Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“Totally crappy:” Library magazine adds quotes from vendor without authors’ consent

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Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.43.15 PMTwo librarians who wrote a feature story for the magazine American Libraries say that editors added quotes from an educational company without their consent.

The feature, “Special Report: Digital Humanities in Libraries,” was included in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of the magazine, published by the American Libraries Association. It includes some data from a survey conducted by the ALA and Gale — a company that sells digital resources, such as a collection of British newspapers beginning in the 1600s. According to the survey, an “overwhelming 97% of libraries agree” that digital resources like those archives should be available in library collections.

The authors aren’t objecting to that statistic. What they are objecting to, they say, is the journal’s decision to include some general quotes from a Gale representative, without checking with them first. The authors — Stewart Varner, a Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University of North Carolina, and Patricia Hswe, who co-heads the department of Publishing and Curation Services at Penn State  —  say they first learned of the quotes when they got the magazine in the mail.

On his blog, Varner calls it a “totally crappy” situation, and explains “the article was edited after we thought we had turned in the final version:”

…we feel it is grossly inappropriate for a magazine that is supposed to represent libraries and librarians to insinuate a vendor’s perspective directly into an article without the authors’ knowledge or permission. This is especially true when the vendor has a very obvious financial motive for being part of the conversation.

Here are the quotes the authors are objecting to:

‘We were hoping to find out what changes were taking place in the library, whether libraries really were seeing the demand for support in DH research as the profile-raising opportunity Gale feels it represents,’ says Ray Abruzzi, vice president and publisher for Gale Digital Collections.

And:

‘Gale is looking at a range of support services, from cloud-hosting data all the way down to project-level support, and we’re trying to create a range of services to meet libraries at their individual point of need,’ says Abruzzi.

Gale is part of Cengage Learning. In an editorial note that went up after Varner’s post, the magazine noted that the company did not have input into the article.

Varner writes on his blog:

We feel used; like our article was turned into a vehicle for a commercial message and that we were deceived into signing off on it.

Upon seeing the quotes, the author requested that American Libraries

  1. Edit the online version of the article to remove the quotes from Gale Cengage.
  2. Run a correction/retraction in the March/April issue.
  3. Waive their 90 day exclusive licence so that we could place our version of the article in an Open Access repository and make it available immediately.

Varner posted the rebuttal he and Hswe received from the magazine:

Having a response from them in the article was a requirement of the assignment.

Varner explains in the post that that’s not what the authors were told originally:

When American Libraries approached us about the article, they said “We are also conducting a survey with Gale/Cengage, so that data would be incorporated” in our article. This was reiterated in the official scope document for the article which stated, “[w]riters should also include the results of the Gale and American Libraries survey of faculty and librarians.” The editor at American Libraries gave us access to data from that survey and we did, in fact, cite some of that data in our article.

And the action that the magazine did take:

American Libraries totally ignored our request for a correction in the next issue. They offered to take the quotes out of the online version and add them as “pull quotes” in the sidebar but noted that “this treatment will make them more prominent on the page, even if they are no longer part of the article.” Finally, they offered to reduce their exclusive licence from 90 days to 30 days.

We asked Varner and Hswe what they plan to do next. They told us, in a joint statement:

It looks like our article and the subsequent blog post got lots of attention and we know that it is being discussed by groups within ALA. We want to give those groups time to adequately respond and we don’t think it would be productive to make subjective or speculative statements about the situation at this time.

An editorial note on the article appeared on January 6th:

This special report on digital humanities in the library is a feature of American Libraries. It is not an advertorial, nor is it sponsored content. American Libraries partnered with Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, on a survey about digital humanities with both librarians and faculty, and the results of the librarian survey were reviewed by the writers. At all times, American Libraries was responsible for editorial decisions  and controlled the content, from story concept to writer guidance, to working with writers on edits. Gale did not have input at any time into the article.

Also on January 6th, the ALA Executive Board Executive Committee posted a statement which read, in part:

We understand that at the heart of this work is the relationship of editor and author and, as authors ourselves, we understand that this is a relationship that often involves negotiation. Understanding that, we deeply regret that there has been a serious misunderstanding between AL and the authors regarding the recent article on digital humanities which appeared in the January/February issue of American Libraries, and wish to extend our apologies to the authors.

We also wish to extend our apologies to those at Gale Cengage, who contributed in good faith to what they understood to be a collaborative effort. We appreciate their support for the survey of digital humanities and the significant contribution it has made to our understanding of an important and emerging field of librarianship.

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Comments
  • Virginia Durksen January 13, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    The editor’s role in a magazine is to assign the content and direction of a story, in ways that academic editors and even newspaper editors do not (and should not). Readers and writers alike can find American Libraries’ policy for submissions here: Submissions to American Libraries Magazine.

    Academics, and especially librarians, should understand the differences between magazines and journals. Perhaps it has become more difficult to recognize those differences in the age of digital humanities. Magazines used to be the ones with advertising, glossy covers, and illustrations to draw readers into feature articles; academic journals were the ones printed in one colour and that didn’t have any advertising.

    Even so, the writers had every right to expect the magazine editor to send the revised text for their approval. In inviting respected academics to write a feature article about a survey commissioned by the magazine and one of its corporate partners, the editor should have taken great care to avoid any appearance of bias or self-interest.

    Writers who accept a writing assignment of this type should understand the limits of their role, however. The moral of the story, for academics, is that they should not accept commissions without first checking a magazine’s editorial policies.

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