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On The Journal of Folklore Research in 2013

2013 was a very busy year for me. It was a great year, but it was overly full at work and so-called work-life balance thus was not much in evidence. I am hardly unique in this regard and I continue to count myself among the very lucky–fully employed doing (scholarly) things that I both love and that I am reasonably good at.

One opportunity that made 2013 overly full was my appointment as Interim Editor of the Journal of Folklore Research (JFR). My work on JFR actually began in fall 2012, when I had worked in the role of (this is a mouthful) Interim Editor-Designate. In fall 2012 I was asked to step in as interim editor to span the end of Moria Marsh’s long editorship and the start (in January 2014) of Michael Dylan Foster’s more permanent editorship. (Michael was committed overseas during 2013.) What was needed was a faculty member in the Indiana University (IU) Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology who already knew about journal editing and who could hit the ground running. That seemed to describe me and, although editing another journal was not something I was trying to do (I was already editing Museum Anthropology Review), it was clear that the team needed me. JFR is a key journal in folklore studies and I care about its future even if I had not anticipating having a direct role in that future.

(Parenthetical notes on JFR and open access… My advocacy for open access projects is pretty well known, thus observers may wonder about my having gotten entangled with a toll access journal. My work on JFR ran in parallel with my work on the Open Folklore project, my involvement in campus open access efforts at IU, and my role as a faculty advisory committee member for the IU Office of Scholarly Publishing (OSP), the new campus organization that encompasses the Indiana University Press alongside IU Library-based campus open access efforts. JFR is published by the IU Press and relies on Project Muse and JSTOR. While JFR did not magically become a gold OA journal during 2013, its alignment with OA goals did increase to a degree. In 2013 JFR got a new author agreement that allows JFR authors some self-archiving rights. More importantly, larger conversations relating to the OSP will, in time, impact JFR and other IU Press journals. We do not know what this will look like with much certainty, but it is clear that JFR will change to accommodate changing publishing norms and scholarly practices. Serving JFR for just a year, my main assignment was to hold things together under the inherited model. I think that this goal was accomplished, but I would not have undertaken this stewardship role if I did not believe that JFR has a promising–and more open–future ahead of it. How to accomplish this is a big task for the future. In the meantime, I was devoting labor to a journal that was (at least) operating on a not-for-profit basis and one that was, as I took it on, being published by a new campus unit that has open access aspirations at its core.)

I had the honor of serving as JFR’s editor during its 50th anniversary year. I did not work alone. JFR 51(1) will include a published appreciation from me. Here I will just note the wonderful support that JFR has enjoyed from outgoing editor Moria Marsh, former managing editor Danille Christensen, current managing editor Steve Stanzak, current editorial assistant Miriam Woods, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology (FOLK) chair Diane Goldstein, FOLK fiscal officer Sheri Sherrill, FOLK accounting associate Michelle Bright, the IU Press journals staff, and the IU ScholarWorks staff. Many people help make JFR a success. They deserve our collective thanks.

What got done on my watch as Interim Editor of JFR? When I took over the journal it was two issues behind schedule, thus two issues for 2012 needed to be published in 2013 alongside the three current numbers for 2013. (As journal publishers know, such a situation is dreaded but not uncommon.) This was accomplished and the first issue for 2014 also went to press during 2013. This means that the staff and I engaged with editing and production work on the following:

JFR 49(2)   132 published pages, six published items
JFR 49(3)   120 published pages, four published items
JFR 50(1-3)   299 published pages, eleven published items
JFR 51(1)   117 published pages five published items

In total this means that we did editorial work on 668 typeset pages of JFR content spread over 26 published items. During my interim editorship, JFR produced two years of content in the space of one year. The journal is now on track and on schedule to be handed off to its new editor in a few days.

On the editorial throughput side, JFR was somewhat challenged in 2012 due to a lack of accepted content. This contributed to (but not was not solely responsible for) the journal being behind when my work with it began in fall 2012. This difficulty was also addressed during my time as interim editor. During 2013, we read and processed fifty article manuscripts divided as follows.

20   Reviewed and Rejected in 2013
16   Reviewed and Accepted in 2013
14   Received in 2013 and Still in Process (ex: “revise and resubmit”)

At an average page length of 35 pages in manuscript form, this throughput for 2013 is approximately 1750 pages. Throughput is a very dynamic matter. It is easy for a journal to have too few submissions and too little accepted content and it is actually possible (especially, but not solely, with print journals with their fixed issue lengths) to have too many accepted articles (leading to long waits for authors). The sweet spot is hard to find and, once found, hard to stay in.

Every editor wants abundant submissions of excellent, field-defining quality, but even here it is possible to have too much. As in so many areas, attention is even more of a limiting factor than money. Authors of articles submitted to, but not accepted by, JFR during 2013 did not get from me the kind of careful feedback that JFR-submitting authors of the past benefitted from. I apologize here for this lack. Given other duties and the scale of the JFRs own work overall, it was not possible to provide meaningful developmental editing to all submitting authors. Given the changing scale, pace, and nature of scholarly publishing overall, I am doubtful that any medium scale journal will be able to consistently provide such feedback. On the smaller scale, it should remain possible for journals such as Museum Anthropology Review. On the larger scale, we see the rise of developmental editing as a fee-based, a la carte service. (We live in interesting times. Consider the example of Rubriq.)

Returning to words of thanks, I want to thank all of the authors who JFR worked with during 2013. Thank you for your engagement with the journal and the fields that it serves. Thank you for your patience and goodwill during a time of change. Thanks finally to the many peer-reviewers without whose labor and careful judgement the work of JFR would falter. Your contribution to the gift economy of academic publishing is priceless.

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