Heroes, fools and scholarly publishing (by Dr. Mela Sarkar)

The editors of scholarly journals have one hell of a hard row to hoe. I say this in sympathy, never having had the courage to take on the job myself. Note that “job” in this context carries no expectation of remuneration. Editors spend hours, days and years reading manuscripts, sending them out to equally-unpaid reviewers they have to cajole into keeping to deadline, and dealing with authors along a spectrum of angelically cooperative to diabolically recalcitrant. I make no mention of the quality of the scholarship being written about, which is, as we say, “orthogonal” to the issues above. Editors then have to put all the pieces together into journal issue after journal issue.

In Canada, in addition to doing all this, which they do on top of their regular academic day jobs—teaching, research, endless committees—from time to time editors have to DROP EVERYTHING and work on a federal grant application for Aid to Scholarly Publishing funds. If they don’t, there’s no way to pay the managing editor, printers, copy editors, post office bills, etc., that are needed to get the journal issues out.

Editors do this because they believe in the worth of the enterprise and they care about it being done right. At least, all the ones I know do. As a member of my professional association, l’Association canadienne de linguistique appliquée/Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (ACLA/CAAL), I got to know Joe Dicks and Paula Kristmanson, the co-editors of ACLA/CAAL’s own scholarly journal, the Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique appliquée (CJAL/RCLA). Through many board meetings, I listened with awe and admiration as Joe and Paula, both at the University of New Brunswick, updated us with grace and good humour on fluctuations in submissions, acceptances, and of course precarious sources of funding.

At the far end of the country, Danièle Moore and Murray Munro at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver have worked away tirelessly for several years as co-editors of the longest-established applied linguistics journal in Canada, the Canadian Modern Language Review/Revue canadienne des langues vivantes (CMLR), first issue 1944. At our semi-annual executive meeting in Ottawa a few days ago, Murray, Danièle, and the associate editors reported to the board. It was forcibly borne in upon me again that practically nobody realizes how much frantic offstage running around goes on during the editing of a journal. As academic consumers, we expect journal issues to drop into our outstretched hands like ripe fruit, fresh, rich and palatable.

Editors of scholarly journals are, in a word, heroes. I salute them. And in the context of applied linguistic/sociolinguistic scholarship in Canada, I rejoice at being able to salute two newcomers to the ranks of heroic unpaid backstage editorial workers in scholarly publishing, BILD members Alison Crump and Lauren Godfrey-Smith. One week ago, on November 16, 2017, the first issue of BILD’s own journal, J-BILD, hit the metaphorical stands. Have a look, go on, just click on the image:

You can do that because we are an online open-access journal, like ACLA’s CJAL. Unlike CJAL or the CMLR, though, we have as yet no budget woes, because we have no print runs and no budget; we are running on pure love and lots of unpaid hours put in by Alison and Lauren. Like the editors of any journal, they are being helped by dozens of reviewers, copy editors, and technical people behind the scenes (all volunteers). Unlike the editors of most journals, they are overseeing a review process that is not blind-peer-reviewed. As Alison and Lauren say in their opening v1n1 editorial, we “believe that the anonymity in the traditional publishing model does not guarantee scholarly rigour,” so we have opted for the non-anonymized peer mentor model. The “contributions and commitments of peer mentors who work directly with authors through the revision process…. provide authors with respectful and constructive feedback on their work.” But this also “develops a sense of collegiality among J-BILD mentors and authors, once again, contributing to the goal of building community” (Crump & Godfrey-Smith, 2017). This isn’t the first time this model has been tried, but it is the first time in applied linguistics or sociolinguistics in Canada.

I am proud beyond measure to be part of this new venture. I also recognize how foolish it may seem to launch with such temerity into the unknown. Can we keep it up? I don’t know. But I do know that at ACLA and the CMLR, we have occasionally asked ourselves the same question, so I feel that J-BILD is in good company, as well as in a welcoming community.

Reflecting on the possible foolishness of a small group of unfunded mavericks starting a new journal out of the blue, I remembered the mythical character of the Fool in Western tradition. He shows up in high and low culture alike, in King Lear and on the Tarot cards used to tell fortunes. He is the grandchild of the archetypal figure of the Trickster. The Fool goes forward enthusiastically into an uncertain future. He doesn’t exactly know where he will end up, though he has the next few steps planned out (maybe); he just knows that where we are now isn’t quite right and it’s time to move. As ancient and modern commentators alike have pointed out, the Fool points the way to transformation.

Technological innovation is currently in the process of changing publishing, including scholarly publishing, out of all recognition. The BILD blog is itself one small example. In the rapidly-evolving landscape of journal editing, it may be that radical transformation is what is needed. And, it may be, quite a few fools.

 

References

Crump, A., & Godfrey-Smith, L. (2017). Editorial. Journal of Belonging, Identity, Language and Diversity, 1(1), n.p.

 

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