Title: The Scholarly Journal and Disciplinary Identity: An Autoethnographic Reading of The Library Quarterly

Note on this abstract:

This is an abstract I submitted to ALISE for the 2014 conference. I won’t know if it will be accepted for a couple more months (It was accepted), and since it’s not a double peer blind review process, I see no problem posting it now.

I’m posting this abstract for a specific reason. This site will function as a place for my field notes on the project. Since I’m about to add my first set of notes, it seems important to explain the reason for those notes, before I begin posting them, in case the process might be useful to someone.

Update: After the following abstract was reviewed and before final submission to the conference, I made some revisions to the following text. See my GitHub repository for the previous version.

Scholarly journals play important roles in the dissemination of information and knowledge. However, beginning with the early days of science, journals have had other forms of influence (Price, 1986; Hunter, 2010). In particular, journals have contributed to the “building of scientific communities” (Functions of Scientific Journals section, para 3, Schaffner, 1994), and this has been true for the field we now call library and information science (LIS).

In the LIS example, the journal has played an important role in identity formation since the founding of the Library Journal in 1876. Approximately 55 years later, the founding of several scholarly and technical journals, including The Library Quarterly (1931), the Journal of Documentary Reproduction (1938), which would later and in a roundabout way evolve into JASIS&T (Farkas-Conn, 1990), and College and Research Libraries (1939), created additional outlets for the “publication of professional problems” (Hamlin, p. 60, 1981). For Hamlin, the addition of these journals signified a decade of wonders for librarians. In general, though, they helped usher in modern librarianship, evolve areas such as information science from documentation, and provide a cultural record of the efforts made by the people involved – something to refer to and to identify with as members of a community.

This study employs an autoethnographic reading of the first four volumes of the The Library Quarterly (LQ). This includes a reading of 16 issues and 120 articles published in the 1931 through 1934 volumes. In this study, the autoethnographic approach involves describing what it means to be a researcher and an educator in a field where scholarly journals played an important role in shaping the identity of the field. The goal is twofold: to develop a richer understanding of what journals mean for our professional identity, and to develop a framework that will enable future research of how other disciplines were shaped by journals.

Autoethnography is the chosen research design because the act of examining a LIS journal, in its role as an identity shaper, is the self-conscious and reflexive act of a participant observer (Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011) – that is, a member of the community who is studying the community and its history. Two versions of autoethnographic research have been developed: evocative autoethnography and analytic autoethnography. Evocative autoethnography emphasizes “evocation as a goal, for one, and writing narratively, for another” (Ellis & Bochner, p. 432, 2006). Analytical autoethnography, like its evocative counterpart, “seeks narrative fidelity [… and] is grounded in self-experience but reaches beyond it as well” (Anderson, p. 386, 2006). Since one purpose of this study is to understand, broadly, how journals have contributed to disciplinary identity, analytical autoethnography is the chosen research design.

Autoethnographic research in LIS is rare (e.g., Michels, 2012) and autoethnographic readings of texts may be more common but are rare also. Kaufmann’s (2005) “autotheoretical [sic] reading of Foucault” (p. 577) provides a reference point for this study. In that study, Kaufmann interrupts her

theoretical interpretations of Foucault with autoethnographic pieces, textual vignettes of my life gathered through journal entries and books read [… which] function as illustrations and / or counterpoints to my summary of Foucault’s theories (p. 577).

Inspired by Kaufmann (2005), this study functions as an autohistorical, rather than an autotheoretical, reading of LQ. By this I mean I will include historical interpretations, grounded in readings of our field’s literature, of the first 120 articles in LQ with textual reflections of my experiences as a new researcher and educator within LIS. Since data will be collected in this way, my field notes will be public and accessible at https://cseanburns.net/wiki/lq/background.


The motivation for this study originates from recent scholarly communication trends and what these trends mean for the sciences, broadly defined. Specifically, despite the important role journals have had in creating communities and shaping identities, problems associated with the serials crisis and developments in emerging technologies have resulted in some researchers calling for an end to the genre. The arguments include a move to the article as a complete product in itself and to a market-based, decentralized infrastructure (Priem & Hemminger, 2012) where identification, publication, storage, assessment, marketing, search, and preparation are taken over by entities other than the journal (Priem, 2013).

In some cases, re-envisioned publishing models are challenging the traditional journal genre, too. PeerJ, for example, is a recent open access platform that charges authors a small, one time fee. The relevant requirement is that all authors assume peer review duties at least once per year (Van Noorden, 2012). Furthermore, the platform publishes on a continuous basis and is not dependent on publishing actual serials. That is, articles are published soon after and subsequent to peer review and acceptance.

Whether the rhetoric exhibited among the proponents of these trends is convincing, the arguments valid, or the outcomes overwhelmingly desired by the people involved in research activities, it is true that many researchers are becoming more interested in adopting new dissemination technologies (Tatum & Jankowski, 2013) or are required to communicate their data, their products, and their reports in more comprehensive ways (Piwowar, 2013).

Though the journal’s end time is not likely near, these interests and requirements are already having a disruptive influence on the scholarly communication system (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009), which will have an increasingly dynamic future. Also, while adoption of radical new methods of communication may be more appropriate for some forms of science, the state of affairs does beg for reflection on what the journal has done for community. In the process, it will be important to know, if anything, is lost for the culture of science if the journal is eventually dismissed.

Note: I removed the next few passages in the final submission of the conference abstract. But the idea expressed below remains an important part of the project:

Another aspect to consider is that an extreme focus on the article’s importance, at the cost of the journal’s, suggests implications with regards to the continued division of the reading unit. Tatum and Jankowski (2013) note that some open access publishers provide formats of articles that direct

reader attention to specific components of an article rather than an all encompassing presentation or argument […. and] away from the traditional linear structure of the scholarly journal article to an almost postmodern conception of the article emphasizing visual, multiple modes of presentation and online dynamic updating (p. 203).

What will be interesting to know and discuss is not only how such presentation and emphasis impacts community identity, but also how our interaction with the literature is constrained by a predominately query, subject, aboutness, and relevance based framework rather than one that is culturally based — information as increasingly atomized thing (datum) instead of information as a cultural product with a historical narrative.

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  • lq/background.txt
  • Last modified: 2017/02/06 07:48
  • by seanburns