, the really important contents.

I also think it’s like a three-headed monster. I’m a reader, I’m a reviewer, and I’m an author.

They had really good ideas and it was really meaningful, but I thought there were barriers that are in the way of that. And some of them were purely formatting. Like I said, “Okay, well if you can have a structure of headings or a structure of organization that helps me to say – as a reader – I’m going to jump to this section.” I had an editor hat, but also a reader hat, because whenever I’m a referee, I take the view of, “Okay, if I’m reading this article when it comes out, what am I going to think? What’s going to be difficult for me? Or what’s going to really stand out for me? Or what am I going to want more of?” So maybe it’s a duality, but I also think it’s like a three-headed monster. I’m a reader, I’m a reviewer, and I’m an author.

I would say I definitely bring my quirks and tendencies and preferences as an author to my refereeing or my editing. I think about what I appreciate from reviewers as an author, and I benefit from comments that are focused and concrete. I hate the comments of, “There’s a lot of literature on this topic out there” with no examples. It’s like you want me to go on a fishing expedition. Even if it’s an example or two – I reviewed an article or a submission recently and I thought, “oh, I have seen these couple of articles that might be useful for this author to consider,” so I included the citations. If I’m an author and I’m already working on trying to get a piece polished and published, and I have a full time job,  and I probably have a life outside of this, too, I cannot just pour through all of the literature ever written to try and fulfill some reviewer’s specific need that they really want, which is maybe that they really want me to cite them, but they don’t want to suggest it directly.

I think about myself as a reader.

I feel like this is how my head is when I’m reading something that I’m peer reviewing, or something that I’m blind peer reviewing, or something that I’m looking at for a colleague. I think about myself as a reader. What do I want to see? What really strikes a chord in me? What do I want to see more of? What is less interesting to me or what do I feel like gets too much in the weeds? What do I think could bring more clarity to their ideas and highlight those really important ideas? What do I think is maybe getting in the way of some of that clarity? And often that’s a heading structure. I know I’ve said headings, like, half a dozen times now. I love headings, obviously.

I also think that I go into reviewing any article that I read – whether it’s a colleague’s, whether it’s a submission to the journal where I’m a peer review – with the attitude of, “This is a good article. This person is a good writer. This is worthwhile. There is a place for this in the literature, whether it’s in the exact journal that they want to submit to, or whether they’re not sure where it should go.” I really view manuscripts in a positive light. I’m not someone who has a grading mindset, who’s trying to dock points or that the author has to earn something. I go in with an open mind because I also think if it’s coming through a journal that I’m working as a peer reviewer for, it’s already passed various markers of the editor saying, “yes, this fits within our scope.” I’m not going to see something that’s offensive. I’m not going to see something, I would hope, that would raise my hackles or make me feel like this is unethical or anything like that. Again, I think part of that is the fact that I really trust the editors and the editorial board of the journal that I’m a peer reviewer for. That may not be the case everywhere.

I think in seeing other people’s work, it’s reinforced in me what I find as an author to be valuable in getting things really ready for publication when I submit them.

When I think about being an author and giving peer review feedback, I really try and think, “how would I want to hear this if I was the author of this article?” I just try and be an empathetic person. I try and be kind while still being constructive. I really try and point out what’s working really well, especially if there’s some criticism or constructive feedback to give. I try and follow that hamburger approach. I want to make sure that even if I think, “Okay, this article is a hot mess” or “This article needs a lot of work,” there are always good things to build on or positive things to say. Comments like, “This is really interesting” or “This is where I would focus” or “I want to see more of this. I’m sure that this is there and maybe just make it more apparent to the reader.” Sometimes, I think that, as an author, you have things in your head that you think are clear and they are not necessarily clear to others. I think in seeing other people’s work, it’s reinforced in me what I find as an author to be valuable in getting things really ready for publication when I submit them. So having another set of eyes, really carefully looking through things. Going through an editorial process myself a couple of times to correct mistakes, find gaps, try and catch spelling errors. The simple stuff. It’s never perfect. I always have those anyway.

Maybe this goes back to power dynamics, but I’ve reviewed a couple of papers where there’s a page count or a word limit in the journal that I review for and I’m like, “You have widened the margins, you have shrunken the font size so that you can be to the page limit. Really, if you follow the other guidelines which are 12-point Times New Roman, one-inch margins, you’re like eight pages over.” At that point, I’m like, “Okay, authors, you really need to focus in on what’s the most important thing.” I think, again, that helps me to think about being clear as an author. Sometimes you’ve got to kill your darlings. Sometimes you’ve just got to cut out the things that are really personal to you or strike a personal chord for the interest of being clear and concise and focused for your readers. I guess I think of myself in three ways as I’m looking for a paper whether it’s mine, whether it’s a colleague’s or whether it’s for a journal it’s like author, editor and reader, potential reader.

Amanda’s story will continue in the coming weeks.

“Did I just get a dissertation that is completely worthless? Do I know what I’m doing?” – The pendulum swing of imposter syndrome

This post is the first in a series of four sharing Amanda Nichols Hess’s story with publishing, peer review, and thoughts on open peer review. Amanda and I spoke in late July, 2020. She was the first person I interviewed this summer, after I re-opened a call for interviews.

In this chapter of her story, Amanda talks about the pendulum swing of imposter syndrome, how these feelings were present for her after having an established career and history of publishing her writing.

Amanda Nichols Hess

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Amanda Nichols Hess

Position: Coordinator of Instruction and Research Help/ Liaison Librarian for the School of Education & Human Services

Institution: Oakland University Libraries

Fun Fact: Amanda’s very, very, very loud typing is infamous among coworkers and can be heard down hallways in a crowded library (when people used to work together and crowds gathered).

Amanda came to librarianship from a school librarian background and experience in the K-12 education system. After having been laid off and working in a non-librarian position, Amanda got a job at Oakland University Libraries. Because Amanda came from the K-12 system, and because she had never pursued writing and publication in her graduate education, she found the prospect of research and publishing intimidating.

I was not somebody in graduate school who had publication, writing for publication, writing scholarly articles or even professional articles on my radar at all. So when I first came to my institution…I didn’t realize what that meant, or what that would look like for me when I interviewed for this job… But the first year that I started, I had serious imposter syndrome. I was like, “I do not know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to do academic publishing kinds of writing.” … So, I was fortunate to have a couple of people who, not really formally mentored me, but were helpful to me as I got started. One was a colleague who was very experienced in writing articles and collaborating with other colleagues on scholarly writing. And then another was a former colleague who left K-12 education at the same time as I did and got a tenure-track position as an education faculty. So he dragged me along a little bit, and my work colleague helped me.

I feel like despite not knowing what I was doing, I learned as I went. And then once I got a couple of publications under my belt, I thought, “Oh, I can do this. I can figure out ways to find things that I’m doing or that I’m working on or that I’m interested in that are interesting to other librarians or to other even educators more broadly.” And so I think coming from a different environment, coming from an academic experience in my library graduate program where I was very focused on pedagogy and working on developing lesson plans, I felt very much like I had to compensate for my lack of experience or lack of knowledge in the scholarship area. I really focused heavily on that in the first couple of years of my job, and I feel like I started a ball rolling and then it just kept on going.

Emily: It sounds like your transition from school librarianship/teacher librarian to academic librarian was a little formative for you. Your success was largely in part to some good mentorship and collaborations with colleagues. And tenacity it sounds like.

[laughs] Yes, I think a healthy dose of fear, too. “I have to do this. I never want to be a disappointment.” These are deep-seated, childhood, baked-in ways of thinking. “Okay, I have to do this right. I have to send something in that’s polished, that’s well done. I don’t want to reflect poorly on my institution.” So yes, the first couple of years I was very, very aware of, “Okay, I have to make sure this is perfect before I submit it for a first pass.” I think I’ve let go of some of that now. The comments I get now are definitely not comments I would have gotten in my first couple of years where I was so focused on just trying to do it right and just trying to get something out there.

Sometimes when I see certain comments in reviewers’ feedback, it triggers that fear of imposter syndrome in me.

Sometimes when I see certain comments in reviewers’ feedback, it triggers that fear of imposter syndrome in me. I’m like, “Oh, what are they saying?” I have found effective strategies for my own mental processing on how to separate the content of the review comments and the emotion that I feel, or the knee-jerk reaction that I feel when it feels more critical than constructive. But it can be hard, I think, when you are not having a dialogue with somebody, when you’re just seeing words in an email, or words in a feedback system or on paper. You think, “But don’t they know how hard I worked on this?” and “Don’t they know that I considered that?” No, they don’t know any of that. So I figured out how I can manage separating the — very meaningful — constructive feedback with what feels like personal criticism, which it is not. That’s my own issue. [laughing]

If I think about my most recent work that I submitted for peer review, and I think about the first attempts that I made at peer review, they are different but they’re maybe not what you would expect.

The first couple of articles that I submitted and wrote weren’t analyzing big sets of data. I called them case studies, but they weren’t classical or traditional case studies. It was like, I’m going to describe what we did at our institution and back it up with research and literature. And when I submitted, I was very fearful.  I got a response back that was, “Yep, we accept your article.” There were no corrections, no changes needed. And I was like, “Well, this is easy!” I mean, it wasn’t easy because I really honed it and had people look at it and I was very critical on my own work of how am I going to submit this for publication…But the first thing that I wrote and submitted on my own for peer review, it was just the smoothest process probably I’ve ever experienced.

That was the case with my solo written articles the first couple of times. And then I feel like I settled into more of a groove of: have an article written, you’d submit it to a journal and they’d say, “Oh, this is really out of scope for us,” or they’d request revisions. But then more recently I had this very large dissertation, mixed methods, so I had interviews and some quantitative data. I took the interviews and more of the narrative data and was able to get a book out of it, but then I have this quantitative data that I was like, “Well, I think there’s meaning here” but it just didn’t work in a book. I was like, “Well, maybe I can make some articles out of this.” And so I’m riding high. At this point I think, “I actually know what I’m doing in research. I’ve taken research methods classes. I’ve written a dissertation. I’ve done all this. I can just clean it up a little bit and submit it.”

Well, first of all that wasn’t the case. I had to do some legwork, more legwork than I expected. I was like, “Oh, I’m redoing all of this work. I’m redoing this lit review.” So it was more effort than I had thought. I sent out inquiries to editors of two journals and I said, “Would you be interested in something like this? I think there’s a lot of data so it would be more than one article. I’m not sure if you would want it to be comprehensive.” Both editors said, “Oh yes, we’d be very interested.” I thought okay, great. I have real quantitative data, which is often not found in library literature and especially not on the topics that I’m researching and publishing on.. And I’m like, “Okay, great. I’m going to get some really top-tier journals to publish my work.”

And both of these articles were the ones where the reviewers were like, “This author is a terrible writer. This person does not know how to write. There are so many grammatical errors.” I’m like, “Excuse me?” They were just summarily rejected. I take that back. One journal editor was like, “Our reviewers really don’t think this fits, but I would be happy to work with you.” They were very constructive and they really tried. But at the end of the day they’re like, “We just can’t publish this.”

I felt very defeated…

I felt very defeated and I had to really put those away for a while. And when I was able to come back to the articles and to the comments, I was able to get more clarity. It’s not that they necessarily weren’t constructive, but I felt like it all just hit a little close to home.

That’s kind of personal because you’re really talking about my ability to write. I feel like at this point I’ve published enough that I feel like I can write for an academic audience. Or their comments were something to the effect of, “This person doesn’t know what they’re doing in terms of analyzing their data,” or “These statistics are wrong.” I’m like, “Did I just get a dissertation that is completely worthless? Do I know what I’m doing?” So it really led to some self-doubt and some questioning …So I gave myself a break. I took a break and I was like okay, I’m going to go back to some of the tactics that I had used in the past, or I had a colleague read a draft. I told them, “I’m really struggling with this. I think I’m too close to this. This is the feedback I’ve gotten. What do you think of this?” I asked people whose opinions I really value, whom I knew would be straight with me, who would sit down and talk with me about this.

In one case, that colleague and I talked it through and she said, “I think, for example, why they’re saying ‘this person has so many grammatical errors’ is that your writing style is more like how you speak, which actually makes it really easy to read, but it’s not really academese.” She said, “You’re flipping things around in your sentences, so if you go through and see a comma, go back around and try and change that.” I’m like, “Oh – that’s actually something I didn’t really realize I did,” but now that she pointed it out, I see a lot more now in my first drafts. So in talking with her and in looking at my articles, I could see the issues that I had. I could see this is why these were maybe rejected, and also because I was still trying to be too broad, or I was providing details in the way that really weren’t helpful or really weren’t targeted at a library audience.  I was still in that dissertation discipline, since that’s really its own thing, and that wasn’t useful. I was able to, again, finesse, revisit, and even break my research down into smaller, more manageable chunks. And when I did some of that I was able then to find a journal where an editor was willing to work with me. I got some really good constructive feedback from peer reviewers, and from there it was like the dominos fell. I was able to see more clearly these were the changes that I needed to make. These were the issues that people were having with how to understand what I was trying to say. Because it was dense. It was statistical research and I needed to put it in more practical language. I’m generally really applied in how I look at my research, and I was really not doing that. I was trying to get away with some laziness in how I was talking about my statistics and talking about how I did my analysis. And the reviewers were catching me on it. When I finally came around to talking with a colleague and finding a journal where they really were willing to work with me and they said, “We think this has value but we think it needs a lot of work,” I was able to really clearly see how I could clean up other pieces of data and present them in a way that was meaningful for other publications.

I was fortunate that I had the luxury to do that

I really struggled with the feedback that I got from the first round of reviewers and also the figuring out how to take that feedback and make it meaningful. So it really took me some time to sit with it, think about it, and even step away from it and not think about consciously, but turn it over in the back of my mind. I was fortunate that I had the luxury to do that because, at this point, I had gone through tenure and promotion at my institution, so I wasn’t as if I really had to push to try and get things out there. If I had that experience when I was still under review, I would have been a basket case. But I feel like I was able to take more risks and stick my neck out there a little bit more. I could let those things simmer and not just shelve them or throw them in the garbage can. I had the flexibility to go back to both peer review in a very formal sense of going through journals’ processes, but also talking with my own peers at my institution and saying, “Okay, where am I going wrong here? What am I missing? What’s not making sense? What doesn’t make sense to you?” I found that the ability to have a conversation with somebody across the table in our library café–when we used to be able to sit with people in the café–it was easier for them to tell me, “I’m not getting this,” and for me to say, “well, this is what I mean.” And then they could respond that, like “oh, okay, I understand it now but this is the area that I think is tripping you up.” That’s not really a peer review in the sense of what you’re probably looking at, but that kind of dialogue was just really helpful for me in surmounting the most challenging or upsetting peer review experience that I had, which was my most recent peer review experience. It’s very fresh in my mind.

Amanda’s story will continue in the coming weeks.

Why Stories?

Recently I was catching up on my podcast listening and was delighted to hear Radiolab’s Latif Nasser talking about how he finds stories. “I tell myself that there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth… and if you presume that one percent of those 7.5 billion people have those stories, there’s no way all those stories are getting told…There’s an infinity of stories all around us.” I truly believe that when we open ourselves to others’ experiences, we in turn reflect on our own. We have much to learn about ourselves by listening to others.

For years I have been fascinated by peer review and moving toward open peer review. I’ve thought about it, written about, and even helped develop some experimental open peer review processes. But I have truly come to believe that this work, while important, cannot have the same effects on others unless we sit down to listen to stories. To really listen. And really listening means that we will also reflect. And then we might take action.

But we cannot take action if the only way we can listen is confined. Allowing stories to filter into the open, where more people can listen, so more people can learn will better position us to take that action. It’s not just the sharing that’s important, it is that we openly share.

Peer review is essential to our work, but it is also imperfect. It introduces bias into the literature. Many publications lack clear reviewer guidelines, or reviewers do not use the guidelines to review. Reviewers in blinded review processes may not have accountability for their words or actions. Most peer-reviewing is hidden labor. Students may not learn how to provide peer review, nor do they learn what processes they may face as authors undergoing it. Our scholarly rewards system is broken and relies heavily on the tradition of peer review. This system introduces systemic bias. All this and more.

But we really don’t have that much evidence in LIS. We don’t know what people have experienced. We don’t know the challenges they have faced. We don’t know the wins. It will be in human experience. It will be in stories where we can discover evidence. That is why stories.

Welcome to Stories of Open

Stories of open began 3 years ago, when I sought to expand my research on open peer review. I was looking for a more involved qualitative research project that would gather and share personal experience narratives about peer review and open peer review in Library and Information Science.

As such I began to codify for myself a research project for an upcoming sabbatical. My aim with Stories of Open was always to gather and share personal experience stories. With an accepted book proposal, IRB approval, as well as a forthcoming sabbatical, I began to gather stories in the form of interviews. These stories, and their analysis using narrative inquiry methods, are forthcoming by ACRL Press.

But that is not enough. Everyone has a story to share. According to educational researcher Jeong-Hee Kim, narrative research’s purpose is to “… invite readers to a sphere of possible contact with a developing, incomplete and evolving situation, allowing them to re-think and re-evaluate their own views, prejudices, and experiences” (p. 235). Kim, Jeong-Hee. Understanding Narrative Inquiry. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2016.

I am continuing to conduct interviews. My sincere hope is that I am able to share the transcripts of those interviews–our colleagues’ stories–on this website. The stories won’t be heavily analyzed, and the transcripts won’t be heavily edited. They’ll be offered in readable and digestible form.

My hope is that reading these stories inspires you to share your own, either here or with a colleague. My hope is that reading these stories makes you think about how our community can work to improve peer review. And my sincere hope is that the changes we collectively make to peer review will make it more just, more equitable, more inclusive, and our literature more diverse.

Please contact me if you would like to share your story or open or your experiences with peer review.