How Do Libraries Impact the Peer Review Process?
The blog explores the historical connection between libraries and the peer review process. We highlight the evolving nature of peer review and the role of libraries in educating and assisting researchers, as well as their potential as publishers and innovators in the peer review process.
Updated on May 25, 2023
The establishment of the first library in ancient Nineveh was a precursor to countless developments in information documentation, storage, and retrieval. As these mechanisms for recording and sharing information emerged, processes, like peer review, were needed to check its accuracy and validity. The first account of peer review was recorded around 890 CE.
Since these earliest times, libraries and library professionals have shared a deep, intertwined association with the concept of peer review that is both continuous and ever-expanding. Students, researchers, and library patrons have always looked to reference librarians for education on the subject of peer review and assistance when searching for peer reviewed literature.
Many Library and Information Science (LIS) students and professionals also write academic manuscripts that go through the peer review process and others serve as reviewers themselves. Library organizations, like the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), publish journals and magazines that contain peer reviewed work.
As the function of libraries evolves, their relationship with peer review persists. Today, a myriad of libraries and library consortiums are publishers of scholarly works. they innovate and establish their own peer review processes that take contemporary issues into account and challenge the status quo.
This article discusses how and why the peer review process exists today and its generally accepted role in publishing. It further considers the challenges facing peer review, some of the proposed changes, and the ways in which libraries impact these adjustments.
What is peer review and why is it important?
After completing their manuscript, the author selects an appropriate journal and begins the pre submission process. If the paper meets the journal’s requirements, editors send it to peer reviewers.
These subject matter experts closely assess the validity, quality, and originality of the document. Then, they make recommendations for revisions and potential publication. Depending on the publisher’s guidelines, reviewers may employ one of these models of peer review:
- 'single blind peer review'
- reviewers know the author of the article, but the author does not know the identities of the reviewers
- the most common type of peer review for science and medicine journals
- ‘double blind peer review’
- authors and reviewers are anonymous to one another, personal identifiers are redacted from the manuscript before submission
- most common form of peer review for social science and humanities journals
- identities of the authors and reviewers are known by all participants, during or after the review process
- reviewer's identities may or may not be disclosed to the public after publication
- proposed as a solution to traditional approaches, growing in popularity alongside the open access movement
Peer review is crucial for maintaining a level of rigor in scientific publications. It establishes trust between the scientific community and general public by ensuring that peer reviewed research and the resulting articles are administered, written, and reviewed by experts in their fields.
What are the challenges to peer review?
No process is perfect. Traditional systems are slow to change when compared to popular practices in society. Peer review is not immune.
While there have always been challenges to the peer review process, some are exacerbated by the burgeoning technological developments and global collaboration. Here are some of the common obstacles facing peer review:
1) Contradictory feedback
- Because reviewers are interdisciplinary volunteers without specified standards, their subjective views often result in conflicting or confusing recommendations.
- Though research and collaboration are increasingly global, the majority of reviewers represent Westernized countries. This lack of diversity creates an atmosphere of bias.
- Comments from reviewers are more positive and favorable towards work that is affiliated with their own institutions.
- While a significant portion of researchers are women, they make up only a small fraction of reviewers. Gender bias affects both the selection of reviewers and the resulting reviews.
3) Time consuming
- As volunteers, reviewers are busy with their own work. Reviewers may not be in a position to prioritize the peer review process.
- After making recommendations, there is a back and forth between the reviewers, editors, and authors. Comments and concerns from the reviewers must be adequately addressed before the manuscript is rejected or accepted for publication.
- Peer review takes an average of 4-12 weeks, or even longer, depending on the workload and engagement of the reviewers.
4) Varying standards
- Journals not only have unique methods for procuring reviewers, but also have varying peer review techniques and guidelines.
- Even within the same journal, peer review practices and results will vary with each individual reviewer.
5) Limited reviewers
- Reviewers typically are not compensated or recognized for their work, making the process less than attractive to many busy professionals.
- Finding sufficient reviewers for continuously rising article submissions is straining journal publication timelines and reputations.
How is the peer review process changing?
While dilemmas like these are not new to the peer review process, their impacts are growing in intensity. Publishers, editors, academics, and authors are proposing changes to improve peer review to include:
- Incentives and recognition for reviewers in the form of monetary compensation, quid pro quo services, and reviewer recognition services.
- Eliminate or limit revise-and-resubmit to speed up the process, reduce the workload, and keep authors and reviewers on the same team.
- Simplified review criteria saves time and resources, reduces the burden on reviewers, and curtails bias in the review process.
In response to these pressures and recommendations, various players in the publishing world are reacting with innovative business models. For example, The Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) guarantees authors a quick turnaround for peer reviews, 7-10 days, in exchange for payment to publish in one of their open access journals.
Research Square offers another forward-thinking approach by coordinating peer reviews for their open access journal partners. The service not only matches an expert from their database to the appropriate journal and manuscript but also provides an honorarium to the reviewers.
What is the role of libraries in peer review?
As experts in comprehensive literature searches and methodology, library and information professionals are obvious choices as peer reviewers for systematic review manuscripts. However, while many librarians are inclined to participate in the review process, journals often miss this valuable resource.
In response to the disconnect between journals seeking peer reviewers and qualified library professionals, library professionals created the Librarian Peer Reviewer Database. This concerted effort expands the pool of expert reviewers and contributes to its diversity.
Library professionals further impact peer review by helping researchers and authors navigate all dimensions of the process, including:
- Educating them on the meaning, expectations, and timelines of the peer review process
- Searching for credible material when carrying out their research and literature reviews
- Connecting them with compatible journals and institutions for publication consideration
- Deciphering the peer review process and specific requirements of those that are chosen
The potential for libraries to impact peer review is greatest when they fulfill the role of publisher. In this capacity, the publishing library has the opportunity to both outline the standards and practices for their peer review process and to experiment with new models.
For example, some library publications, like the Library with the Lead Pipe, Journal of Radical Librarianship, and Journal of Creative Library Practice, are currently exploring the innovative model of Open Peer Review (OPR). Whether other library publishers and professionals adopt OPR, or only observe the experiments of other disciplines, they are preparing to support researchers and the publishing community.
The intersections of libraries and peer review are wide-ranging and intricate. While library professionals educate patrons on the process, submit research manuscripts to be reviewed, and serve as reviewers themselves, library institutions define their own peer review process and introduce new methods.
Libraries continue to be dynamic institutions, serving a countless variety of communities. their relationship with and impact on the peer review process will continue to expand and persist.