Last year, I was approached by the department to start an e-journal.
I’m a fairly technologically savvy person so I didn’t think publishing an e-journal would be all that difficult since everything would be done online or on the computer, but of course, things aren’t that simple.
The good news is that e-publishing is booming right now, and there are many free resources to help produce professional-grade publications.
Thinking about Levels of Interaction
An e-journal has at least two levels of interaction:
1) the front end, i.e. the public face of the journal, which includes the journal itself, as well as the journal’s website, and,
2) the back end, i.e. the behind-the-scenes administrative view of the journal, including the manuscript submission and revision system.
Content Managment System aka the back end layer
By far the most technologically demanding aspect of running a journal is the manuscript submission and review process, or the back end part of the e-publishing process.
Traditionally, one submitted manuscripts in hard copy (many times in triplicate) by snail mail. Reviewers are then assigned a copy to review, and a response is sent back, again by snail mail. Nowadays, many journals accept manuscripts via e-mail, though this process resembles the old school way of doing things as authors and editorial staff still shuffle files back and forth.
Many journals have instead been turning to the web to streamline the entire process, taking cues from the explosion in user-generated content, new media, and cloud computing.
What has made the launching and management of journals easier and far more accessible is the development of online content management software, the most prevalent being Open Journal Systems.
Content management systems like OJS generate everything you need to manage a journal, all in one place. No knowledge of programming or web design is necessary, which is a good thing since developing such a back end interface from scratch is no easy task!
If I’ve lost you already, think of it as a more robust form of a blog interface: authors can upload their manuscripts through the journal website, while journal staff can log into their website and manage all submissions online.
Once revisions are completed and the manuscript is ready for final copy, OJS then moves everything along to the front end, and generates an electronic version of the journal, complete with indexing, downloadable PDFs, etc.
For the journal I’m working on, nineteen sixty nine, I decided to go with the University of California’s eScholarship platform as our back end, which is actually a modified implementation of OJS specific to the University of California’s journals.
I decided to go with eScholarship for our journal because they host everything and provide tech support for free (since the journal is being produced by UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies department), and because being affiliated with the University of California and California Digital Library raises the profile and academic credentials of the journal.
The Website and E-Journal aka the front end layer
The front end is actually the easiest part of the e-journal equation. nineteen sixty nine uses WordPress to host the website.
As for how the journal will eventually be presented in digital form, we could have gone the route of simply providing a PDF of the journal for download on our site, or linking to the eScholarship-generated version of the journal like many professional academic journals do, but there are a few problems with these approaches.
First of all, simply presenting the journal via a link to a downloadable PDF really takes away from the reading experience. Doing that is no better than me forwarding an attachment of the journal to a friend, where the PDF would then be opened in Acrobat Reader, which would likely appear too zoomed in or too zoomed out, and remind you just how much PDFs really suck the romance out of reading as you fiddle around with the hand tool.
Displaying the journal through services like eScholarship is also quite an unpleasant experience, though I do like their platform and mandate very much. eScholarship outputs each article as a separate webpage, meaning it looks something like how journal articles look on JSTOR. The pages are static and load slowly, and it is difficult to jump from page to page. There is also a lack of polish in the presentation.
It’s great that you can read the article right from your browser without having to download a PDF and open it in Acrobat, but it’s sluggish and difficult to read.
Enter the brilliant e-publishing service, Issuu.
Issuu is a service that turns PDFs into full-fledged online publications. As you can see above, Issuu renders pages beautifully in full-screen, allowing for a pleasant and dynamic reading experience without the hassle of fiddling around with settings.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how our inaugural issue will end up!