In our latest In-Depth Interview with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke to Stephanie Davis-Kahl, the scholarly communication librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University. In building an institutional repository for the college, Davis-Kahl and her colleagues wanted to showcase not only the work of the Illinois Wesleyan faculty, but also their students. She has helped to find several student-run journals homes at Illinois Wesleyan, and serves as faculty co-editor on the student led journal Undergraduate Economic Review. She spoke about the challenges of hosting student-led journals, the luxuries of doing so at a small school, and offered a few tips for librarians looking to enter this rapidly growing field.
Where did your work with students start at Illinois Wesleyan (IW)?
When we started talking about how to implement an institutional repository, we realized that our strength at IW is the work that our students do. We had all this great student work that was out there,and most of it was in text. The enthusiasm in the room during these meetings was around the student work and the research it produced, which is also a product of faculty mentorship.
In this interview series, sponsored by SAGE, LJ goes in depth with this year’s Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more.
It seems like student-led journals and content are on the rise. Why do you think that is?
There are a few things going on. Writ large, higher ed is in something of a crisis, and people are trying to figure out how to make their campuses and programs stand out. Undergraduate research journals are a fantastic way to showcase the work being done on a campus, and they’re also a great model for other students doing their own research to look at. Also, the tech is there, and it’s very easy to set up a journal, either on the service we use, Digital Commons, or just on WordPress. It’s also a very affordable way of promoting the school. You don’t have to put out a print copy—it can all be online, findable, and easy for alumni and admissions offices to send out and showcase what students and faculty are doing.
What do students get out of being involved in a journal while they’re undergraduates?
The publishing industry is changing so rapidly, but it’s not going away. To get students involved in that and have them understand the challenges and also the opportunities that publishing is facing, it’s a great experience for students to be involved in.
This sort of thing requires a lot of collaboration. How have you made the partnerships required to put your current system in place?
I’m really lucky—IW is a small campus, so it’s easy to get to know people. And when you’re talking about helping students get work out there, the faculty are very supportive and interested. We also have a record and history of student publishing, and the institutional repository is valued for a lot of different reasons by a lot of different people on campus, so I rarely have to go in and explain what it is when I’m pitching a new project—just what we’re thinking of doing with it. Of course, establishing relationships is easy. Making a full fledged project come about is harder, and takes time. I find that if we can integrate the work into classes or seminars or students looking for projects, that helps to connect the dots for people.
Talk about how moving to an editorial position on a journal has colored your library work or changed your perspective.
It’s been really fun. One of the great things about being a librarian is you never stop learning, you keep developing new skills, and adding to your professional suite of responsibilities and duties. Librarians deal so much with the products of research, it’s been a real treat for me to learn about it from the other side and get to know about the the concerns others have about the way publishing is going.
For librarians considering entering the student journal fray, what are some tips from someone who has been there?
I would make sure there is sufficient interest in the department as a whole. We’ve had projects that have started, then dwindled. You need to be sure there’s enthusiasm on the part of more than just a few people. The other big thing to consider is that succession planning is so important. It can’t be just ‘this senior wants to start a journal.’ Any new journal needs to start with a deep group, where you’re developing new generations of leaders and they know what the roles and responsibilities they’ll be stepping into entail.