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Re: puzzled by self-archiving thread

My thanks to Charles, David, and Jim for enlightening me on some of the subtleties of journal cancellation. I imagine it must get pretty complicated when, as the "twigging phenomenon" keeps producing more and more specialized journals for smaller and smaller groups of scholars, the use per journal must inevitably decline. But then how, exactly, does one weight a specialist's intense need for a very specialized journal against the less intense need of a broader group of scientists for a journal that spans a wider set of subject matters, with the accompanying differences in "use"? I suppose one could say the same about specialists in the humanities. We publish several journals focused on individual writers-Chaucer, Nietzsche, and Shaw--as well as some with much broader coverage, like Comparative Literature Studies and the Journal of Speculative Philosophy (the latter serving as the journal for the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy). For a Chaucer specialist, The Chaucer Review is a must to read, while that specialist might have occasion to consult Comparative Literature Studies just once in a while. Suppose that, since there are fewer Chaucer scholars in toto than there are comp lit professors, the uses for the former are much fewer overall than for the latter; but those uses are absolutely central for the Chaucer specialist. One could make the same comparison between the Journal of Nietzsche Studies and JSP, where an occasional article on Nietzsche appears. The journals cost roughly the same, so that couldn't be a deciding factor. No doubt what is most determinative, then, is whether the English Department at your university actually has a Chaucer specialist, or whether there are courses on Chaucer taught. Of course, if the journal is so crucial to the Chaucer specialist, presumably that scholar would have a personal subscription, thus relieving the library of the need to do so. Decisions based on use that have to decide which is the more valuable journal-the very specialized one crucial for the researcher in that field or the more general one likely to be used by a larger number of people but perhaps not crucial to any of them in the same way-must be easy to make only if one does not take account of that "weighting" factor.

I go back to my experience as a publisher. We publish a series called "Re-reading the Canon" edited by Nancy Tuana that offers edited volumes focused on feminist interpretations of individual philosophers. It has been very highly regarded overall in the field. A review earlier this year in Signs covered all 24 volumes issued to date. It was most critical of the volume devoted to Ayn Rand. But that volume is far and away the best seller in the series, undoubtedly because Ayn Rand has appeal to a much wider audience than Hegel, Kant, etc. If "use" alone were a criterion of merit, then that volume should be considered the most successful, right?

Or, to take another example in the realm of journals, the issue of Social Text that carried Alan Sokal's phoney article must have received a huge number of hits. Would one therefore conclude that this was a journal worth continuing to subscribe to? The whole point of Sokal's spoof, of course, was to raise this very question about the merits of the scholarship appearing in this journal. It would be a joke on him if its heightened usage managed to rescue the journal from cancellation!

So, I still have doubts about what "use" actually tells us. Popularity isn't everything. If some major authorities on a subject tell me that a monograph we are considering is absolutely first-rate, I am going to want to publish it and will consider it a service to scholarship even if it is not widely reviewed or does not sell many copies or is not checked out of the library many times. It may ultimately influence only a very small handful of people, but it may be critical to those scholars' development of their own ideas, which may go on to have much wider circulation. Similarly, a journal could be targeted at a relatively small number of experts, and hence have few recorded uses, but nevertheless have an overwhelmingly important impact on those few readers.

I would hope that some way to evaluate journals could be found that actually could focus on the merits of the content, and not just use a proxy like usage-just as the new MLA Report calls on promotion and tenure committees actually to do the hard work of evaluating the content of the junior faculty member's publications, rather than rely on the proxies of "prestige" rankings of the book publishers and journals where the writings appeared.

--Sandy Thatcher
Penn State Press