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University of Pittsburgh

July 25, 2013

ULS top international publisher

Shalkar Adambekov (far right), an editor of the ULS-published Central Asian Journal of Global Health, at the Nazarbayev University Center for Life Sciences in Astana, Kazakhstan, with its chief, Zhaxybay Zhumadibov (left), and Sholpan Askarova, Adambekov’s supervisor and the center’s director of biomedical engineering.

Shalkar Adambekov (far right), an editor of the ULS-published Central Asian Journal of Global Health, at the Nazarbayev University Center for Life Sciences in Astana, Kazakhstan, with its chief, Zhaxybay Zhumadibov (left), and Sholpan Askarova, Adambekov’s supervisor and the center’s director of biomedical engineering.

The University Library System (ULS) now is among the top library publishers of open-access international journals, for the benefit of researchers from here to Kazakhstan, Brazil and Indonesia.

These journals are creating opportunities for the wider dissemination of scholarship from abroad, including research from developing countries creating their first English-language scholarly journal, says Tim Deliyannides, director of the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing and head of information technology for ULS.

ULS director and Hillman Librarian Rush Miller says: “We made this an extension of our global outreach as a library system.”

Today, ULS publishes 35 peer-reviewed journals online (www.library.pitt.edu/e-journals/pubs.html). Some are the electronic editions of long-standing print publications, and some originated here, but others would not exist, or would not generate wide enough circulation to garner desirable submissions and gain the necessary reputation to succeed, without ULS publishing their sole editions online.

Deliyannides says: “Our goal always is to promote open access to scholarly research … [and] to increase the research that is available publicly to anyone in the world without subscription barriers.”

Subscriptions to paper journals have long been expensive. Researchers at Pitt can count on ULS subscriptions to tens of thousands of paper and e-journals, but researchers at universities in other countries do not have similar resources. Open-access journals from nontraditional publishers such as university library systems increasingly are becoming the solution.

“Libraries are trying their best to provide the resources that researchers need,” Deliyannides says. “Why should researchers give their research away and buy it back from a publisher at a very high cost? That’s the model that we’re trying to change. One of the ways we can change it is to become a publisher and put forth research results with the same quality as any other journal, but at a lower cost. It’s a disruptive tactic that we’re employing here, to change the status quo, but one we’re committed to.”

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Shalkar Adambekov of Astana, Kazakhstan, an editor of the ULS-published Central Asian Journal of Global Health, says there are many hurdles to publishing an international journal in developing countries such as his. To create a new epidemiology journal and overcome his country’s isolation from a world of scholarship, says Adambekov, who works in the Nazarbayev University Center for Life Sciences in Astana, he and his colleagues faced several problems. Chief among them was the fact that research results in Kazakhstan are printed mostly in Russian, so they aren’t read or cited by non-Russian speakers. Researchers still are using research methods taught in the former USSR, which had a dubious scientific reputation in the West. And epidemiology research is done primarily in the lab in Kazakhstan, while the West emphasizes field research. “We don’t have many specialists in appropriate methodology,” he notes. Nor is there the necessary emphasis on publishing and lecturing about their work.

Also, in more advanced research climates, an institute’s junior scientists often have mentors among the faculty who participate in research papers and become co-authors, giving a kind of stamp of approval to the research even before it is submitted to journals, which is not common practice in Kazakhstan. Overall, Adambekov says, his country’s research was suffering from “the trust problem.”

There also was the money problem: Researchers in Kazakhstan cannot afford the fees traditional publishers charge to recover the cost of printing, which can run into the thousands of dollars. And even e-journals have expenses for technical equipment, design and upkeep.

Two Pitt faculty members provided a solution to all those problems two years ago. Faina Y. Linkov, in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences in the School of Medicine, and Ron Laporte, in epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, were working on a U.S. Agency for International Development grant aimed at improving research capacity for Central Asian public health efforts. The grant allowed them to bring a research methods training workshop to Adambekov’s university, and also provided start-up funding to establish the journal. Looking for workable ways to pioneer such an effort in Kazakhstan, they discovered the ULS publishing imprint. Linkov is now the journal’s chief editor.

“They were readily available to assist us,” says Adambekov. “They are a wonderful resource that the University should keep forever.”

Today, the Central Asian Journal of Global Health, which charges fees to neither authors nor readers, is working on its third issue since first publishing last year. It’s not on a schedule yet; when there are 22-24 articles worth publishing, the next issue will appear. “The journal is growing,” Adambekov says. “It doesn’t have big fame yet, but we are trying to make that work.”

Scholarly journals are judged on their “impact factor,” a rating based on how often and where a journal is cited, calculated by Thomson Reuters Research Analytics. It takes time for journals to gain readership and trust and then to be cited in other research, and Adambekov says his editorial team hasn’t yet applied to Thomson Reuters to be eligible for assessment.

In the meantime, he is happy with their Google ranking. Search for “global health journals” and Adambekov’s journal is 12th today out of 6 million hits; search for “Central Asian journals” and it is first among more than 32 million. “Google likes us, and that’s very important,” he says. “It means we are being watched.”

Perhaps most importantly for the moment, the journal is being peer-reviewed by scholars around the world, recruited by Pitt’s Laporte. Laporte is director of telecommunication for a World Health Organization project that puts him in touch with ministries and universities throughout Central Asia, and he also is the creator of an online “supercourse” that has collected lectures and Powerpoint presentations on global health topics from 55,000 participants and reaches millions with its lessons.

“What we want to be able to do is to serve as a model for other journals in Central Asia,” Laporte says. “Then this model can be used easily in chemistry, physics or any science.” He is beginning to speak to representatives of other countries in that region who are interested in starting a ULS-published journal.

Based on the Google rankings, Laporte says, “We’re really pleased that we have such a high profile out of the box, within a year.”

“That’s why open access is important in a developing country,” says Adambekov. “A lot of people look at your work.”

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ULS published its first journal in 2007 and began offering free e-journal publishing more than two years ago (see University Times, Nov. 24, 2010). For much of that time ULS has partnered with the Public Knowledge Project, a largely Canadian effort, to enhance the open-access software ULS uses (see University Times, Sept. 29, 2011), called Open Journal Systems.

Applicants for ULS’s journal service must complete a proposal that allows ULS to evaluate the focus and scope of the journal, the potential quality of its content, its peer review process and the credentials of its board.

“We’re also looking to see if the world needs another journal in that area,” cautions  ULS’s Tim Deliyannides.

ULS is a founding member of the Library Publishing Coalition, which is in the midst of forming and compiling a directory of other university library publishing efforts. Some universities even have teamed their presses and library systems for their publishing endeavors, Deliyannides points out, including the ULS’s largest publishing competitor, the University of Michigan’s M Publishing.

But of Michigan’s 35 journals, only three are run by primarily international editorial teams and more than a dozen are focused on the state itself or are overseen by University of Michigan institutions.

A survey of 223 universities released in November 2011 by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition found that 55 percent of libraries were contemplating or already offering publishing services, but at that time 75 percent of the institutions were publishing fewer than seven journals.

The ULS has begun to seek modest fees from journals it publishes, currently $1,000 a year, but has grandfathered in such journals as Adambekov’s Central Asian publication, which ULS still handles at no cost.

“We started reaching outside of our institutions” in 2010 to grow, says Deliyannides. ULS also sought journals to publish worldwide, he says “because we’re interested in working with good quality journals from anywhere.”

Now, he says, “We have partners all over the world: India, Turkey, U.K., France, Peru ….”

For instance, the journal Excellence in Higher Education is overseen by both Pitt School of Education faculty and faculty from five Indonesian universities.

Julio Santillán Aldana, managing editor of ULS-published Biblios in Lima, Peru, says that the ULS publishing service for his Spanish-language quarterly about library and information science “allows us to focus our efforts on editorial management processes that are very important for any journal. [And] the reputation of our journal is benefited by having a partner as prestigious [in the] international academic community as this university.”

David Reggio is senior editor of Health, Culture and Society (and a fellow of the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, at the University of London), which is published by ULS and headquartered in the University of the Western Territory in Santa Catarina State, Brazil.

He recalls his editorial team’s concern when trying to create its publication: “The guiding concern was how visibility and coverage could be increased —that is, how more global voices in research could take to the podium of important debate. There was, and is, a need to address geographic variance and the realities facing populations and researchers in both developed and developing countries. Only in this way can we measure the effectiveness of policy.”

When the journal was founded, it was decided that “a mere print journal would have been too restrictive and access too limited,” he says. “An innovative platform for an innovative idea was required. Pitt and its e-publishing initiative fit the bill. The team at Pitt immediately understood the sense, intention and value of the proposal. What’s more, you need a team not only to help with translating initial design ideas and the overall ‘look’ into a reality but to support with more executive and strategic decisions.”

Issue 5 will be guest-edited by a researcher from the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, he says, and Issue 6 by a scholar from Madagascar.

ULS’s platform also is making possible new multilingual journals, such as Études Ricoeuriennes/Ricoeur Studies, in French and English, concerning philosopher Paul Ricoeur.

Co-editors Scott Davidson, chair of the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University, and Johann Michel of Université de Poitiers in France, discovered ULS through George Taylor, Pitt law faculty member and past president of the Society for Ricoeur Studies.

Says Davidson: “The ULS program has been essential to the development of our journal and to the quick development of this collaboration between continents who share the same intellectual interests. We’ve seen this real rapid development of different groups” devoted to Ricoeur studies on every continent except Antarctica, “and the quality and quantity of publications going on in English and other languages has been an amazing thing to watch.”

Taylor, a former student of Ricoeur, notes that “what the ULS is doing is really enhancing the University’s reputation and sense of goodwill.

“In the University community, this project may be less well known, but internationally it is really adding to the stature of the University.”

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature, Volume 45 Issue 23

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